Femi Kuti.

Femi Kuti Is Leading Afrobeat Into The Anti-Trump Era

We talk to Femi Kuti about his new album, One People One World, plus his desire for Africa to look inwards and become the center of the world.

For decades, Femi Kuti has been carrying the afrobeat torch lit by his father, Fela, and using music as a weapon to speak against political injustices in Nigeria and across the world.

On his forthcoming album, One People One World, Femi and his band Positive Force continue their modern take on afrobeat, crafting 12 highly-political songs that showcase the endless possibilities of what you can do with the genre's musical structure.

The new record, which will be Femi's tenth album, also features more optimistic songs about love and humanity. Its title track, "One People One World," is a plea towards global harmony and solidarity.

We caught up with Femi to talk about the politics behind these new songs, getting this son to play on the album, the fact he doesn't listen to music anymore and we also get his many thoughts on the rise of Trump.

One People One World is out February 23 from Knitting Factory Records.

Let's start with the lead single "One People One World," why did you decide to name the album after it?

It's because of the times we're at. There's so much hate and so much misunderstanding. In terms of climate change, if we don't all understand we're all one people living on one planet, we're going to be in trouble as we're already seeing. So, One People One World, it's just to put it into a serious perspective in order to make people think in this direction.

There's a message of unity behind the song.

Yeah, you could say so. Some tracks really don't particularly deal with issues in Africa, but then, I still have to touch on those issues because I live here and see the problems. In the first track off the album, "Africa Will Be Great Again," I say it's important to give young people hope. I've tried to make it optimistic. Being real, but also optimistic, making people understand that if we put our energy in this direction, we can come out of these problems.

You have a few more uplifting songs and love songs throughout the record.

I wouldn't say love in the sexual way. It's the love of "let's love one another instead of hate," yes.

Like Fela, you've always used your music as a weapon against injustices. This now being your tenth album, what injustices are still around that you find yourself still singing against?

It's basically the same. It's just worse. If you look at the economy of Nigeria, when my father was releasing his music, it was two dollars to one Naira. Now it's 400 Naira to one dollar. So you could say it's 400 times worse than then. Today as I speak to you there's fuel scarcity in Nigeria. We're, I think, the fifth largest oil producing nation and we're still suffering from corruption in the oil sector. We still don't have electricity.

I think if Africa really stopped this corruption, we would be at the center of the world. Everything is here. We have the brains, but all our brains are leaving to develop other countries and be insulted outside their shores. It's sad when we should be at the forefront of development and technology, in every sense. Africa needs to really think inwards.

But having said that, one must always remember where Africa is coming from. We have had about 17 years, I think from the eighth century until the 17th century of the Trans-Saharan slave trade. We've had 400 years of the Atlantic slave trade, 100 years of colonial rule, about 100 years of bad African government. You have to appreciate this history, so you can't be too hard when you're fighting these issues when you understand this history.

It probably will take us another 100 years to get our act together but we have to keep on fighting in this direction. After understanding this history, then it will be easy to confront the battles we're facing.

Do you feel that Nigeria is in a worse situation now than it was 10 or 20 years ago?

Wow. Wow. That's a difficult question. Yes, you could say so because we shouldn't be getting worse. It's worse because it should have been getting better. So if we're still talking about the same issues, it's worse. You could look at it from this view: my father was talking about these same issues in the '70s until he died in the '90s—that's like four decades—and I'm still talking about them now. So, you could say it's worse.

People are worse off, the health sector doesn't work. There's no sector in this country that we can be proud of. If the people in power had even tried to do 10% or 20% of the repairs, then we wouldn't be complaining today. With the health sector... when the president is sick, he goes to England or Europe for treatment. That speaks volumes. You'll never hear the president of any European country or America go to any other country when he or she falls sick.

This is a norm in Africa. Our leaders and their children, they go to the best schools outside this country. That means they don't trust in the system they are in charge of. When they don't trust the system they're in charge of, this speaks volumes. Negative volumes.

Trump recently called black nations "shitholes countries." Is your album also a reaction to the rise of political movements like that of Trump?

I would say yes, but only because [these movements] have always been there. The album just comes out at a time where it's so glaring. One has to ask a question: when Americans say, "my country," when you look at history, do they really have the right to say that? I believe if we go to history, America was taken from the Native American Indians.

America doesn't reflect truthfully on its history and how it built its nation. When you write history, you say, "We came to Africa and we took slaves." You didn't come to take slaves. You came to take human beings. America raped our women, our children, killed our children, killed our families. They tore this continent apart. And this is a fact of history.

When this history is taught properly and truthfully, then we can all reflect on how we can look forward together and build a better world. And this is the way I see it. So, this album hopes that we can touch on all of these sensitive issues truthfully to move forward. I think people are afraid to talk about these issues because of the reaction and the battles that they will confront. But I believe it will bring the reverse. We need to talk about this history.

Africans today who defend Europe and America say, "We sold ourselves," because this is what we're taught in schools. When you understand the atrocities that were committed, they're truly unforgivable. And nobody wants to talk about it because we have been so brainwashed to believe in lies that we even sometimes defend racism or hatred staring us directly in the face.

Like when Trump said "shithole," you saw Africans coming to his defense. Because they don't know any better. As president of the United States, he should not be even uttering such words. Because even if a country is a "shithole," he shouldn't be seen as downgrading but uplifting the "shithole."

If you understand what I'm saying, America is supposed to be at the forefront of world development and embracing unity, love, and all these things they're supposed to be talking about. But what we really have seen in at least a century, is that America has been instigating wars and bloodshed.

You're known as carrying the torch for afrobeat. Were there any other genres or artists that influenced this album?

Nobody. In the last ten years I have not been influenced by anybody. I stopped listening to music around 2000 or 2001 because I wanted my music to be very pure and come from deep within me. I wanted to hear the melodies and create my own sound and this is what I have been doing. If you hear influences, like some people believe they hear influences, we can all say that yes, everybody is influenced by somebody. But I never wanted to move into a regular Caribbean or any kind of direction. I wanted music that I felt.

I see myself as a medium that higher forces use to create sound. So I am like engraved in this place where I must perform this honorable duty and inspire people and make people happy. And if I can't do this as a musician, then I should move to something else.

You've stopped listening to music completely?

Yes. I don't go out of my way. I'm forced to listen if I go to party yes, or if I'm at The Shrine or at a festival. But I don't go and say I want to listen to this, I want to be inspired by this person or that.

Album track "Best To Live On The Good Side" touches on some existential themes in which you sing, "We don't know why we're born. We live to die." It made me wonder what kind of books you're reading. What books does Femi Kuti read?

I read the book of life, which is my interactions with people and using my senses to read through whatever is going on around me. I have a very curious mentality and I try to be very abstract in my thoughts. I still do six hours of practice, during these mind-blowing sessions I have with myself, which I think is good enough. I read a lot of books growing up. I was very curious about why we're born. From the Egyptian theory to Chinese or modern day Christianity or Islam.

Everybody really has the same theory of "we have to be good." So why is there so much evil if there's so much emphasis on this? Nobody really knows why we're born. I think it's probably the most baffling thing in the human mind. It's very confusing and very touching, but we all agree it's best to be humble, good, because we know from historical facts that people that are bad pay a very high price. That's all this song is saying.

You released a music video for "One People One World" shot at The Shrine. How did The Shrine influence this album?

You could say The Shrine is the factory of my compositions because I do everything there. The ambience, everything, comes from The Shrine. It's like the bakery where I cook everything. I play songs for at least a year—sometimes two or three years—before I go to the studio. It's like painting for me. Everybody's there when I start to put the song together and from the actions or reactions I know, "okay, probably add a little more blue to this melody, put a little more pink here, oh, purple will go here."

What's your favorite track on the new album?

I would have to say "Best To Live On The Good Side" probably, but they all are very important for me. I'll have to take four. "One People One World," because it catches you immediately. I like "Na Their Way Be That" because it's a good, pure afrobeat groove. "Africa Will Be Great Again" has this feeling that is so different from the rest of them. It's one of the favorite tracks when I play it at The Shrine.

And "Corruption Na Stealing," although in the album version is very different from how we play it live. Many things I have incorporated in the song now are not in the album, but I had already done the recording before new inspiration came. People that know the song at The Shrine will be saying, "Oh, this is not there." So I'll be disappointed too. I probably will re-record just that track again, just make a single out of it.

My elder sister who is one of my biggest critics, she is getting on my nerves about it. She's saying, "I don't accept this. No. No." So I might be forced to spend some money there.

Speaking of your family, your son, Omorinmade Anikulapo-Kuti, plays on this album.

Yes, he plays bass and piano. This was the most beautiful thing of the album for me. It was unbelievable. It was a feeling that is indescribable. There's nothing to weigh the love you have and just to see your child be part of what you love doing—and doing it so well. It's so beautiful, I can't describe that feeling.

It will probably still take me a few more years to rewind back to that moment and just see it. That was probably one of the best moments of my life.

One People One World is out February 23 from Knitting Factory Records.

Femi Kuti. Photo by Jemal Countess/Getty Images for Global Citizen Festival: Mandela 100

Femi Kuti & Stromae Appear On a New Coldplay Song 'Arabesque'

The Nigerian afrobeat legend and Belgian-Rwandan pop star will feature on Coldplay's new album, Everyday Life.

In a sentence we never thought we'd type, both Femi Kuti and Stromae appear on a new song from Coldplay.

Both the Nigerian legend and Belgian pop star are featured on "Arabesque," a newly released Coldplay track from their upcoming "more experimental" album Everyday Life (due November 22 via Parlophone/Atlantic), which was shared by the band alongside the main single "Orphans."

"Arabesque" is an expansive composition built on what sounds like North African-inspired guitars and rhythms, which call to mind the likes of Bombino and Tinariwen. The song sees Stromae delivering a verse in French.

Femi Kuti comes in around the 2-minute mark for a solid and extensive saxophone solo. The song also notably features a sample of Fela Kuti's famous quote "music is the weapon of the future."

Coldplay's Everyday Life is being promoted as a double album, which is split into two halves, Sunrise and Sunset. "Arabesque" is from the Sunrise portion of the album, while "Orphans" is from Sunset.

Listen to both "Arabesque" and "Orphans" below.

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Afrobeat Legend, Femi Kuti, Will Perform at the Africa Cup of Nations Opening Ceremony

The Nigerian musician will be singing the English version of the tournament's official anthem.

Soccer fans are counting down the remaining hours till the Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon) is set to officially kick off tomorrow in Egypt. Four-time Grammy nominated Afrobeats artist, Femi Kuti, is one of three international artists who'll be performing the tournament's "Metgameen" (translates to "we are together") anthem as part of the opening ceremony.

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Justice Mukheli. Courtesy of Black Major/Bongeziwe Mabandla.

Interview: Bongeziwe Mabandla's New Album Is a Calm Meditation On Relationships

We speak with the South African artist about his captivating new album, iimini, love cycles, and the unexpected influence of Bon Iver.

"I've been playing at home for so many years and pretending to be having shows in my living room, and today it's actually happening," Bongeziwe Mabandla says, smiling out at me from my cellphone as I watch him play songs on Instagram Live, guitar close to his chest.

Two weekends ago, Mabandla was meant to be celebrating the release of his third album, iimini, at the Untitled Basement in Braamfontein in Joburg, which would no doubt have been packed with some of the many fans the musician has made since his debut release, Umlilo, in 2012. With South Africa joining many other parts of the world in a lockdown, those dates were cancelled and Mabandla, like many other artists, took to social media to still play some tracks from the album. The songs on iimini are about the life and death of a relationship—songs that are finding their way into the hearts of fans around the world, some of whom, now stuck in isolation, may be having to confront the ups and downs of love, with nowhere to hide.

The day before his Instagram Live mini-show, Mabandla spoke to OkayAfrica on lockdown from his home in Newtown about the lessons he's learned from making the album, his new-found love for Bon Iver, and how he's going to be spending his time over the next few weeks.

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Lueking Photos. Courtesy of emPawa Africa.

Interview: GuiltyBeatz Proves He's Truly 'Different'

The Ghanaian producer talks to us about his debut EP, Different, the massive success of "Akwaaba," producing for Beyoncé and more.

GuiltyBeatz isn't a new name in the Ghanaian music scene. A casual music fan's first introduction to him would've likely been years ago on "Sample You," one of Mr Eazi's early breakout hits. However, he had scored his first major hit two years before that, in the Nigerian music space on Jesse Jagz' and Wizkid's 2013 hit "Bad Girl." In the years to come, the producer has gone on to craft productions for some of Ghana's most talented artists.

In the years to come, the producer has gone on to craft productions for some of Ghana's most talented artists, having worked with the likes of Efya, Pappy Kojo, Sarkodie, R2Bees, Stonebwoy, Bisa Kdei, Wande Coal, Moelogo and many more over the last decade. The biggest break of the talented producer's career, however, came with the arrival of his own single "Akwaaba".

In 2018, GuiltyBeatz shared "Akwaaba" under Mr Eazi's Banku Music imprint, shortly afterwards the song and its accompanying dance went viral. The track and dance graced party floors, music & dance videos, and even church auditoriums all around the world, instantly making him one of Africa's most influential producers. Awards, nominations, and festival bookings followed the huge success of "Akwaaba." Then, exactly a year later, the biggest highlight of his career so far would arrive: three production credits on Beyoncé's album The Lion King: The Gift.

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