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Seun Kuti & Egypt 80 Release 'A Long Way To The Beginning'


The troubles of a newly independent Nigeria once drove the music of legendary singer, Fela Kuti. Its troubles today are now inspiring his youngest son. NPR's Leah Scarpelli has this story.

LEAH SCARPELLI, BYLINE: Seun Kuti's earliest memory of his father is visiting him in prison. Young Seun didn't want to leave.

SEUN KUTI: My mom had to drag me out the other way.

SCARPELLI: His father was one of Africa's was famous musicians, the creator of afrobeat, Fela Kuti. He'd been charged with currency smuggling. But many considered his imprisonment retribution for songs that were social commentaries about Nigeria's government and military.


FELA KUTI: (Singing).

SCARPELLI: Seun Kuti grew up playing the saxophone with his father's band Egypt 80. And when Fela Kuti died in 1997, Seun became the band's new leader. He was only 14.

S.KUTI: Egypt 80 band - you know, taking Fela out of the equation was a great loss. So it took us a while to find our feet.


S.KUTI: (Singing) 1 - 2 - 3 - 4.

SCARPELLI: With their third album "A Long Way To The Beginning," Seun Kuti says he and the band have finally perfected their afrobeat sound. The music combines complex frenetic rhythms and call-and-response vocals with sharp social commentary.


EGYPT 80: (Singing) You bring lies -you bring tears - you bring suffering to my people - so much cheating from the - so much lying from the - so much stealing from then...

SCARPELLI: Seun Kuti is very critical of Nigeria's use of international dollars. And he's led protests of the kidnapping of Nigerian schoolgirls by Boko Haram. He feels the government didn't do enough to protect them and other schoolchildren.

S.KUTI: Before those girls were taken, 47 boys were murdered in cold blood in their dormitories where they slept. And our government continues to try to sweep everything under the carpets. As long as we are having foreign investment - as long as some foreigners can bring their money into our country to exploit us, everything is all right.

SCARPELLI: In a song "Higher Consciousness," Seun Kuti describes his belief that the young people of Africa and the world can rise above this greed.

S.KUTI: Consciousness - to be able to elevate yourself up over these things that are making the world look prettier but is actually making humanity darker. I believe that a world where money is not what drives success is workable.


EGYPT 80: (Singing) See young people marching down the streets. Your lies don't represent me.

SCARPELLI: Seun Kuti says his father's life continues to inspire him, especially now that he's become a father himself.

S.KUTI: So I hope I'm able to be this father for my daughter, of course. This is the goal. She cannot be content to be somebody's wife. She has to be content in being her own person to be able to show her own individuality and leave her own mark on the world.


S.KUTI: I write this song for you. And I see everything you go through.

SCARPELLI: "A Long Way To The Beginning" is the new album from Seun Kuti and Egypt 80. They're touring the U.S. through July. Leah Scarpelli, NPR News.

S.KUTI: That's why me respect you.

WERTHEIMER: It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.