Fela’s Afrobeat musical legacy is thriving.
2018 has begun on a good note with Femi and Seun Anikulapo-Kuti, two scions of the self-acclaimed maverick, releasing two studio albums.
Femi Kuti calls his tenth album, One People One World while his younger brother, Seun Kuti, calls his fourth album, Black Times.
Both sons, like their late father, are bandleaders, songwriters and arrangers. For them, we can argue that the Afrobeat legacy was inherent, not imbibed—but what is more exciting is their separate journeys to sonic mastery.
For Femi Kuti, whose tutelage began as a teenager in his father’s Egypt 80 Band, his burden is infinitely heavier. The mantle of leadership began to fall on him long before his father’s demise: he led the Egypt 80 band many times when his Father was locked up by military dictators.
His creative struggles have a robust perspective in the light of his constant struggle to stand apart from his father. His charge to carve a niche for himself as a musician in his own right under the towering influence of his father is quite telling; it gives his kind of Afrobeat a different flair that has been evident since he formed his Positive Force Band.
One People One World retains a lot of his signature moves: guitar intros, brass bridges, high tempo pace and conscious lyrics. This latest LP has an advocacy twang to it. Femi Kuti sings about World Peace, Global Warming and Responsible Citizenry. Of course, there are protest songs—Evil People, Equal Opportunity, Dem Militarize Democracy—but while they retain their groove for dance, they seem to have acquired a conciliatory tone.
And what should we expect?
Afrobeat has been clamouring for a Pan-African utopia since its birth in the 70s and understandably, time has passed and things have not changed. Instead, Uhuru has become a blockbuster box office feature film (swiftly deploys Wakanda salute) lasting about two hours.
Afrobeat should become wary.
If Femi Kuti’s songs veer away from the typical militant complaints to a place of subtle advocacy, Seun Kuti’s thumping Afrobeat sound on Black Times remains incendiary and energized by the politics of Pan-Africanism and the possibilities of an African revolution.
Of course, Seun Kuti’s journey to self-discovery is a rather tame one. Femi Kuti’s struggle and breakaway inadvertently willed Seun Kuti the Egypt 80 band which he has led from his teenage years till date. His tutelage went at his own pace and his becoming seems cast in the shadow of Fela’s influences.
Four albums into his career, Seun Kuti still espouses all of Fela’s ideologies and his music hardly updates Fela’s legacies except in the domain of song writing. His song writing deploys a soulfulness that seemed missing in Fela’s repertoire, something reminiscent of Negro Spirituals. It is as if Fela’s Afrobeat has gone back to America to take that final Afrobeat lesson.
The music of both brothers hardly spares the polity and its political elite. The duty of lambasting the ruling class remains the purview of Afrobeat, more than two decades after Fela’s demise. And make no mistake about it, this is definitely dance music made to move your feet and fill your ears with the gospel of Pan-Africanism and the sins of a thieving elite.