As the youngest son of legendary artist Fela Kuti, the fact that Afrobeat saxophonist Seun Kuti has a lot to live up to is a played-out trope at this point. But with a new album, A Long Way to the Beginning, and select Canadian tour dates this month — including Quebec City (July 11), Toronto (July 12), Vancouver (July 20) and Calgary (July 25 and 26) — it's a fact that the 31-year-old man born Oluseun Anikulapo Kuti is happy to live with.
"I'm carrying on the message of my father," he tells Exclaim! "It's the reason why I do what I do. The music has a message that my father carried around the world, which is great. Other artists around the world have taken Afrobeat and put their own brand on it."
Speaking truth to power was also a key component of the music and seven-track A Long Way to the Beginning upholds the tradition on tracks like "IMF" and "Mr. Big Thief." Working with his father's old band Egypt 80 — many of whom are original members — Seun Kuti & Egypt 80's latest album amps up the socio-political strains of Afrobeat, creating a protest-minded project that is both artistically forceful and conscious.
"For me every album is an opportunity to advance and expand my music as much as possible," he says. "This album gives the opportunity to do just that."
The album, Kuti's third studio project, was co-produced by Grammy-winning "Black Radio" musician/composer Robert Glasper and features guest appearances by artists like M1 from hip-hop group Dead Prez (who appears on politically charged track "IMF") and Nigerian-German singer Nneka ("Black Woman"). Working with a talent like Glasper helped to fashion the album's modern yet traditional sound, he adds.
"[Glasper's Black Radio] was big and we wanted to talk and see if we are on the same page. Robert is a great musician and is a powerful musical influence on the album," he says. "The power of music is in speaking truth of power. It is about conviction and about what I believe about my people. I believe that I'm trying to pass this on to my people. Only artists have a voice among the people."
The Nigerian funk sounds of Afrobeat pioneered by his late father — with its blaring horns, vigorous percussion and blistering tempo — has been adopted by musicians worldwide, Kuti says with a point of pride. The recent Broadway production of Fela! has also served to introduce new audiences to the Afrobeat sound as well. Known for delivering sweat-drenched, vibrant live performances, expect his Canadian shows to be no exception, he says.
"I've grown a lot since the last time I was [there]," he says. "People just have to come out and experience it."