Seun Kuti Taps Brian Eno, Challenges Government on Second Album
"A first album is always difficult, no matter how confident you are," Seun Anikulapo Kuti says during a phone call from London. "You have your doubts."
Maybe so, but three years ago, "Seun Kuti & Fela's Egypt 80" could've fooled anyone. It's an audacious reclamation, not only of the band that his father, Afrobeat pioneer and global music legend Fela Kuti, had led until his death in 1997 (when Seun was 15), but also of the music Fela had pioneered. "Seun Kuti & Fela's Egypt 80," which appeared on Disorien, was as close to a new Fela album as it could get.
Seun's second album, "From Africa With Fury: Rise," released globally on Knitting Factory Records in April and set for a June 21 release in North America, is an even more complex piece of machinery. Recorded in Rio de Janeiro with co-producers Brian Eno and John Reynolds, "Rise" is at once supple and intricate -- the weave of percussion and guitar that makes "Mr. Big Thief" move, for example, is articulated more clearly than even on his father's prime records.
"I found out about Brian when I was in Liverpool studying," says Seun, who is Fela's youngest son. "My fellow students would sit around listening to music. Eno was in every aspect of every era of rock music. Coldplay were just coming out at that time, I think, and he made that album."
In 2009, Eno invited Seun and Egypt 80 to perform in Sydney at the Luminous Festival; a year later, he brought them to the Brighton Festival in England. Soon, Eno and Reynolds had decamped to Rio to help Seun make "Rise."
"Eno was serious," Seun says. "He said, 'You don't have to pay me a dime.' He did it for the love of the music, not for the money." Presumably, Eno received at least a couple of dimes for his work in the end. Either way, Seun is proud of the result.
"Every aspect of the album is an improvement, not just the songwriting and production -- everything," he says.
Although Seun doesn't divulge his writing methods -- "That is classified information. If I told, everyone would start making music like me," he says with a laugh -- he will admit to one key. "For me, my songs do not fit until I have a kicking bassline," he says.
But "Rise" kicks more than bass. This outing finds Seun more topical. The song "Rise," for example, takes government and corporate corruption to task, calling out Halliburton, among others, by name. Needless to say, Seun has been keeping track of recent events.
"I'm supporting all the uprisings around the world," says Seun, whose father was famous for his outspoken politics. "I'm an anti-establishment kind of person. When people are standing up by themselves for change, I support it. People die for the cause of revolution, and that's what makes it sacred. I feel all the governments in the world have to represent the people. Not all governments in the world represent their people."
Should we expect to hear about these specific uprisings in future songs? Seun's answer is blunt.
"I predicted this," he says. "I was waiting for it to happen. I already knew it was going to happen two years ago-I could sense the tension everywhere in the world. People couldn't take it anymore. I talk about this on the new album. It's written in the new album already. I'll continue to talk about how I feel, and I hope the world feels the same way. It's important."