SEUN KUTI & EGYPT 80: Glastonbury, Casablanca, Solana Beach – Interview

It is hard to beat the opening sentences of the press release that floated tantalizingly across my screen:

The youngest son of visionary Fela Kuti, Seun Kuti has continued the family tradition of fusing music and politics into something transcendent. He started opening for his dad at age nine and joined his band Egypt 80 before he was twelve. Seun assumed leadership of the band following his father’s passing in 1997 and has led it ever since. Along the way, Seun both performed his father’s compositions and added his own twists to the seminal Afrobeat canon, digging deep into various African traditions to reflect the continent’s struggles and cultures.

Seun Kuti & Egypt 80—at full strength, still retaining three-quarters of the group that played, protested, and were arrested with his father—are returning to relentlessly touring the globe, reclaiming their reputation for playing multi-hour shows as heavy on group improvisation as they are on composition.

Fela passed in 1997, and Seun, in fulfillment of his father’s wishes, assumed the mantle as head of Egypt 80; he has run it ever since.

Seun Kuti is gearing up for an eclectic and impressive list of tour dates; in the space of not too many days he will play Glastonbury, the Jazzablanca Festival in Casablanca, Morocco and The Belly Up in San Diego (July 12).

I relished the chance to speak with Seun, and we chatted as he navigated the streets of his hometown Lagos, Nigeria. I started by asking him about my closest exposure to seeing his Dad perform, which with the stunning Broadway production of “Fela!” exactly a dozen years ago.

Seun Kuti: Yes. I saw the musical. Being the last son is a big responsibility. Seeing my father being portrayed was fantastic. As a kid I wanted to be a lot of things The only reason I am not an economist, because when I was in junior high school that is what I wanted to be, I liked the social sciences. But being an economist that meant a 9-5 job, wake up and go to work. The only thing I hated about school, I hated waking up in the morning, that was the same for an economist so that was the dream that went out the window. But I was good at football, what you call soccer. I knew that it was not a long career for football. So I played music, and I was always in my father’s band. Music was a given: singing, piano, learning the sax, music always there for me.

ET: You have been in the music business for many years, how has technology changed the distribution and consumption of music?

SK: Music has been commodified, and when something becomes commodified it is the death of that thing. Music cannot be used anymore to educate the spirit. As musicians and artists we must find the balance between technology and art. A sword was once the most advanced technological weapon of war, but it was an artist that beautified the hilt. There has always that interconnectivity between art and technology. Today technology diminishes the value of art.

ET: How did you connect with Brian Eno, producer of your last album? He is a technology guy and has produced an astounding array of musicians, from U2 to Devo to James and Grace Jones to Laurie Anderson. What did you guys talk about?

SK: My Brian Eno discussions were more about computers and their relation to music. The relationship of sounds with technology, not about how tech destroyed music. We met in Australia at a festival, I could not believe he knew my music and wanted me to close the festival. I kissed his ass! We vibed. Eno told me about him producing my album “when you are ready, let’s make it happen.”

ET: I can’t help but ask a question I expect you get asked often, do you see a similarity between you and the offspring of Bob Marley?

SK: Yes, of course. We are musical dynasties. This affects mostly the boys, our dads were such great influences. When children want to be like their dads and dads are great public figures, it shows the dad is great. Look at the biggest oil mogul, none of his children want to be like the father. It is a burden or a duty, it’s how you see it. We are musicians but more than musicians, we are leaders of society, these were men that tried to change the world to make it a better place, there is no more noble calling. It is committing yourself to a duty, not a burden. I enjoy my responsibility. I wish African people would have more responsibility.

Politics is everything. Economics is man’s relationship with everything, which itself is a political idea. People did not pay attention to the relationship between the wealthy and the rest of society.

It is not a coincidence that in my country the middle class has been hollowed out, society is divided into two. The elite have to invest in the shared interest in the connivers, the sheer gravity of it has exposed things many thought they’d never experience. Covid exposed it. Many myths of capitalists’ extractions have been exposed. My music is one of the ways, one of the ways, but journalists have a big role to play. The rich control media and they control the narrative. Does a truly free press exist? Fake news is news for profits. Educators rely on grants from the billionaires, so they push the narrative. The brilliant minds in chemistry, biology, physics, are being employed in big banks, not employed by government to build better bridges. Instead they are in the banks coming up with derivatives.

Music alone can’t change society. Music should be the soundtrack of the change. Banks, housing, education, pharma, agriculture…all these things need to change for the better. Music alone can’t do it.

But I want to be aware of all those influences. I want to raise the consciousness of the people.

I was nine years old when I was first on stage. This is my first tour in 3 years. I want to get back on my feet, I want to bring out new material.

ET: I can’t wait to see you in Solana Beach. One last question before you go, how is the traffic there in Lagos?

SK: It is terrible! No lines on the roads, the cars are all over the place! This is a former British colony. The only benefit of colonization is that I can go to England and they can speak to me.

Check out tour dates here:

SoCal dates here:

7/10The AlibiPalm Springs, CA
7/12Belly Up TavernSolana Beach, CA
7/13Lodge RoomLos Angeles, CA

Brad Auerbach has been a journalist and editor covering the media, entertainment, travel and technology scene for many years. He has written for Forbes, Time Out London, SPIN, Village Voice, LA Weekly and early in his career won a New York State College Journalism Award.