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Thursday, January 29, 2015 |  Madison, WI: 35.0° F  Overcast
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In troubled Africa, Femi Kuti's music fits the times
Soundtrack for the revolution

There couldn't be a more important time to listen to Femi Kuti. With citizens struggling for democracy in Libya, Egypt, Tunisia and beyond, Africa is a hotbed of sociopolitical progress. Kuti's music is an ideal soundtrack. These days, his 2001 single "Fight to Win" seems eerily prophetic in decrying the poverty of the majority and the moral turpitude of certain powerful minorities.

But Kuti wasn't always the voice of the downtrodden and disenfranchised. For many years, that title belonged to his father, Afrobeat superstar Fela Kuti, whose infectious beats and controversial messages lured legions of fans to the genre.

Though the younger Kuti has worked hard to establish his own identity and fan base, it hasn't been easy. He helped introduce legions of fans to a percussive blend of jazz and funk music by playing in his dad's band, Egypt 80. In 1986, Femi formed a 13-piece orchestra, the Positive Force, striving to make Afrobeat's epic jams more accessible to fans of short-and-sweet pop tunes.

Adding hip-hop and the edgy elegance of modern dance, the London-born Nigerian snagged a deal with Motown Records, which released his self-titled debut in 1995. The album drew praise from critics, but Kuti's father died of AIDS in 1997, burying the young artist in sadness and almost halting his fledgling success as fans mourned the loss of a legacy. Thankfully, Kuti emerged from the darkness more driven than ever, garnering rave reviews for 1999's Shoki Shoki, then delving deeper into hip-hop on 2001's Fight to Win, which featured Mos Def and Common.

Though the last decade has only yielded two studio CDs, Fight to Win and 2008's Grammy-nominated Day by Day, Kuti has continued to refine his message, even as Nigerian authorities ban his songs from the radio and threaten his nightclub's patrons. Using these provocations as fuel, he recorded his gritty new release, Africa for Africa, which illuminates Africa's passion for progress from a much different perspective than that of the evening news. Join the revolution this Sunday as he brings its songs to the Majestic.

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