By BENJAMIN NJOKU
“It is a wise father that knows his own child.”
Fela had this adage in mind when he introduced his eldest male child, Femi into music, at a very tender age.
Recall that Femi quit school in 1978, to play saxophone in Fela’s band. He also toured the world with his father since he was a child and had closely observed music from his father and his band. That exposure undoubtedly redefined his destiny and perhaps, put him on a huge page that some people think is close to his father’s.
Fela was optimistic then that Femi would definitely follow his footsteps. And it was not too long after his death in 1997, that the king’s heir assumed the responsibility of carrying the torch of his father’s legacy.
Whether Femi has followed in his father’s footsteps with varying degrees of success is immaterial here, but what is important is the fact that Femi has become a big brand on the international scene, just as his father was, during his lifetime. His passion for music which he developed after he quit school in 1978, to play saxophone in Fela’s band formed the early childhood experience that made him what he is today. Like Fela, Femi has shown a strong commitment to social and political causes throughout his career. While he has followed in Fela’s footsteps, so has his son, Orinmade. Bubbling with passion for Afro-beat, Orinmade studied classical music in London and he has since been sharing the stage with his father.
While preparing Femi for the role he’s playing today, Fela was not soft with his eldest son as he was his greatest critic. Femi once recounted how Fela had harsh words for his debut album, which he recorded in 1994 and released the following year.
In Fela’s submission, according to Femi, the album wasn’t good. “Fela condemned my first album. He said it was a very useless album. He even went public to insult me, he abused me very well,” Femi recounted. His testimony speaks volumes of Fela’s impartiality regardless of ‘ whose ox is gored.’ However, while the Afrobeat king left behind very large shoes when he passed on in 1997, from all ramifications, Femi has proved to be a chip off the old block. Though Femi once declared that he was not in competition with his late father or trying to step into his big shoes, evidence abound that he’s inseparable from his father.
A fan had tweeted few years back to compare Femi’s talent with that of his late father. “I respect @femiakuti and @realseunkuti musical prowess. But the truth is that they’ve not been able to occupy their father’s shoes,” the fan wrote. Femi quickly responded that he had no intention to replicate his father. “My purpose in life isn’t to be or copy my father but to be myself. I love my father and I’m not in competition with him.” Femi’s clarification was on point. He accepted that his father was greater than him. But if for anything, he has not only expanded the frontiers of his father’s music, but he has also ensured that his name does not disappear with the wind. Beyond perfecting Fela’s music and creating his own brand of Afro-beat, Femi and his kid brother, Seun have kept the music thread running in Kutis’ family.
Fela was Femi’s first hero and inspiration. Also, Seun’s uncanny resemblance of his father attracts tremendous comments. But Femi is the one carrying the torch of Fela’s legacy. He may not have surpassed Fela’s achievements, but Femi has definitely carved out his own legendary status, liberating himself from his father’s legacy.
He’s now the heart and soul of modern Afro-beats as he has continued to expand the genre’s reach and vocabulary, adding hints of punk and hip-hop to the sound. He has also simultaneously maintained its traditional roots and political message.
‘No one can fit into Fela’s shoes and more over, he remains a legend of all time. However, Femi has done very well for himself and achieved many firsts.
He has gotten four Grammy nominations, which in my own opinion is no small feat.’
‘I think Femi is doing really great and keeping the name of the Abami Eda…he must be commended for his creativity and expansion of the genre of music called Afro-beat,’said music enthusiast and film maker, Fidelis Duker said, while appraising Femi’s achievements.