Femi aims both barrels at George Bush, his old record company, the press, the regime in Nigeria, radio, TV… At the same time, he has never been so musically satisfied and hopeful as his new base the Shrine takes off…
You did many collaborations with house / hip hop artists. Like Joe Claussell, Faze Action, Mos Def, The Roots and more. Did they change your music?
Femi Kuti: No, it was an experience. For that time. One of the most difficult times of my life was the production of Fight To Win. The shrine started, my family [had problems], people wrote I was in an asylum in France and I was working on this album. But people never believed I was in France to work.
My company Barclay sacked me because I had sacked my French manager, and they were annoyed [to see] an African man sacking a French man… so they sacked me”
They kept asking me long after I returned ‘are you better?’, ‘how do you feel now?’ etc. it was the hardest time in my life. I’d lost everything I really believed in. my family… it has changed my way of thinking. My beliefs had been taken from me. My mother died, my wife left me. Without the Shrine and the next album, I’d be in big confusion right now.
They tried to destroy me, destroying everything I had. They didn’t manage. And now they have a bigger problem, since I grew up and became stronger after this.
Why did you decide to release this live album?
Femi Kuti: It wasn’t a matter of choice. My company Barclay had sacked me because I sacked my French manager, and they were annoyed [to see] an African man sacking a French man… so they sacked me. Then UWE and MK2 came to Nigeria and said they wanted to record me, we said there was a studio in Lagos and then we thought we could record it at the shrine.
And then, three days, the most stressful days of my life.. so tense.. but it worked. We’re looking forward to the release now. And I think it’s one of the greatest things of my life. To build the Shrine, my sister and I, to record the Shrine, and now we can just keep one building. We are in a position where we can dictate the path of our lives.
But for the first time in our lives, we have a place of our own. And we have it in Africa where our life is.
I think the world is getting darker now. Japan is preparing for war. Television and radio don’t tell the truth. Sometimes I feel despair. Where is the hope?
Femi Kuti: Well I stopped listening to the radio, I don’t want to have anything to do with someone who’s not talking about how to make life progress. I don’t want people showing off to me. I’m just concerned about my heritage, my life, what I see going on around me, I cannot stand it: commercials, TV.
“Everybody will have to change. We are compelled to change. I believe it. It’s already started. Parameters are changing, and we absolutely have to change”
I don’t listen to anything. My son, myself, I don’t want the TV on. I don’t want the radio on. It’s somebody trying to sell something to thousands of people ìhey, it’s the best hit,î, all lies! He influences you! I believe that some of the best music, and musicians, we’ll never know them: they are in the metro! They don’t make money! They are practicing the whole day long! You have to make at least 8 hours of music a day! There’s no easy way in music.
Yet, I truly think the best is here. We just have to see it. For instance Iraq. The biggest mistake their leader [Bush] made was to start the war with Iraq. To show what kind of man he was. Should you kill innocent people, and we know, we said it was wrong. World leaders, they are supposed to bring peace and love to the world and they bring war. For thousands of years, it’s been the same story. When will it end? I believed it would end 4 years ago: the year 2000. There’s a time when the revolution takes place through the emergence of another nationality (Chinese for instance).
Everybody will have to change. We are compelled to change. I believe it. It’s already started. With China for instance, coming up. Parameters are changing, and we absolutely have to change.
What is “Africa” for you?
Femi Kuti: The centre of the world. Fight of the future. Everybody will strive to build a new life. Utopia! With true leadership. Everyone will learn to be a master of his life; which should be what education is about. To have your future in your own hands. Now, you are taught to become a slave. But it will change. I try to teach so to my son: telling him his mistakes. He hates school, he doesn’t understand why he goes to school. He doesn’t even understand why to go there. He learns to speak English. He doesn’t understand what for? Why not his language. Why is everything if English or French?
“They would say things like Femi was seen in the streets of Lagos naked with a big joint in his hand, lies, so many lies! I was freaking, they ruined my home, I wanted to die, to kill myself, they said so many things”
Nothing I myself learnt at school was of any use for me. I speak good English, but that was thanks to my mother!
School is the place where parents can just drop their children, and get on with their lives. That’s why children feel it and don’t like it. The father is never there. The mother is never there.
The new generation is more dynamic than ever before. They will be part of the change. They are rebellion: they understood they’ve been told lies and now their rebellion is a first time ever in history.
How are things going in Nigeria, at the moment? (we don’t hear a lot)
Femi Kuti: Everything is getting worse. People are getting more poor, more selfish, people are getting worse. I have no problems, myself. I don’t complain to have problems, with the papers writing nonsense about me. If I were not an artist, people would leave me in peace, I’d walk in the street without anyone recognizing me. For the artist, it’s not fair to be annoyed, but I understand.
People come to me to ask me money for the sick wife, money to send their child to school etc. but even for me, with downloading CD from the internet it’s not always easy. How come people like me help people and not the government, which is supposed to work to help people?
You are a protest singer; does the government try to stop you? (How?)
Femi Kuti: They tried to prevent the Shrine from existing. In the beginning, people were afraid to come to the Shrine. At the beginning, they tried to write things about the Shrine. Saying there were criminals, sacrificing women, thieves.. all kind of lies about the Shrine.
So people were afraid about coming to the Shrine. There were one or two hundred there at the beginning, 2 or 3 years ago. Then I stopped talking or relating to anything to the press and now we have 2000 people every Tuesdays, Thursdays, Fridays and Sundays. And we have people just passing by every time of the day. We are on the right path. Before we had at least 10 journalists, ready to attack. The government sponsors journalists. They are trying to extort money. They say lies all the time if you don’t pay.
They would say things like Femi was seen in the streets of Lagos naked with a big joint in his hand, lies, so many lies! I was freaking, they ruined my home, I wanted to die, to kill myself, they said so many things.
But my son and the Shrine kept me alive. It wasn’t in vain. I see the battle in front of me. Now I’m more determined, I want to move forward. Africa can progress for the first time for a long time. I’m ready for whatever! I’m trying to be more patient. Patience is a virtue. Otherwise you lose focus. When I expect something, I’m patient, and it happens eventually.
You could be living in any Western country, but you prefer living in Nigeria? (Lagos?)
Femi Kuti: It’s because of my life. The life I chose. There are so many people depending on me in Africa, so many people I look after right now. If I move to Europe now, it will be a kind of betrayal, especially for the young people believing me.
Femi Kuti – Live at the Shrine (DVD)
Femi Kuti – Africa Shrine (CD)
Pictures of Femi Kuti live at the Barbican in London
–Our thanks to Remix Magazine and Olivia Arlabosse–
–Copyright Remix Magazine, Tokyo, Japan–
–Image by Damian Rafferty, Fly–