Afrobeat Legend Femi Kuti advises the new generation of Nigerian artists and music executives to fight for the continent’s place on the global stage through thorough training, education and dedication.
Femi Kuti has been named Midem 2019 Artist Ambassador after welcoming at The Shrine, the heart and soul of Nigeria’s world music scene, Midem’s second edition in Lagos. As one of the most influential African artists today, he shared during an exclusive keynote session his vision on empowering the new generation of African artists and music executives, shedding the light on his own initiatives to structure and professionalise the local music industry and facilitate access to education and training.
Those who have followed his career and have experienced his music know this: Femi Kuti never felt just satisfied with being the king’s heir. He freed himself from his father’s legacy in ’85 by putting together his own band, The Positive Force, and thereby working to find his own voice.
Femi is the son of Afrobeats father Fela Anikulapo-Kuti, created the style – a blend of traditional Nigerian drum patterns, the smooth groove of highlife and American soul, funk and R&B – and took it to the world, inspiring people with insistent dance beats and lyrics bristling with political statements.
Afrobeat moved several generations of musicians, in Nigeria and around the world, to follow Fela’s dictum and use music as a weapon to fight for justice and freedom.
Femi and his band, Positive Force, are at the forefront of that movement.
As a spokesperson for UNICEF’s crusade for the rights of children and an advocate for HIV/AIDS education and prevention, Femi is recognized as a community leader and an inspiration for African resistance to the remnants of colonial mentality and economic hardship.
Most of his albums have been nominated for Grammy Awards and Femi Kuti no longer counts various international collaborations on wax or stage with artists as diverse as Red Hot Chili Peppers, Wizkid, Erikah Badu, Damon Albarn, Thievery Corporation, Hugh Masekala, Mos Def, and Angelique Kidjo.
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Here’s a selection of the most insightful quotes or anecdotes from his talk:
“Globalization is the most important thing on my mind. I think it’s so important that we all understand we are on one planet. We have to make it work. […] I think music will be, has to be and is at the forefront of spreading that message because everybody listens to music, everybody is inspired by music. Music has so much influence on everybody.”
“Because of the institutions that exist in Europe and America. The process through which one can study music. Africa lacks this. This is my goal right now, at my age, to emphasize the importance of building solid institutions where young people can know the importance of music. Music is not for fame and fortune and all those things we believe it is. Music is probably more tedious than any other profession. Music inspires every other profession.”
“For young artists need to know it’s very important to have a lawyer, so your career is not taken advantage of, you need good management. And this has happened to me as a young artist: you are desperate, you want money, you want to survive, you sign your contracts like you’re blindfolded and get into a lot of trouble. And that’s why these institutions should be in place. Because if you have a good education, then you understand you need a good lawyer, you need good management, you need good people around you and the institutions will address how to get you ready for your future.”
“I grew up listening to my father, Dizzy Gillespie, John Coltrane, Miles Davies, classical music and I love to hear dexterity, improvisation. I love to see you be on stage with a musical instrument, not just you and a DJ dancing. So my fear is, when these young boys and girls become my age, what will they have to offer to the next generation? And the fear is that there will always be a younger generation that will be more daring, more vibrant. Then you fade away. If you don’t have something to offer to that next generation, then your career fades, as we’ve seen with many artists. But you see, the name of Coltrane will always be there. Miles Davies, Stevie Wonder, my father, Bob Marley.”
“My father is probably the best example for Africa or Nigeria today because everybody thought with passing of my father they would get away with anything. But his music is relevant, and every young coming out of Nigeria has to listen, has to identify and is inspired by my father or my music. You can’t kill music. You probably will kill the composer or the musician, but the minute that album hits that market, everybody is in trouble because it goes on forever and eternity.”