Afrobeat hit-maker — and the son of Nigeria’s music gem Fela Kuti — Femi Kuti has been using his musical talent to unite Africans, while driving change for poor African communities.
The Afrobeat genre originated as a blend of traditional Yoruba music, with funk, jazz, and West African highlife, in the 1960s and 1970s.
It’s in fact Kuti’s father, Fela, who is credited as having pioneered the sound, according to the Culture Trip.
And now, Femi Kuti is mere days away from taking to the stage in Johannesburg alongside South Africa’s hip-hop sensation Cassper Nyovest, and Nigerian star D’Banj — as well as Beyoncé, JAY-Z, Ed Sheeran, Kacey Musgraves, and so many more — at Global Citizen Festival: Mandela 100, presented and hosted by the Motsepe Foundation, on December 2.
Kuti’s music speaks to the soul and tells the stories of African people, their cultures, aspirations, hopes, and dreams. Even his band’s name — The Positive Force — is highly suggestive of the type of actively-engaged musician Kuti is.
His music explores the present and the past of both his own country, and of Africa more widely, and his ability to paint stories through his words and instruments is beyond beautiful.
After launching an illustrious career in the United States — working with some of America’s most celebrated rappers, like Mos Def and Common — Kuti returned to his home in Lagos to continue his music in Africa.
But there’s a lot more to know about Kuti besides his music. He has also been dubbed a human rights activist for his work across several countries in Africa.
Back in 2017, Kuti and his team made multiple visits to International Rescue Committee (IRC) project sites in Yola and in Maiduguri, in the north-east of Nigeria, according to the Guardian.
He reportedly said that he had always wanted to show solidarity with those impacted by crisis in general, and specifically in north-east Nigeria.
“I am passionate about my people,” he said. “The impression I get is that people are too scared to come here, yet it is important that I tell the story of my people to my people”.
#PoliticalSeasonSoundTrack— Juliet 'Kego #JusticeForOchanya (@julietkego) November 20, 2018
"Yesterday, Dem tell us sey,
Sey today, na we go gain
So we struggle, suffer dey,
For this new democratic change
But truth of the matter be sey
Dem disguise another way
To continue their crooked ways
Dem bobo your mama! Dem bobo"https://t.co/5UpabDfBUm
Kuti described his experiences of meeting people who had been displaced from their homes by conflict while on a visit to Maiduguri, which has been heavily impacted by Boko Haram, in January 2017 — which reportedly convinced him of the support needed by people in conflict zones.
The musician also saw first-hand the impact of the IRC’s water, sanitation, and hygiene projects, health services, and programmes for protection of vulnerable people — as well as visiting the National Youth Service Corps camp, according to the news site.
“The little contribution that each and every Nigerian can make to put a smile on their faces goes a long way in portending hope for these traumatised people,” he said at the time.
But Kuti’s humanitarian work doesn’t stop there.
He has also worked with the United Nations Children’s Fund, UNICEF, to visit war-impacted countries and speak to children and young people living in poverty in Zimbabwe, and other countries.
While in Zimbabwe back in 2005 for the Harare International Festival of the Arts, one of Africa’s largest international arts festivals, Kuti took the time to talk to children — whose rights he is also passionate abouts, according to UNICEF.
He spent a day with hundreds of children, said UNICEF, helping remind them of their own “special ability” — while reiterating his belief that “children should take centre stage in our decision-making.”
The agency added at the time that Kuti’s comments “are especially pertinent to Zimbabwe, where an HIV/AIDS pandemic, declining economic performance, drought, and depleted social services have all contributed to the world’s fastest rise in child mortality.”
Kuti’s visit took place against a backdrop of the child mortality rate rising more than 50% between 1990 and 2003.
"Governor of Cross River State, Professor Benedict Ayade, and his counterpart in Ondo State, His Excellency Oluwarotimi Odunayo Akeredolu have both heard Global Citizens’ calls to action and promised to announce commitments to sanitation at the festival." https://t.co/aFdGrdXeaA— Global Citizen Impact (@GlblCtznImpact) November 21, 2018
And, while in the country, Kuti had a first-hand experience of the issues, visiting a drop-in and education centre called Streets Ahead, which housed children previously living on the streets until it closed in 2013 — leaving hundreds of children without accommodation, according to the Zimbabwe Herald.
“The streets are no place for African children,” Kuti was quoted as saying.
He has also used his profile to raise awareness about HIV and AIDS, one of the world’s most serious public health challenges.
“AIDS kills more and more Zimbabwean parents, their children are forced onto the streets,” said Kuti, while in Zimbabwe. “I know that life. I continue to see that life across this continent and we all must do more to see it stop.”
The Global Citizen Festival: Mandela 100 is presented and hosted by The Motsepe Foundation, with major partners House of Mandela, Johnson & Johnson, Cisco, Nedbank, Vodacom, Coca Cola Africa, Big Concerts, BMGF Goalkeepers, Eldridge Industries, and associate partners HP and Microsoft.