Femi Kuti will always be connected to his father, ‘the cornerstone of Afrobeat’, Feli Kuti. Filling the shoes of such a legend isn’t an easy task and is even deemed impossible by most. Impossible or not, from a more positive side one can say Femi learned from the best. Femi joined his father’s Egypt 80 band as a saxophonist when he was a teenager and during the decades that followed he frequently led the band while his father was locked up in a Nigerian prison due to various politically motivated activities. Femi Kuti experienced his solo breakthrough in 1998 with the release of Shoki Shoki after his father died of AIDS in the year before. Hereafter he gathered more fame by collaborating with artists such as Rachid Taha, Roy Hargrove, Common and by hosting a radio station in the videogame Grand Theft Auto IV. Femi did however never lost track of his heritage and prolongs the legacy of his father by addressing the many problems of African societies in his music. Fight to Win (2001), Day by Day (2008) and Africa for Africa (2010) are all prime examples of the latter. No Place For My Dream adds a new chapter in the battle against injustice and inequality.
Today various media report that Africa is slowly emerging from its economic peripheral position. Indeed this appears to be a good thing on itself, yet in many respects the continent is still deeply divided. Severe conflicts still exist (e.g. Rwanda, Darfur, Mali) as a result of the Imperialist ‘scramble for Africa’ that took place in the nineteenth century. This scramble is seemingly still ongoing but is now propelled by capital coming from BRIC economies. This is where Femi Kuti joins in, for he adds the perspective of ordinary people in this debate. From his point of view Africans are stuck between corrupt and politically unstable governments and social deprivation. He notes that a significant share of the African population still lives below the poverty line, has to deal with HIV/AIDS, does not have any education and are unemployed. With his music, Femi wants to emancipate his fellow Africans and tell the rest of the world what really goes on in Africa and beyond.
Immediately it becomes clear that No Place For My Dream is a powerful and up-tempo record. Each of the eleven songs is packed with a solid brass section and catchy bass play. On Nothing To Show For It and The World Is Changing Femi straightforwardly sets out the tone of the album: sweaty and groovy music in which social criticism prevails. In terms of content, Femi inexhaustibly attacks the oppression that is caused by the elite. On the other and more important side, songs such as Action Time and Carry On Pushing On he directly calls out to ‘the oppressed’ to stand up to against ‘the oppressors’. In his attempt to persuade listeners to do so Femi makes use of sloganeering in most of the tracks. The high-tone and sometimes emotional singing make it hard not to repeat his cries. No Work No Job No Money is one of those tracks which is an easy sing-along but also touches the core of problems of everyday life in Africa. Intensity is raised once more on Na So Wee See Am, Wey Our Money and One Man Show. These tracks are very fine pieces of danceable, funky riffed and hypnotic Afrobeat. Decisively the album is closed with This Is Only The Beginning which will surely leave you overwhelmed and in need for some fresh air.
As a protest singer Femi Kuti deserves a place among the great. Fighting for human rights and better living standards through music is an admirable thing to do. However Femi’s lack of faith in the political system frequently causes him to lapse into a simple sort of bipolarism. Placing complex social and economic issues in a ‘us versus them framework’ certainly is an oversimplified way of seeing the world. Yet what should not be forgotten is that local reality for people in developing countries can still be a depressing affair. Perhaps agitators like Femi Kuti are just what people need to make them to open their eyes and start questioning authority. Musically the urgency of Femi’s message is supported with uplifting beats making No Place For My Dream a highly accessible record for anyone who enjoys World music. It must be said that that this new album does not expand any horizon. What it does do, is represent Afrobeat at its highest level, making Femi Kuti the one who rules the roost within the genre.
- Nothing to Show for It (3:36)
- The World Is Changing (6:06)
- No Place for My Dream (3:45)
- Action Time (5:45)
- No Work No Job No Money (5:21)
- Carry on Pushing On (4:59)
- Politics Na Big Business (3:44)
- Na So Wee See Am (4:20)
- One Man Show (6:19)
- Wey Our Money (4:49)
- This Is Only the Beginning (1:44)
Review by Wander Meulemans // VOR150613