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Last Updated: Thursday, 9 December 2004, 16:48 GMT
Femi Kuti calls for "peaceful change"
Femi Kuti
Femi Kuti's political music is a strong influence for young Nigerians
In a HardTalk Extra interview screened on 9 December, Miranda Sawyer spoke to Femi Kuti about the musical and political legacy of his father, Fela Kuti -- and his own desire to see change in Nigeria.

Femi Kuti is the son of the legendary Afro-beat musician, Fela Anikulapo-Kuti. Femi spent years playing in his father's band before forming his own band. But it wasn't until Fela's death in 1997 that Femi managed to emerge as a star in his own right.

Femi's latest album, Africa Shrine, was recorded in the Lagos club of the same name. It's the latest incarnation of Fela Kuti's legendary club The Shrine -- which was both a performance venue and a home for Fela and his family.

Femi now runs The Africa Shrine in a different location -- but Fela's legacy lives on there.

Nigerians go there to enjoy music and to get away from the troubles around them, Femi told Miranda Sawyer. But the Shrine is no haven for Femi himself, who says he has faced negative propaganda from some quarters of the Nigerian press.

"The government and the institutions did not want the Fela name to rise again and give the people that kind of tonic."

"Every Nigerian wants to leave"

Recent surveys have shown that a majority of Nigerians are unhappy with the way things are in their country, and Femi says he can understand this.

"Every Nigerian wants to leave Nigeria .. how many Nigerians are you going to accommodate in England before you realise the problems in Nigeria?"
We should not wait till we're dead or about to die before we start complaining
Femi Kuti

What about Femi himself? He was educated in England, and Miranda Sawyer asked him if he ever thinks about returning here.

"No, that would be like being a coward. I believe in what I'm doing. I love my music, I love the Shrine very much."

No future for NEPAD?

Femi's music deals almost exclusively with politics and the problems facing society.

"I think it's the duty of every right-thinking human being to be interested in what is going on around the world, and we should not wait till we're dead or about to die before we start complaining."

Femi is sceptical about the chances of real change under the New Partnership for African Development ("they know the right things to say, but they never do the right things") and also about British Prime Minister Tony Blair's avowed commitment to put Africa at the top of the agenda when Britain chairs the G8.

He said the Prime Minister will only elicit change "if he declares his stance and says we're not going to deal with this government any more and expose their bank accounts. Let the people of Nigeria know that he, Tony Blair, is seriously concerned and wants to deal with this problem".
I don't like singing the songs I sing. Sometimes they are very painful .. so I wish I didn't have to
Femi Kuti

So what does Femi think it will take? He said he would like to see peaceful change -- but wonders whether this is possible.

"I was flying over Cameroon, Nigeria, Malabu -- oh, the slums. Now if I was the President, if I looked out of the plane in Europe and I see this, the first thing (I would say is) oh, I want to make my country like this.

"They fly over their country and they look down, don't they feel that, don't they have any sense of pity? It's very shameful. I am disgusted. I would rather be dead than be alive to see what I see."

Fela's legacy

It's clear that Femi feels the weight of his father's legacy very keenly. He said that technology has preserved Fela's music and is helping to transmit the urgency of his cause. Femi himself is continuing to sing protest songs. But he admitted that he wishes one day he will be able to put protest music aside.

"I don't like singing the songs I sing. Sometimes they are very painful .. so I wish I didn't have to. And if I didn't, I think the people of Nigeria, people who know me would never forgive me that I had the opportunity to give them this kind of music.

"I hope it will all end very soon so I can really just be on top of music, sing about love, you know, other things. Something happy, for once."

HARDtalk Extra can be seen on Fridays on BBC World at 04:30 GMT, 11:30 GMT, 15:30 GMT, 19:30 GMT and 00:30 GMT.

It can also be seen on BBC News 24 at 04:30 and 23:30

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06 Dec 04 |  Hardtalk
Jeremy Irons
25 Nov 04 |  Hardtalk
Baroness Susan Greenfield
23 Nov 04 |  Hardtalk
Tom Jones and Jools Holland
10 Nov 04 |  Hardtalk

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