Interview: Femi Kuti

Femi Kuti is a creative force unlike anyone else in music today. The eldest son of Fela Kuti pays homage to his father’s legacy while innovating new sounds within Afrobeat. Femi recently called in to discuss his lyrical inspiration, how he approaches collaboration and taking his music from the Shrine to the world. He is currently touring the US. For more info on Femi Kuti, check out This piece originally ran on Bands That Jam on January 21st, 2013.

What was your first musical memory?
My first musical memory was when I was 5 or 6, watching my father play.

You’ve really been able to carry on your father’s legacy, while also pushing into new ideas and territories. How do you balance those styles?
I think the most important thing is I love my father, so that is easy. If I had problems with my father, probably, then it would have been much more difficult. Since I love him, I honor what he was doing. That is one side, but I understand how to do my own thing. It is easy for me to merge both thoughts together.

The style is so part of you. Growing up with your father and having that outlook and musical understanding. What do you look for in different artists when collaborating? Are there any certain traits you look for in people you want to work with?
No, I don’t have anyone I want to work with. When people want me to do things with them, I’m not judgmental about what they are doing or their songs. If somebody says, “I want you to do something on my music.” If I accept to do it, I just do my best to enhance the creativity of the song or sound.

You take your own spin on it and approach to it?
That’s what you have to do. I’ll listen to it and see if I can fit into it. So far, so good. I’ve always been able to find a melody to enhance whatever I am doing. So, that is what I really do.

How does your songwriting process work?
Normally, I create the music then I think about which subject is best to go with the song. To do that, I think about what bothers me more or what is important globally and touches my heart more.

You are a very political songwriter. Lyrically, what inspires you?
Events that happen. These days, probably, the Arab Spring, world recession, unemployment, poverty, the war in Congo and Mali. These are things that I think touch me more. They are always more important than a love story for me.

It’s touching something deep. What do you feel are the biggest lessons you’ve learned from your father?
To be honest, courageous.

You’ve really continued to spread Afrobeat worldwide. What are some of your favorite places to play and why?
There are many. The Shrine, San Francisco, France, England. There are so many places.

What is it about the Shrine that makes it so different, so special to you?
It’s like the factory of where Afrobeat is made or baked. Everything comes out of the Shrine and then I take it out to the world.

You pretty much think of different ideas there and then take them out worldwide?
No, I think about it from my house. Then, I call my band and I start to build it from there. I start building from there with the band. I go back home, make corrections, come back. I work again with the band until I feel it is perfect.

What advice would you give to musicians just starting out?
First of all, I think the most important thing is to pick up a musical instrument. Then, you shouldn’t think about the fame or money. You should just think about enjoying your career as a musician. It can be such a very depressing profession if you think about it materialistically. If you think about it spiritually, you’ll have a really great time all of your life. You’ll just enjoy learning, because you never really stop learning. It’s like medicine. There’s always something new that can be developed.

You are constantly pushing forward and trying new things. It’s exciting that you are so passionate about spreading your message to the world. Do you have any quotes or mottos that you live by?
I just try to always give my best. I try to be very honest. All of the good things I think about, I try to follow them. All of the virtues you can think about, I try to practice them. Not get angry, control of my thoughts and actions, practice, practice, practice, being there for my kids. Family is very important to me. I try to always be guided by all of those facts.

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