You only need to look briefly at the treatment of singer Bobi Wine, whose attempt at unseating long-serving President Yoweri Museveni in Uganda’s recent election led to violent attacks from the military on him and his supporters, to know that the work of Fela Kuti is not done.
Kuti, who came up against similar intimidation and violence from authorities in Nigeria, was a veteran activist who used the sheer power – and that’s no understatement– of his infectious, hypnotic Afrobeat sound to mobilise and organise opposition against corruption and totalitarianism in Africa. Even after attempts to declare his own compound as an independent state – the Kalakuta Republic – in 1970 were eventually crushed by the military junta with extreme violence, his mother being thrown from a first-floor window and permanently paralysed, he continued to speak out and raise consciousness through his music. A 20 month spell in jail, likewise, similarly failed in its mission of shutting Kuti up.
Since Fela’s death in 1997, his work has been carried on by his sons Femi and Made, and given the state of the world with protestors in Russia, Belarus and Hong Kong tear gassed, arrested and tortured, while Boris and his chums hand out millions in public money to their schoolfriends and neighbours, we need them more than ever. Any benign, post-colonial idea that this stuff only happens in ‘backward’ Africa is certainly gone now.
The ‘Legacy +’ project actually consists of two albums, with one son taking an LP each. Perhaps obviously, both have the pulsating, carnival rhythms and celebratory rebel righteousness of their father running through them, but on closer inspection they are slightly different beasts.
Femi Kuti’s ‘Stop The Hate‘ kicks off at a heady, nimble pace with ‘Pà Pá Pà’ and its message – “government must not waste our time” – driven home with bulging brass. The album’s title track, meanwhile, seems gloriously positive, even though it discusses the refugee crisis, ultimately returning to its assertion that “millions of people want to live in peace.” Building up around a simple bassline and hi-hat, ‘You Can’t Fight Corruption With Corruption’ achieves a manic energy, Femi’s vocals really reaching an indignant fever pitch.
Made Kuti’s contribution to the pairing, ‘Your Enemy’, feels slightly more musically spacious and calmer, with faint echoes of reggae and Bob Marley’s rebel dignity within the African framework. ‘Your Enemy’ itself, coasts along with a seductive, casual sway even if its subject matter is wrongful arrest and police brutality. ‘Hymn’ starts off being voiced by an ever shifting chorus of children’s voices, before big jazz chords crash in and Made takes up the refrain. ‘Young Lady’ employs an off kilter beat and again, a more relaxed atmosphere, before ‘We Are Strong’ returns more to type, its speedy percussion and calls for unity more your typical Afrobeat offering, nevertheless stirring to say the least.
Given that the world and his brother like to incorporate a bit of Afro attitude into their music these days, it’s refreshing to return to the source and get a hit – or perhaps that should be two hits – of the pure, unadulterated real thing. While it’s depressing to think that many of the battles that Fela took up in the 60s and 70s remain unwon, it’s heartening to hear the resistance in such fine fettle. Nice work Felas!