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Seun Kuti makes Aspen debut

Stewart OksenhornAspen Times WeeklyAspen, CO Colorado
Kelechi AmadiobiNigerian musician Seun Kuti makes his Aspen debut Wednesday, March 28 at Belly Up.
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ASPEN – As a young child, Seun Anikulapo-Kuti came to the U.S. once to see his father, the famed Nigerian musician Fela Anikulapo-Kuti, perform. He watched as his father, a singer and saxophonist, took the stage to play his high-energy Afrobeat, an innovative mix of jazz, funk and African styles.”Everyone went wild,” the Seun Kuti said from the Nigerian capital of Lagos, where he lives. “I said, ‘This is what I want to do. This is the easiest job ever.”Starting at the age of 8, the younger Kuti began performing with his father – opening the shows, then playing a song or two with Fela. And while Seun eased comfortably into being a professional musician – he has three albums to his credit, including last year’s “From Africa with Fury: Rise” – he has come to understand that the job isn’t as simple as playing the music and watching the audience dance. Being a musician in Nigeria, and especially being a Nigerian musician who purposefully follows the legacy of Fela, comes with a job description that is a lot trickier than it is for an entertainer in the West.Fela was known not only for performing, but for being a provocateur who used music as much for social aims as for entertainment. His songs railed against corruption in Nigeria and European dominance of Africa, and in favor of human rights, African strength and independence, and traditional African practices, including polygamy. It didn’t make for an easy existence. His Kalakuta Republic, a commune and recording studio that he declared a separate state from Nigeria, was frequently raided by swarms of armed soldiers; in 1977, Kalakuta was burned down in response to his album “Zombie,” which blasted the Nigerian military. Seun Kuti, who is 29, has willingly taken up the same position as singer/social critic held by his father, who died in 1997. He says that music serves a different purpose in Africa than it does in the States.”Yeah, of course. Music should play a different role,” Kuti said. “African people have to understand my music. That’s the only way. Americans can just enjoy it.”Kuti, like his father, sings primarily in English, so listening to “From Africa with Fury: Rise,” there is no mistaking what he is trying to say. The album opens with “African Soldier,” a critique of how African politicians hold onto power. “Mr. Big Thief” exposes politician corruption. “For Dem Eye” reveals just how bad things are in Nigeria – and just how much voices like Kuti’s are needed: “I no see any hope at all at all at all/ No hope as an African at all/ I no see any joy at all at all at all.”Kuti added that taking the same route as his father, mixing music with messages, wasn’t much of a choice. It is more of an obligation.”Afrobeat is one of the few musics today that speaks about the people, what is going on,” he said. “The music is enjoyable. But the message is important, and the most important now. That is what African music should be doing – speaking for the majority of Africans. Music is not supposed to be selfish”Kuti said that if there is an overarching message, it is for African nations to become truly independent – independent of the West, independent from their own entrenched leadership that doesn’t have the public’s interest at heart.”First and foremost, it’s for Africans to believe in themselves, that Africans can stand up for themselves,” he said. “Education in Africa pushes us away from Africa, it pushes us to look at the West. They brainwash your head; they brainwash your life. Colonization for 200 years has not worked – why don’t Africans become independent, build their own countries? This is my true dream.”Kuti makes his Aspen debut on Wednesday with Egypt 80, a band that bears the same name as the group Fela formed in the late ’70s, and features many original members – people who not only played with Fela, but were harassed with him, stood up with him. Audiences shouldn’t expect exactly what Kuti delivers in Nigeria: Back home, he plays with a 25-piece band and concerts can last all night. For the current tour, the band is stripped down to 15 members. But if a performance by Seun’s brother, Femi Kuti, a few years ago at Belly Up, is any indication, the performance should be memorable. (For the record, when asked what other musicians are carrying on Fela’s legacy, Seun’s first response was Femi; he also mentioned Tiken Jah Fakoly, a singer from the Ivory Coast.The intensity of the performance, though, shouldn’t be watered down much. Kuti believes that every time he takes the stage, he needs to say the things that need to be said.”Musicians sing their music at the cost of everything,” Kuti said.stewart@aspentimes.com


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