Femi Kuti is the eldest son of Afrobeat pioneer, Fela Anikulapo Kuti and a grandchild of political campaigner, women’s rights activist and traditional aristocrat Funmilayo Ransome Kuti. His musical career started when he began playing in his father’s band, Egypt 80. In 1986, Femi who was born in London and raised in Nigeria , started his own band, Positive Force, and began establishing himself as an artist independent of his father’s massive legacy. He has done so well for himself and he is in charge of the new African shrine located in Ikeja, Lagos. He told Effects about his career, children, love experiences and some other things.
You toed the path of your dad as a musician, would you want any of your children to follow your footsteps too in music?
My children can decide what they want to be but I will teach them about music, then they will decide the way to go as regards their career. You can’t force people to be musicians or else they will become very unhappy in their life. My children will be encouraged to do what they love. If it’s carpentry, plumbing, they must love what they are doing. When you love what you are doing, then during difficult times you are still happy. But when you don’t love what you are doing, in difficult times you become very depressed. And every profession has its ups and downs. So, it’s very important that one chooses a profession one truly loves but not what your parents or people force you to do or what you believe you must do because people say you must do it. It has to be your own decision. Even when you become successful, it doesn’t get into your head. You are just enjoying what you are doing. Success must not go into your head.
I understand you don’t attend any church, does that also affect your children?
My children will do what they want to do. As at now, I don’t go to church and they don’t go to church. Their mothers are very religious. If they go to church I care less, if they don’t go to church, I don’t care. I believe that if you put pressure on a child you are making the child unhappy. I’m very liberal. If my child comes home and does not want to do his or her homework; as a father I will not beat you but I will be a father, advise you to sit down and do your homework instead of playing. Do your homework, and then you can play all you want. These are the kind of training I give my children. By the time I talk to them very softly, nicely, they will sit down and do their homework. They are aware that I care. I tell them to be on top of their game. My children understand these and they have the freedom to be happy children. I give them as much as I can give them as a father to be happy. I don’t spoil them silly. I just make them happy. I have three boys and three girls. There are other three that I adopted. One just graduated from Unilag last year.
You are the sit at home type. Do you love eating too?
I can eat anything. Rice, lafu or gbegiri. I annoy people sometimes because when they ask what I would like to eat, I tell them anything. I’m not fussy about food because I will work, work, and get hungry. Just get me anything to eat and I’m okay. I don’t like alchohol and I don’t smoke. I’m very simple. I probably will have a quarter of champagne if it’s a new year or somebody’s birthday and everybody is toasting. I would just take a sip. These days, I only drink water. Years back it was coca cola but I don’t drink it anymore. I just felt as we are getting older you tend to reduce anything that has to do with sugar.
But it’s very unbelievable that Fela’s son does not smoke
I used to smoke. I smoked everything. I stopped in 1984 because Buhari jailed my father then and the responsibility of holding the band was enormous and I knew I could not do it having a non-challant attitude being high. I knew the only thing I could do is to cut all these vices of smoking cigarette or drink.
Do you do anything to look this handsome?
Nothing at all. My mother was very beautiful. My father too was a fine man. Probably that’s why. I don’t even go on diet. I eat anything twice a day. Breakfast and dinner.
Can you remember your first date?
I was in primary four and she’s in primary five.
And you have the gut to date your senior?
Don’t forget, my father’s generation were having children in their 20’s. Most of my generation, we had our children in our 30’s. So children these days were restricted to do things we’ve done in the past. I was smoking at the age of 13 and most of my friends started smoking at age 11, 12. My children don’t smoke. I don’t think any of my children will smoke. I don’t believe they will even drink because from my experience, I will let them understand it’s not good. The way I will bring them up I don’t think they will. My first son believes in marriage. He’s a very serious, passionate lover. I encourage him to be like that. I can’t use my life to discourage my children. Because I had many bitter experiences about love doesn’t mean my children will go through that experience too. If he finds true love and he’s happy, that’s what I wish for him. I pray his relationship will last forever and they have children and they live together forever, Amen.
Aside your father, which other musician do you appreciate in Nigeria?
None. If you say do I like some of the music? I say yes. Do they inspire me? No. Will I go out of my way to listen to it? No. But if I’m in a party and they are playing it, I could appreciate it. But as regard my father’s music, I will investigate and I will learn. So there’s a big difference. I will learn from John Coltrane, I will learn from Myles Davies. They play Jazz. Our frequency in Nigeria is not of that level. If you play Jazz to a Danfo driver he can beat you up. The level of Jazz is so high. I used to like funk, Michael Jackson, temptations and the rest but my father told me that if I want to listen to music I better listen to Jazz and appreciate it. Then, I hated Jazz. Eventually, my ear and my mind attuned to it. I now see the way they improvise on an instrument, and then you start to appreciate it; that we don’t have today in our industry.
Are there critics of your career so far?
A few people were very hypocritical sometimes. They were asking what happened to the political songs of your father, you are moving out from the song of your father , I didn’t answer them because I knew where they are coming from. They are people who have not even followed my career; they don’t know what I have been doing at the shrine. They don’t know anything about me and they just keep comparing me with my father. These were the same people, if I were really like my father they would say, so what? Do your own thing. Some people are really hard to please. Having said that, my new album has to be like a mission that is possible; Africa can be great again. If I keep on hammering it in the minds of young people it’s like giving the baton to the next generation. I will probably do another song like Bang, Bang, and Bang. Every time I want to do something nice, like that, my heart and soul push me…has poverty gotten any better? Except you don’t care. It’s like a father that doesn’t care about his child. You just keep having children; you don’t care whether they have good education, what they do with their lives, if they even lose their lives. So what? You feel you have other children. That’s the kind of mentality many people have that we have to clear. We have to be concerned.
Do you believe in collaboration with other artistes?
I’m not a collaboration freak. My work must be preserved for posterity. I’m thinking long term. I’m thinking a hundred years from now. I want a situation where people go to library and ask where is Femi Kuti’s work? Femi Kuti’s work is not about collaboration but how to take afro beat to the next level. How to take afro beat to the next level and how to define himself in this chaotic chaos, of such a magnetic, of such a huge father as Fela.