Meet Seun Kuti: The singer-saxophonist's new EP honors revolutionaries (and, yes, he's Fela's son)
He also talks Black Lives Matter, Afrobeat in mainstream music, and touring partner Lauryn Hill.
If his last name sounds familiar, it should.
As the youngest son of legendary Nigerian Afrobeat pioneer Fela Kuti, Seun expressed to his father (at the young age of 9) his wish to sing. It was a move that would ultimately usher him into the lead vocalist role of his father’s band, Egypt 80, after the innovator passed away just five years later in 1997.
Since then, Seun has continued to play with the band (of which nearly three-quarters of its current line-up remain musicians of Fela’s era) and their new EP, the three-track Struggle Sounds, flawlessly reflects Seun’s genetic disposition to both challenging politics and playing a mean saxophone.
Co-produced by Robert Glasper, with track titles including “Gimme My Vote Back” and “African Dreams,” the EP aims to honor “every revolutionary who made this possible even before I was born,” according to Seun.
REVOLT spoke to the effortlessly-opinionated Seun about the Black Lives Matter movement, his current touring partner Lauryn Hill, the use of Afrobeat in mainstream music, his father’s message, and what he hopes people do after hearing Struggle Sounds.
Watch the full interview (and read excerpts) below.
On his politically- and socially-charged music: I don’t think I’ve written a song that didn’t have some kind of political meaning ever in my life. Maybe one song: “Fire Dance.” Probably my first record; I didn’t want to come out as too serious, so I said, ‘Let’s put a happy, like, song about nothing,’ but since then I haven’t been able to bring myself to write that kind of song again.
On artists vs. entertainers: Most real artists are not even famous. Most real artists are not successful financially, commercially. Most people that are called artists are really just entertainers. There’s no depth to them. People write their songs for them. They are packaged like a product and sold to the people in mainstream media as art.
On the Black Lives Matter movement: I like the concept, but I feel like it’s waiting for validation. It wants white people to understand that we matter. No. You don’t make anybody understand that you matter; people have to know. You have to assert it…. You’re not asking. Stop asking. Stop trying to make people see reason. People that hate you will never see reason. They will never understand until they have to understand.
On the incorporation of Afrobeat in mainstream music: It’s pop music. I don’t think this is Afrobeat. It doesn’t stand for Afrobeat. It’s not Afrobeat in any way, shape, or form, in terms of composition, in terms of arrangement, in terms of message. It’s pop music. They are afraid to compete with American pop musicians so they try to come as, ‘Oh, we are different,’ but it’s all pop music…. They are making the same mistake of trying to pander. They are talented, they have good music, they have catchy lyrics, so sell yourself based on your strengths. Don’t pander. Don’t be scared.
On Lauryn Hill: I always want to meet black people when the media says they are eccentric and crazy. Once the media start backlashing any black artists, that means the person has got a serious message for the black community…. When I met her, I knew it reinforced my idea; she was so sweet, so thoughtful, so intellectual…. And let’s face it: white media hates her because she’s not objectifying herself for them, she’s not shaking her booty for the old nasty white man, she’s not exposing her titties and all that shit so, yeah, I can understand the beef.
On his father Fela Kuti’s main goal through music: It’s simple. We want the world to be happy in equality.
On what he hopes listeners do after hearing Struggle Sounds: Organize and energize.
Video interview produced by Derek Reed.