Seun Kuti’s mission is as vast as the continent from which it sprang: “Inspire Africa to be what it is supposed to be.”
The youngest son of visionary Fela Kuti, Seun has continued the family tradition of fusing music and politics into something transcendent. Like his parents and grandparents, Seun is an activist on the frontlines – a revolutionary in every sense of the word. He has responded to our global moment of crisis in a burst of creativity.
With his weekly radio show, his mythical gigs at The Shrine in Lagos, and a righteous social media presence, Seun is a towering figure in Nigeria. In “When We Move,” his recent collaboration with Common and Black Thought (from The Roots), he continues to ask the difficult questions:
“Would they feel the pain like we do?
Would they hear a cry like we do?”
“I have to give all the flowers to Black Thought,” Seun says from his home in Lagos. “He has has been a big brother to me for a long time. He called me up, asked ‘You want to do this with Common?’ He sent me the tune. I did my vocals, added the hook, added the horns. Black Thought did a little verse, then we shot the video here at The Shrine.”
Common, Black Thought, and Seun, though from different parts of the world, confront universal issues, citing inspirations from Fela to Mandela. “Everything is a struggle, school, housing, we are all children of sacrifice,” says Seun. “Women and kids, destitute and displaced, we must ask these questions. How else will they be heard?”
Seun channels this pain into a joyous cry for justice, giving voice to the voiceless. Like his father, Seun doesn’t just stand against corruption – he dances against it, sings against it, pressing onward with his family’s sacred musical mission: resisting oppression, uniting the people with rhythm.
To grasp the depth of this dynasty one must look beyond Fela, to Seun’s grandfather, a composer of hymns in traditional Nigerian form. Seun’s grandmother was the first Secretary General of the International League of Women. When speaking of her Seun invokes Oya, the Storm Goddess of Wind and Lighning. His respect for feminine power is woven into his lyrics.
And now the torch of justice has been passed to Seun, Pro-Tem Chairman of Movement of the People, the political party launched by his father which Seun is resurrecting.
Seun creates music to heal the violence that he sees between people and nature. “I see us as gardeners of the earth. Nature needed a conscious species to appreciate the beauty and preserve it, yet we are here doing the opposite.”
Seun’s lyrics are set to rhythms born in Africa, which then circled the globe, returning to Nigeria where Fela reinvented them as Afrobeat. “I was raised in Afrobeat,” says Seun, who joined his father’s band at 9 and began fronting it at 14. “This has been my life, as far back as I can remember. My mom was always in the band singing and dancing, so my fate was sealed.”
This was a towering challenge for a 14 year old boy. “It’s difficult to believe in the magical because the real is so toxic,” says Kuti. His response to the real can be heard in his single, “Love and Revolution,” appearing on his next album. The title could function as a mission statement for Seun himself. “Love Is Revolution” he posted to Instagram last year.
Seun’s upcoming EP, coming out in late spring, features Black Thought from The Roots on all three songs. Guests artists on the EP include Akala, the Jamaican Scottish UK rapper/ producer, and Vector, the biggest hip hop artist in Lagos. The EP is produced by DJ Molotov who produced an earlier version of “Black Times,” Seun’s 2018 song that looked to the future:
“Let the black light shine on your path”
Like a heartbeat, rhythm has passed through this family, its power as strong as ever. “Music is what allows humanity to rediscover itself,” says Kuti.
Seun is returning to the road this spring and summer, touring Europe and the United States, with dates soon to be announced. He also makes his film debut in the upcoming “No Man’s Land,” featuring his song “Love and Revolution.”
“It’s a film about young people resisting the government’s attempt to steal their land,” he says. “Whoa bro, this is a big movie.”