Seun Kuti,

Afrobeat, I believe, is the gift that Fela shared with the world.
—Seun Kuti

Seun Kuti is the heir to a special musical and cultural throne. The youngest son of Afrobeat pioneer and human rights activist Fela Kuti, Seun traverses the West-African style… to the millennial psyche, globally. As the world gets smaller culturally and political discourse resounds to the hilt, Afrobeat explodes as a voice of consciousness and social responsibility. Check him out at the Howard Theatre, Wednesday, June 11 with the Egypt 80.

Seun speaks with the same cadence as his father. He could easily be confused for a politically conscious UC Berkeley grad student. In short time, he talked with us about sounds, influences, and vinyl. 

How would you describe Afrobeat, musically and culturally?

I believe it’s the most expansive of African musical experiments. It’s the most forward-reaching, evergreen, pan-African sound.

Your album is not only of Afrobeat, there are hip hop motifs as well. How’d you get acquainted with rappers M1 and Blitz the Ambassador who both appear on the album?

Blitz and I linked up via our managers and shared some good vibes. Blitz is a very good musician. It’s interesting, we spoke a few times on the phone and met for the first time in the studio. He’s been my boy for a while now, since 2009.

M1, I heard on TV that he loved to work with me. So, I hit him up on Twitter, “I want to work with you too!”

Besides your father, what other influences helped shape your music?

Growing up in Kalakuta [his father’s communal compound] it was difficult to not have this big Afrobeat influence, you know. But I was also surrounded by African music, people like Hugh Masekela, Manu Dibango, Mariam Makeba, who were part of that great generation. Salif Keita, Ali Farka Touré are also great traditional African sounds that I like.

But what Western sounds were you exposed to?

Man, on TV there was MC Hammer and all that crap. (Laughs) I’d listen to that music a parties, you know. But I also had to listen to that good music: soul, funk, and a little jazz music. Classical music was also a big influence. It plays a big role in the marriage of my sound.

Speaking of classical, are you a fan of vinyl music?

I used to have a large vinyl collection, but the problem is I started traveling, a lot. And vinyl… with that needed personal touch… I couldn’t take care of them. I couldn’t give them that love anymore, you know. I have issues, man. I have issues.

[Seun quipped about his shortcoming with vinyl hygiene; notwithstanding, he adores the sound… of clean vinyl.]

Does Afrobeat (in general) still stand for progressive world politics?

[Before I could finish the question, Seun reacted very passionately about commercialized Afrobeat music]

Well, the capitalists are getting their slice. They have “afrobeats” not “Afrobeat.” Superficial, commercial is the former. Afrobeat stands for something. Just like Blues, which will never change that “mood.” Afrobeat creates a similar mood of its own. Something created the mood for that music. But it’s difficult to get past the message. Afrobeat has a socialist call that music has to represent the majority of the people. But Afrobeat is not necessarily an African thing; it has African origins. The genre is just like Man. Man has African origins.

Afrobeat, I believe, is the gift that Fela shared with the world.

But it’s also an expression.

Yes, there’s all these Afrobeat bands coming up after they find about this guy who made music, just for this purpose [i.e. to challenge totalitarianism]. It doesn’t conform to any kind of format or a feel-good message. It’s music with a dose of reality and speaking for the majority.

Amid beautiful rhythms, would you say your music is angry as some have said of your albums?

I don’t believe music can be truly angry. Music only has two traits—it can either be honest or dishonest. Music doesn’t have that kind of “human emotion” It can only evoke it.

Seun is on tour to promote his new album A Long Way to the Beginning, released in late May in the US. The first single, “IMF” also known as “International Mother Fucker,” is a brass-tastic attack on the International Monetary Fund and its questionable debt relief practices. The funky rant is not unlike his father’s, who released an anti-corporate track called “I.T.T (International Thief Thief)” during the rise of political repression in post-colonial Nigeria.

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