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Femi Kuti talks music, family and gays in Nigeria
NUNN ON ONE Special to the online edition of Windy City Times
by Jerry Nunn, Windy City Times
2013-02-13

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Nigerian Femi Kuti is the eldest son of famed Afrobeat innovator Fela Kuti.

He joined Fela's band before creating his own group named Positive Force. He went on to be nominated for three Grammys as well as tour consistently ever since. His father, Fela, died of AIDS complications in the late '90s but has since been immortalized on Broadway with the musical Fela!

We tracked Kuti down all the way to Nigeria to find out the state of the world there and chat about his upcoming tour date in Chicago.

Windy City Media Group: Hello, Femi. Where in the world are you today?

Femi Kuti: I'm in Lagos, Nigeria.

WCT: When does the tour begin?

Femi Kuti: In 2013, I will constantly be on tour.

WCT: How long have you been performing?

Femi Kuti: Thirteen years plus…

WCT: Did you always feel a lot of pressure to perform, having such a legendary father?

Femi Kuti: Yes, since I was about 6 years old.

WCT: Even your son now plays saxophone.

Femi Kuti: Yes; right now he is in England studying the classical piano.

WCT: Does he go out on tour with you?

Femi Kuti: He did for years but he's in college now. I think it is more important for him to finish his studies.

WCT: Does he want to be a performer?

Femi Kuti: I'm not sure. He might be a producer. That's why it's so important for him to go now and decide what he wants to do. It's his call. I'm not going to be telling him what to do.

WCT: When your band Positive Force plays live, is it very improvisational?

Femi Kuti: It depends on the venue. We have a set list and know what we want to do but we can change it for the audience. We might decide to change a few tunes on the night of the show. We might get bored along the way and say we have to do it differently that night. What we are doing is taking selections from my new album coming out and previous albums.

WCT: When is the new album coming out?

Femi Kuti: Hopefully by the end of March, but definitely by April...

WCT: I heard it will be more Afrobeat-centered.

Femi Kuti: Yes, it will. It sounds great so far!

WCT: What will it be called?

Femi Kuti: No Place for My Dream.

WCT: Where did the title originate?

Femi Kuti: It came from me. It is my story on setting out to achieve freedom and justice. People are discouraging it, saying it is impossible and just a dream. I keep trying and I am determined. They say for me to wake up from my dream and this is reality; corruption will never end and your life will always be like this. I raise my voice but they say, "There is no place for my dream."

WCT: Speaking of oppression, how are gay people treated in Nigeria that you have noticed recently?

Femi Kuti: There are gay people here but it is not an open fact. I think there is a law against it but there are many gay people here. Nobody really talks about it.

WCT: So is gay society very underground?

Femi Kuti: I wouldn't say underground, but gay people don't flaunt it here. Everybody may know when there is a gay or lesbian person around, but it is not their business. The problem was that they wanted an open marriage but it is very conservative and religious here. Religious people are very adamant against it. Many of us have gay friends and people like me don't care. There are many fanatics that do and consider it taboo. They have the power sometimes.

WCT: Do you think the opinion of Nigeria has changed on the subject of AIDS?

Femi Kuti: I believe people are more enlightened about it now. There used to be a kind of stigma about it. It is not like in my father's time when nobody wanted to talk about it. There was a campaign that I was a big part of in 2000 for about four years. It has died down a bit. There is a lot of awareness about it now.

WCT: What did you think of the musical Fela?

Femi Kuti: I thought it was fantastic. I was very impressed.

WCT: It recently played in Chicago and is coming back for another run.

Femi Kuti: I love Chicago. I've always had a great time there. I've been there about nine times.

WCT: How many people are you bringing with you on the tour?

Femi Kuti: We are not bringing the whole band this time because one of the dancers left and to get a new visa was impossible. It takes about six months. So we will be 12 this time, one dancer short.

WCT: We will still make it a party. Looking forward to seeing the experience live.

Femi Kuti: Yes, by all means. I will see you there.

Fela! returns to Chicago at the Arie Crown Theater, 2301 S. Lake Shore Dr., Feb. 19-23. Visit www.ariecrown.com .


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