Both Femi Kuti and his legendary father Fela Kuti operated in distinctly different ages musically, culturally and socially. Yet there are similarities in their music and outlook that transcend generations. Both artists’ music is very much informed by social and political themes. When you boil it down there is very little difference between Fela’s world of government fostered corruption and oppression and the world Femi currently performs in. In 2013, a number of social ills and destructive forces consume the world. It’s this global outlook that informs the afrobeat star’s new album No Place For My Dream.
This new work arrives with Kuti on something of a commercial high. He may never reach the exalted heights of his father, but albums like 2010’s Grammy winning Africa For Africa have helped to establish him as a hugely talented and respected artist in his own right. This is an album that carries on the socially conscious themes of his music but ramps it up to another level. Destruction and oppression have literally informed the album.
The record was recorded in Paris rather than in his home country of Nigeria, due to necessity rather than choice. The political situation in his homeland left him fighting to make music against a backdrop of bomb blasts and no electricity. Events like these have inspired the music collected here as he travelled the world to construct an album decrying the ills both of his own country and the world in general. Taking advantage of a technologically advanced and stable recording environment, the album sounds glorious. Hugely energised and rousing while laced with meaning, it is both euphoric, spiritual, aggressive and impassioned.
Sonically, the album is a return to his well-established afrobeat sound. This is not a regression though. Each song is hugely satisfying. The melting pot of sounds, horns, organs and percussion is compelling. It would be easy to lose sight of how wonderful the music is here amidst the political message. Femi and his band ensure that that never happens.
One thing that immediately strikes you is the bleakness of some of the lyrics. The picture that Kuti paints, especially on the despairing opener Nothing To Show For It, is of a world blighted by a lack of principles and, “this criminal behaviour”. The line “our problems they have no answer” highlights the depth of Kuti’s despair. It’s a startling contrast with the rousing organ and horns that give the music a joyous feeling. Much like the best tracks here, Kuti plays with emotions and feelings.
Elsewhere, The World Is Changing skips along on a lovely guitar line with Kuti outlining in that high pitched, harsh voice of his the fact that “Poverty is winning the game”. Natural disasters and tsunamis are also covered on a wide-ranging attack.
Perhaps, the most pertinent and lyrically biting track here is No Work, No Jobs, No Money. The feelings behind the track may have originated in Nigeria but this is a worldwide malaise. Kuti puts the blame firmly where he believes it belongs: “Politicians continue to give excuses.”
As the album progresses the songs become more and more energised and rabble rousing. Carry On Pushing On is an inspirational peace lamenting the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan while referencing the Arab Spring of 2012. “Carry on pushing on for better living” is a well worn but worthwhile maxim for Kuti.
There is a danger that the overtly direct political content could veer into sloganeering and worthless platitudes but the passion in Kuti’s voice and delivery prevents that from happening. When he sings, with intensity in his voice, “Fight for justice, fight for people” on One Man Show, you believe in him; you’re with him all the way. That’s the wonderful effect of Kuti’s music, and this album is a fine addition to his collection of socially conscious afrobeat. It’s a sound and approach that pays debt to his father, but is forged in Femi Kuti’s own singular identity.