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Wednesday, July 14, 1999 Published at 17:38 GMT 18:38 UK

World: Africa

Jazz to the Lagos beat

Femi Kuti hopes his fame will improve Nigeria's image abroad

By Barnaby Phillips in Lagos

Femi Kuti is only the latest member of a distinguished family of musicians and activists to achieve fame in Nigeria - his grandmother was a leader in the campaign against British colonialism, while his father, Fela Kuti, was a legendary singer in his own right.

Femi Kuti provides the soundtrack to Barnaby Phillips's report
In fact, for millions of Nigerians, there will never be another Fela - a man who enjoyed drugs and women with the same energy and gusto with which he performed music and stood up to successive military governments.

[ image: Fela Kuti: Femi's father was a legend in Nigeria]
Fela Kuti: Femi's father was a legend in Nigeria
Ultimately Fela paid the price both for his courage and his lifestyle. Imprisoned several times, he died of Aids two years ago.

Now Femi is forging his own career. While the soldiers whom his father railed against have finally left power, Femi believes that even in the new, democratic Nigeria there is still plenty to complain about.

"People want drastic change," he says. "Look around you. Electricity, water, roads, education - are these things too much to ask for in a mineral-rich country like Nigeria?"

Afrobeat's heir

[ image: Femi Kuti has developed the sound pioneered by his father]
Femi Kuti has developed the sound pioneered by his father
Femi Kuti has taken his father's musical style, and depending on your point of view, made it more accessible to an international audience, or else, drained it of some its original energy.

The style is Afrobeat - a fusion of west African rhythms with American jazz.

Afrobeat is, above all, the music of Lagos, the largest city in black Africa, a violent and fascinating place. Nigerian musician Tunde Kuboye, who was a close friend of Fela Kuti, says Afrobeat and Lagos go together.

"I call Lagos a city without pity", says Kuboye. "It's like a stunningly beautiful woman who is also very dangerous - you're attracted to it, but it's cunning, a combination of good and bad."

African answers

[ image:
"Why shouldn't the African man sit down and think about his own technology, his own medicine?"
While Femi has already offended some in Nigeria with the sexually explicit content of his songs he is, in fact, a far more conservative person than his father.

He believes that Africa must turn back on itself to find the solutions to enduring problems like political instability and economic decline.

"Why shouldn't the African man sit down and think about his own technology, his own medicine?" he demands.

"Why do we have to copy what America says? Why do we have to wait for Europe to say 'jump' before we jump?"

As Femi sets off on another European tour, he hopes that his growing international fame will help present a more rounded picture of his home country to the rest of the world - that while the negative stereotypes of corruption and crime do contain some truth, he can demonstrate that Nigeria is also a vibrant and creative society.

  • Femi Kuti and Positive Force perform at the Royal Festival Hall, London, UK on Friday 17 July at 1930.

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