Concert preview: Seun Kuti sounds off on struggles of oppressed communities

Erica Thompson

"Every few years politicians come," Nigerian Afrobeat musician Seun Kuti sings on "Gimme My Vote Back (C.P.C.D.)." "They come with their politics of hate and them take and divide us."

Kuti's lyrics may resonate with both Nigerians - who elected President Muhammadu Buhari, whomThe Economist called "the least awful" of the two candidates, in 2015 - and Americans, who are still reeling from the contentious 2016 presidential election.

However, in a recent telephone interview, Kuti - son of legendary Afrobeat pioneer Fela Kuti - mentioned he was thinking of all governments when writing the song, one of three tracks on hisStruggle Sounds EP, released last September.

"Politicians and corporations … are in cahoots against the working class," said Kuti, who will play Alrosa Villa with his band Egypt 80 on Friday, Dec. 16. "I realized that all over the world, it's the same thing."

In the song, he also speaks of the "Corporate Public Control Department," a term he applies to governments, which he says, "Keep people in check for the corporations to run society as they see fit."

"As you can see, the corporation that is building the pipeline in North Dakota, they are not protesting," he continued. "It is the people that are protesting, but the corporations, they don't have a counter-protest. … Their interests are already guarded by the officials."

Kuti, also a saxophonist, embodies the same revolutionary spirit as his father, who criticized the Nigerian government in his music and even formed his own political party. The elder Kuti endured jail time and government attacks, one of which resulted in the death of his mother. Since his death in 1997 from complications from AIDS, Fela Kuti has been celebrated in many forms, including the Tony-award-winning Broadway musical "Fela!"

Seun Kuti, who stepped in to lead his father's Egypt 80 band at just 14 years old, didn't feel pressured by the weight of his father's legacy or threatened by potential government retaliation. "It was just necessary," he said of the decision to keep his father's music and movement alive.

"My music is a tool of pan-Africanism," Kuti said. "I believe that there has to be a connection between the diaspora and the motherland. … I truly believe that it is the duty of African governments to be invested in African communities, not just in Africa, but all over the world."

Although Kuti strives to "spark awareness" and "raise consciousness" through his music, he recognizes his own shortcomings as a leader for the black community, which he said relies too heavily on guidance from celebrities.

"It really hurts me that the only spokespersons for black people are entertainers and sportsmen and women," he said. "Even though I'm well invested in this aspect of my people, there are many scholars who know more details and spend more time researching and learning than I do, and who are more qualified to speak for the collective."

Although Kuti is a proponent of unity among black people worldwide, on his song "African Dreams" he cautions African youth against abandoning the continent to chase the superficial "American Dream" sold by the media.

"We need … to build an Africa that can meet future generations' dreams and aspirations," he explained. "That should be our main goal in the world today instead of trying to be as rich as we can."

While Kuti is devoted to the welfare of Africans and those of African descent, he said his message is for all oppressed people worldwide.

"I think there's a bigger struggle in the world, which is a class struggle," he said. "That is what 'Struggle Sounds' is talking about on my record."

Attendees of Kuti's show can expect to hear his new material, as well as his father's music. He also hopes the audience will be inspired by his vision for "a world where everybody can be respected and live in happiness." "We're all part of the same struggle," he said.

Alrosa Villa

9 p.m. Friday, Dec. 16

5055 Sinclair Rd., North Side