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Femi Kuti Returns to Afrobeat Roots on New Album

'I'm feeling the pain of the people that love my music'

Femi Kuti
PIUS UTOMI EKPEI/AFP/GettyImages
December 14, 2012 4:55 PM ET

Unlike his 2010 Grammy-winning album, Africa for Africa, Femi Kuti opted to record its forthcoming follow-up, No Place for My Dream, in Paris instead of Nigeria. Why remove himself from his native country? As the 50-year-old singer and son of Afrobeat pioneer Fela tells Rolling Stone when he calls from Nigeria, he wanted to take advantage of the technological advances abroad to fully energize his highly politicized music. "I live this experience. I'm in Nigeria right now," he explains. "We have no electricity in my house. There was a bomb blast in Kano today. So I'm experiencing it."

Kuti sees No Place for My Dream as the inevitable return to the Afrobeat music which helped launch his career in the late Eighties and culminated with the release of 1998's critically acclaimed Shoki Shoki. In the years since, Kuti says he found himself with the opportunity to expand his musical repertoire, most notably by working with American hip-hop artists such as Mos Def, Common and Jaguar Wright for 2001's Fight to Win. "It was my going off what I wanted to do, what I had to do," he says. "Now it's going back on track where I really want to be with No Place for My Dream. It's like going back to where I started off."

Album Review: Femi Kuti, Africa for Africa

The album also breaks new topical grounds. "I think this album is probably more political than any of the songs I've done," he says. For the album's highly emotional bent, the singer drew upon his experiences touring abroad, as well as his constant ingestion of news reports of global suffering. "I'm feeling the pain of the people that love my music," he says. "I'm watching the news and seeing all the riots, so many people out of work, the global recession. This is very disheartening news. The songs are not really for Nigeria or Africa anymore. They are for people I love. I'm just voicing their pain with my music."

To that effect, the singer doesn't mince words in his new tunes. On "No Work No Job No Money," over a slinky guitar groove and reggae-tinged synths, he ruminates on behalf of the 99 percent: "See the suffering of the people/ They no getting nothing/ Then they hungry," he laments. On "Politic Na Big Business" his aim shifts to the greed of our world's lawmakers: "As I rack my brain/ Trying to understand politics/ Again and again/ Politicians use the same tactics," he bellows atop a foreboding, minor-key melody with a stabbing horn section.

Kuti is aware that returning to his Afrobeat roots– and loading his songs with political undercurrents – will likely draw comparisons to his late father. However, he insists he's keen on carving his own path. "I think it's very important for me to give tribute to who it's due," he says. "So that's very important to my father's creation. I must respect that all the time. But I don't want to be my father's replica. I want to find my own spirit, my own soul and my own voice."

The singer plans to release No Place for My Dream in early 2013 and will hit the road just after the New Year, kicking off a string of U.S. tour dates on January 13th in Miami. Having recently turned 50, Kuti says he now feels better equipped to balance his touring life with his role as a father to his 10 children. "I think I'm a better person now," he says. "I'm calmer. I think when I was younger, I was very overprotective to a lot of personal issues. I was too hard on people around me. People probably think I'm too sensitive now and too emotional, blah, blah, blah, blah. I like me where I am now."

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