Although he usually performed barefoot (and covered in little more than sweat and face paint), when Fela Kuti died in 1997, he left behind massive shoes to fill. For 30 years, the Nigerian bandleader reigned over the genre of Afrobeat, a brand of Africanized funk he invented and controlled so masterfully no one even attempted to step up as a potential successor. It ultimately fell to Felaâs youngest son, Seun, who was only 14 years old at the time of his fatherâs death, to pick up the torch. In contrast to the music of his older brother Femi, who began blending their dadâs horn-drenched polyrhythms with elements of hip-hop in the late â80s, Seun (pronounced âShay-oonâ) adheres to the traditional sound of Afrobeat, to the point that last yearâs magnificent From Africa with Fury: Rise, produced by Brian Eno and featuring members of Fela Kutiâs band Egypt 80, could be a lost Fela album from the 1970s. But, as Seun explained over a shaky phone connection from Nigeria, his devotion to the style is less out of obligation to the family legacy than to following his own political consciousness.
Seun Kuti: "For me, it's not about tradition. Afrobeat has to be the heaviest sound around today, just because we're not talking about selfish things like clothes and cars. We're talking about the real things of life. In the '60s and '70s, music was independent. Music was radical. Everybody was singing about change and progressiveness. It's not like today. The corporations bought all the music, and now they use the music to sell their Champagne and their cars and their good life. Music has to talk about the majority of the people. Everybody in the world cannot afford the lifestyle mainstream music is portraying. If music is not for the people, it's not real music."