Son of Nigerian star Fela talks of father’s legacy

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NEW YORK (AP) — Femi Kuti is, like his father, a recording artist and an activist.

Now he’s a storyteller as well, advising Academy Award-winning director Alex Gibney on the documentary “Finding Fela,” about the life of his father, Nigerian musician and activist Fela Kuti.

“I did (my) first recording with him in 1979, and immediately after that I joined the band doing alto saxophone parts he wrote for me,” said the 52-year-old Femi Kuti, a four-time Grammy nominee.

“I didn’t want to be the replica of my father … and I believe this was from the training he gave me, to have your own mind.”

Fela Kuti, whose life was celebrated by the Tony Award-winning play “Fela!” is credited with being the founder of Afrobeat, a style that fuses jazz, West African rhythms, funk and psychedelic rock.

While music was a vital part of Fela’s existence, so was his vocal stance against the country’s military dictatorship. Fela was jailed several times and his performances were often stopped by government forces.

He also was criticized by some Nigerians for his views on polygamy. He was said to have 27 wives, then 12, before eventually divorcing them all. He died from AIDS in 1997.

Recently, Femi sat down with The Associated Press to discuss his father’s legacy and the film that’s playing in major U.S. cities.

AP: What was your father’s most valuable contribution?

Femi: I think the most prominent is obviously giving Nigerians a voice. Now people just speak openly criticizing the government.

AP: What made you want to work on a film about your father’s life?

Femi: It wasn’t really my idea, but I supported it. … It was very important for the world to hear my father’s story from the mainstream point of view.

AP: Your father died as a victim of the disease that has taken its toll on Africa.

Femi: At the time the whole world was shouting about HIV or AIDS. Africa had no knowledge about it. … When … the news start(ed) coming from Europe, (it) was that it started in Africa and that Africa was sleeping with monkeys. … My generation didn’t believe it. … If the world was very serious about making Africa aware of such a disease, I mean I think more steps should’ve been taken at that time to convince Africans. We had no documentaries or no footage of people dying on the news.

AP: When did you realize there was a message in your father’s music regarding military dictatorship?

Femi: Eventually we had to realize what was going on, what he stood for in school because then in school you had people who loved him, because many of the children … were … underprivileged. But then you had lots of students from people who were singing against (it) so it was always this big battle in school: those that were for and those that were against. You had the teachers that were for and teachers that were against and I was caught in the middle of this.

AP: How does your music differ?

Femi: I am not probably as militant in my approach. … Do I want blood in the streets? No. Do I want a revolution? Do I think that is a solution for Africa? No. So I have to find a very certain way to address this very delicate situation that we’re dealing with right now in Africa.

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Online:

http://www.findingfela.com

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Follow AP Entertainment producer John Carucci at http://www.twitter.com/jacarucci

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