Femi Kuti

Africa for Africa

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In the three years between the release of Femi Kuti's last album, Day by Day, and Africa for Africa, the legend of his late father, the Nigerian icon Fela Kuti, grew by leaps and bounds thanks to a successful Broadway musical that told his story in song. Femi, in his two decades as a performer, has continually honored his father's legacy while moving the Kuti model of Afro-beat firmly ahead into the future. That he's managed to do so without substantially altering the blueprint drawn by Fela is somewhat remarkable: Femi's music is undeniably more modern-sounding than Fela's -- his melodic and rhythmic influences are more global, taking in Latin, Caribbean, and several African-American genres, for example -- yet at the same time has never been radically different from it. This remains true on Africa for Africa. In rhythm and in sound, and in his defiant attitude and fiery spirit, Femi Kuti, along with his band, Positive Force, unabashedly pay tribute while continuing, fearlessly, to address issues relevant to today's Africa and the world beyond. Recorded, as were his earliest works, at Afrodisia/Decca Studio in Lagos, Africa for Africa, while offering up nearly a dozen new tunes, also revisits a few songs Femi has recorded before (specifically, for 2004's Africa Shrine album). Despite the recycling, it's one of his most inventive and potent albums to date, full of aggression, euphoria, and hope -- alongside the rage, indignation and bitterness -- and powered by idealism, pride, honor, and some of his strongest jams yet. In "Make We Remember," when Femi cites a number of heroes of African-rooted people, he name-checks Fela before even getting around to Marcus Garvey, Malcolm X, Nelson Mandela, and Martin Luther King. Over an insistent, churning, horn-fueled beat, Femi, in rapid-fire voice, sums up in five minutes the struggles of a people: "Lumumba fight to keep our integrity, like Marcus Garvey fight for Pan-Africanism/Like Kwame Nkrumah fight, like Mandela fight against racism." Crooked politics and injustice, racism and corruption -- these are at the core of every Femi Kuti song. They have to be: his job is to tell it as he sees it, and what he sees is not always pretty. He says as much in "Now You See," a pulsating juggernaut rich with Femi's soulful organ, a solid line of horn blasts, floor-shaking bass, and a battery of percussion. Femi exhorts, "Inside this democracy, see the way dem dey steal now/Now you see the things they see," and in "Bad Government," as funky as anything ever gets, he wonders why a continent that can produce so many great athletes, as well as doctors and engineers, can't seem to produce a competent government. If that sounds familiar to those who've previously experienced the world of Fela Kuti -- and Femi's own substantial output -- Femi is cool with that. He's not trying to be who he's not, but neither is he backing down, softening, or holding back. Just carrying on while hurtling straight-ahead.

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