The eldest son of Afro-beat legend Fela Anikulapo-Kuti,Femi Kuti (born Olufela Olufemi Anikulapo Kuti) spent years playing in his father’s band before eventually rising to superstardom following his father’s death in the late ’90s.
Since few artists can match the elder Kuti’s musical legacy,Femi’s association with his father has been both a blessing and a curse. On the one hand, it’s never been difficult forFemi to garner press or attention, and MCA went out of its way to push his career with considerable amounts of publicity. Yet on the other hand, no matter his individual accomplishments, Femi will forever be known as Fela’s son.
Video: New York Afrobeat fans and Africa music lovers received a musical-political -philosophical dosage from Femi Anikulapo-Kuti and the Positive Force band
Practicing a similar style of Afro-beat as his father, Femi helped introduce the percussive blend of jazz and funk music to the international masses beginning in the mid-’90s, along with his father’s same sense of political activism.
After his father’s death in 1997, Femi suddenly found himself the subject of immense attention. He responded by signing with MCA and embarking on his solo career beginning with Shoki Shoki. He won critical celebration around the world and began mounting efforts to break into the U.S. mainstream in successive years.
Born in London and raised in Lagos, Nigeria, Femi began his musical career playing in his father’s band, Egypt 80. In 1986, Femi started his own group, Positive Force, and began establishing himself as an artist independent of his father’s legacy. In the mid-’90s, Motown offered him a record deal with its boutique label Tabu; Femi’s eponymous debut album resulted.
Released in 1995, the record won praise throughout Europe and Africa for offering a more streamlined and accessible version of his father’s music. Femi embarked on an extended promotional tour, crossing first Africa, then Europe in 1996 and 1997. His solo career was off to a successful start, despite the dissolution of the Tabu label (and Femi’s record deal with it).
However, this problem became the least of Femi’s concerns when his father died of AIDS-related complications in 1997. Shortly afterwards, his sister, Sola, also suffered an untimely death, making 1997 a truly dark year for Femi. He would later write “’97,” a song that candidly reflects on this particularly tragic time. Yet with tragedy comes opportunity in the world of music, and Femi ultimately signed a major-label record deal with Polygram in December 1997, only months after his father’s death. MCA made the most out of the situation, repackaging and re-releasing much of Fela’s catalog and setting the stage for Femi’s MCA debut album in the process. Following months of press and hype, MCA released Shoki Shoki in early 1999 to widespread acclaim from such esteemed publications as The New Yorker, Rolling Stone, and Vibe, not to mention other smaller publications.
A year later, Femi returned with his second album, Fight to Win, and toured the States with Jane’s Addiction in an effort to cross over to a more mainstream audience. Part of this crossover effort meant aligning himself closer to hip-hop and its sizable audience. Fight to Win featured a number of respected rap artists like Mos Def and Common. As expected, critics celebrated the album, though Western masses seemed rather indifferent to both the record andFemi’s concert trek with Jane’s Addiction.
Over the next decade, several recordings of live shows and compilations were released, but for the most part — with the exception of making a vocal cameo as a radio station DJ in Grand Theft Auto IV — he avoided the recording studio, opting to tour instead. In 2008, he re-emerged with his first album in seven years, Day by Day, a definitive album that helped to establish Femi as a true original with his own unique style. His 2011 effort Africa for Africa was a mix of new and re-recorded older material. In 2013, a collection of all new work entitled No Place for My Dream was issued by Knitting Factory.