Seun Kuti is the youngest son of legendary Afrobeat pioneer Fela Kuti. At the age of nine, Seun expressed the wish to sing to his father. A short while later Seun started performing with his father and the band, until his father’s untimely death in 1997. Seun, then only 14 years old, assumed the role as lead singer of Egypt 80. Ever since, Seun has followed the political and social ethos of his father. Along the way, he began to add his own twist to the music, digging deep into various African traditions to reflect the continent’s struggles and cultures.
Struggle Sounds is the fourth studio recording by Sean Kuti and Egypt 80, the extraordinary dance orchestra created by Fela Kuti as a conduit for the common people, renamed (from Africa 70) to reflect black African origins in ancient pharaonic civilisation and inherited by the 14-year-old Seun in 1997, the year that Fela passed away. The younger Kuti has been building to this, his most passionate, accomplished and honest album yet. In the three years since releasing the acclaimed A Long Way To The Beginning – which, like Struggle Sounds, was co-produced by the Grammy-winning jazz pianist Robert Glasper – Seun has grown as an artist, an activist and a man. “Struggle Sounds is a true reflection of my political and social beliefs,” says the singer, bandleader and musician, 34, who is joined on selected tracks by a starry array of guests: the iconic, Hall-of-Fame-dwelling guitarist Carlos Santana. Vocalist Nai Palm of future-soul quartet Hiatus Kaiyote. Conscious rapper and creative activist Yasiin Bey, formerly known as Mos Def. The aforementioned Glasper, whose keyboard wizardry takes things stratospheric. “More than ever I am convinced of the mission and purpose of our music,” continues Kuti, newly signed to the progressive UK-based label, Strut. “Here I’m giving honour to my parents and to every revolutionary who has made a difference, many of them from before I was born.”
He is a father now. He’s older. He knows who he is, what he has to do: “I’ve come down off the fence. Artists are encouraged to be diplomatic, to create a persona that’s wise and stupid at the same time. Being true to yourself isn’t easy; you go through a lot.” He pauses, shrugs. “But now the artist and the man are the same.”
An intensive spate of touring has reinvigorated an act whose every show includes one or more Fela originals, as adrenalised as they ever were. Long-players whose funky horns, kicking beats, stirring chants and call-and-response hooks are lent contemporary resonance by new sonic influences and the charismatic presence of Seun. The boy who first appeared onstage with his father aged eight (at the Harlem Apollo) has this year wowed festivals including Glastonbury and venues such as Brighton’s Dome, sending critics into raptures.
‘As with contemporary jazz, Seun Kuti makes his take on Afrobeat applicable to hip hop by tearing down all restrictions’, swooned The Quietus. Longtime Afrobeat addict Brian Eno – who co-produced Seun’s 2010 breakthrough album From Africa With Fury: Rise – summed them up when he previously declared that Kuti and his band were “making some of the wildest, livest music on the planet”.