Fela’s Number One Son Talks About His New Album And Picks Six Essential Afrobeat Tunes

We caught up with FEMI KUTI before last night’s show at Webster Hall in NYC. When he said that he thought his new album, No Place For My Dream, is his “best work so far,” we politely mentioned that every artist think their new album is their best work so far. He laughed before replying: “Well I’m not every artist, one,” he said for starters, “and two I think it because I know. I think Shoki Shoki was one of my most powerful albums. So I would say with that album I was on the highway. I defined another level of Afrobeat, the possibilities of Afrobeat with that album.” Full interview After The Jump…

“With Fight to Win I had the opportunity to work with great American hip-hop artists. And then I had the opportunity to record live at the Shrine—I wanted to see the shrine. And I tried to try some technological stuff with Day by Day. On Africa for Africa I went back to Nigeria to record, so people could feel the problems I’m talking about with that album. With this album I think I’m back on the highway as I did with Shoki Shoki, defining again where I am.”

Is all the music on the new album played by your band, Positive Force?

Yes. I stuck more to the Shoki Shoki format is what I’m saying.

Will you be performing any songs from the new album in New York this weekend?

Most definitely.

Which ones should we listen out for?

The title track, “There Is No Place For My Dream,” “The World Is Changing,” “We Carry On Pushing On.”

“No Place For My Dream” What’s the meaning of that song?

It’s a story about my life.

That’s a terrible thought. Do you really believe that’s true?

It’s what people say. You’ll have to listen to it. [laughs] Listen to it and enjoy it yourself and come to your own conclusions. If I give you my assessment of it, that wouldn’t really be fair because I’m brainwashing you. So I’ll be biased and then when you are listening you’ll have my thoughts. Best that you listen to it pure and simple. Then you can ask me.

Can I ask you what is your dream?

World peace. Happiness. Love. Jobs for everybody.

The big things.

Yeah the very big things. People say they are impossible.

I hope those people are wrong. This sounds like a really important song.

I’m telling you it is. I know. I’m not biased when I say it’s my most powerful album. I hope you’ll give me a call, or you can even reach me on Twitter and tell me when you get it. You can tell me “Yes you were right.” I’m telling you I’m right. It will be very hard for me to beat this album.

There are still some people who are not familiar with Afrobeat. Can you recommend 5 songs for the them to listen to so they can understand what this music is all about, which 5 songs would you choose?

Of mine?

Yours or anybody’s.

Wow.

Click Through the gallery above to find out Femi Kuti’s selections…

(Photo by Julien Mignot)

Fela Kuti "My Lady's Frustration"

I’d have to take mine and my father’s most likely. Well I’d tell them to start from the very beginning. There’s a song called “My Lady’s Frustration” by my father. And I would tell them to take “Jeun Ko Ku.” Which was my father’s first hit in Nigeria that broke all boundaries and everything in Nigeria. That was the beginning of Afrobeat I’d say. That was released in 1969 I believe. That was his first song. My father said he on the piano to find his own way playing music. Yes so that was the first Afrobeat composed you could say—but then it developed.

I don’t think of your father at the piano. I think of him on the saxophone.

He started at the piano. The saxophone came much later. It was the trumpet and the piano that he studied at Trinity College in England.

And yourself?

My first instrument was the trumpet.

Did you begin with his band or were you playing on your own?

No at 8 I was. But I didn’t have a teacher. But then my father moved to the saxophone so I moved to the saxophone. I’m back on the trumpet now.

Fela Kuti "Jeun Ko Ku (Chop'n Quench)"

And I would tell them to take “Jeun Ko Ku,” which was my father’s first hit in Nigeria that broke all boundaries and everything in Nigeria. That was the beginning of Afrobeat I’d say. His first major hit, that caught across everywhere and was a very big hit in Nigeria was “Jeun Ko Ku.” This was 1970 I believe—70-71. That was what brought him into the limelight. It was such a big hit it caught across the whole country. It was a massive hit in Nigeria. And it wasn’t at all political. It was more fun. It was the beginning you could say of his career in the limelight.

And then I’d say he should take “Zombie” which is probably my father’s most militant.

That was about the soldiers, right?

Yes. And I’d tell them to take “Bang Bang Bang,” Which redefined Afro-beat.

Is that your record?

Yes. That’s four. And I would tell them to take “No Place For My Dream.”

And I’d tell them to take one more, I’d tell them to take “Day By Day,” which shows the subtleness of Afrobeat.

Is that on your new album?

No, that was my second Grammy nomination.

Tell me about that first one, “My Lady’s Frustration.”

But h
I don’t think of him at the piano. I think of him on the saxophone.

He started at the piano. The saxophone came much later. It was the trumpet and the piano that he studied at Trinity College in England.

And yourself?

My first instrument was the trumpet.

Did you begin with his band or were you playing on your own?

No at 8 I was. But I didn’t have a teacher. But then my father moved to the saxophone so I moved to the saxophone. Now I’m back on the trumpet now.

Well we’ll look forward to seeing you and your trumpet at Webster Hall.

[Laughs] I will bring it along and I will bring my sax and I will bring myself and my beautiful band.

I have a feeling it’s going to be a beautiful night.

Yeah we’ve been having great shows so far. The band is sounding great.

This Monday we celebrated Martin Luther King day, and we also inaugurated our president. You have an album called No Place For My Dream, Martin Luther King had a dream. What’s your hope for the future?

You’ll have to listen to the album—I told you. If I tell you my, my…

OK I’ll give you a teaser. It’s about stepping out to achieve my dream. And people keep discouraging me saying “There’s no place for your dream.” And I keep stepping out with my story, so to say.

So if you ask me if do I believe there’s place for my dream, I’ll say yes. Cause I fight for my music.

But then you have the skeptics who are saying, Look there is no place for your dream because corruption will always be there. There will always be war. There will always be hunger. There will be unrest, blah blah blah.

And I say No, but we have to keep on fighting. And they keep on saying No—you cannot change the way people will behave. So it’s a very sweet story.

Fela Kuti "Zombie"

And then I’d say they should take “Zombie” which is probably my father’s most militant.

That was about the soldiers, right?

Yes.

From Fela Kuti Wikipedia: “Zombie was a scathing attack on Nigerian soldiers using the zombie metaphor to describe the methods of the Nigerian military. The album was a smash hit with the people and infuriated the government, setting off a vicious attack against the Kalakuta Republic (a commune that Fela had established in Nigeria), during which one thousand soldiers attacked the commune. Kuti was severely beaten, and his elderly mother was thrown from a window, causing fatal injuries. Soon after Kuti’s mother had been injured, the commanding officer defecated on the elderly woman’s face. The Kalakuta Republic was burned, and Kuti’s studio, instruments, and master tapes were destroyed. Kuti claimed that he would have been killed if it were not for the intervention of a commanding officer as he was being beaten. Kuti’s response to the attack was to deliver his mother’s coffin to the main army barrack in Lagos and write two songs, “Coffin for Head of State” and “Unknown Soldier”, referencing the official inquiry that claimed the commune had been destroyed by an unknown soldier.

Femi Kuti "Beng Beng Beng"

And I’d tell them to take “Beng Beng Beng,” which redefined Afrobeat.

Femi Kuti "Day By Day"

And I’d tell them to take “Day By Day,” which shows the subtleness of Afrobeat. That was my second Grammy nomination.

Femi Kuti "No Place For My Dream"

And I would tell them to take one more—“No Place For My Dream.” It’s about stepping out to achieve my dream. And people keep discouraging me saying “There’s no place for your dream.” And I keep stepping out with my story, so to say. If you ask me if do I believe there’s place for my dream, I’ll say yes. Cause I fight for my music.

But then you have the skeptics who are saying, “Look, there is no place for your dream because corruption will always be there. There will always be war. There will always be hunger. There will be unrest, blah blah blah.”

And I say No! We have to keep on fighting. And they keep on saying “No—you cannot change the way people will behave.” So it’s a very sweet story.