Aziz Herawi is an expatriate Afghani currently living in California. He comes from a wealthy religious family in Herat. His father did not approve of playing music and consequently Aziz learned to play the dutar (a long-necked lute) as a boy in secret. He embodies many of the characteristics of the shauqi, or amateur musician: he is self-taught, has a passionate interest in music, and does not wish to make a living exclusively from his music.
Herawi was well known in Herat as an enthusiastic performer and as a generous patron of other musicians. Herat’s music is a blend of Persian and Hindustani instruments and styles. Herawi’s dutar and rubab playing is very typical of the Herat style. The pieces have the varied rhythms of the Hindustani raga forms, but are fairly short (3 to 5 minutes each) and more intense than most Hindustani music. Herawi often builds up to very fast tempos, and employs a wide range of dynamics, sometimes playing very quietly for dramatic effect.
Aziz Herawi became a refugee from the war in Afghanistan, moving first to Pakistan and later to the United States of America.
Zanzibar’s all-female Tausi Taarab orchestra was formed in 2009 and presents classical style music in the tradition of some of Zanzibar’s strongest women. Dating back to the 1920s when Siti Bint Saad who is widely recognized as the ‘mother of taarab’ recorded a large catalog of Swahili songs, many talented women composers and singers have contributed to the development of Zanzibar’s most famous music style.
Over time, other women’s taarab groups existed (such as Nadi lkhwati Safaa, Nuru el Ayoun, Sahib el Ary, Royal Air Force and Navy groups) that were especially strong during the 1960s. However, in those days even in the “women’s groups”, it was always the men who played the instruments.
Tausi Taarab presents an innovation and inspiration in a very traditional genre: an all female orchestra where all instruments are played by women, accompanying women singers and performing songs composed by women.
Mim Suleiman was born in Zanzibar (Tanzania) and lived in Shangani (Stone Town) for most of her childhood, where she attended Tumekuja School. Mim appeared on TVZ in children’s programs back in the late 70s and early 80’s, but soon after her family moved to UK.
A few years later, Mim Suleiman started hearing streams of voices, rhythm and poetry coming out of herself while working as a technical teacher of metallurgy at the University of Birmingham (UK). With no musical background whatsoever, Mim Suleiman left her job to pursue her dream.
She has been described as a fiery singer who never fails to indulge her audience! She revels in her East African singing and percussion traditions, is a versatile vocalist and vibrant performer.
Mim Suleiman has played from Europe to Asia, but ironically rarely in Africa. Her music ranges from soul, blues, funk, house, jazz, rock and dance tracks, to her African heritage. She writes in English and Kiswahili (her native tongue) and sings in a variety of languages including Fula.
Mim’s reputation grew fast. She worked with Justin Adams and Juldeh Camarah on their “Tell No Lies” album. In 2009 she also performed at Glastonbury and WOMAD festivals (UK) as well as led workshops.
Jhikoman is one of the best known Tanzanian reggae artists. His lyrics in English and Kiswahili and unique singing style and have been touching people since 1994. For Jhiko music presents an opportunity to raise awareness about social oppression and justice. It also provides a medium for communicating messages of peace, love and unity. He has produced several albums and performed widely in Europe and Africa.
On his album Chikondi, Jhiko Manyika explores roots reggae with acoustic African sounds. The album was realized in collaboration with other international artists including Baran M. from Kurdistan, Khalid Salih from Sudan], Uriel Seri from [[Ivory Coast, Thorbjørn Holte, Geir Inge Storli, Henrik Johnsen and ‘Jacob’ from Norway, OnRebel G from Mexico and Sister Yana from Brazil.
”I was always singing. At school, after school. I was the laziest one in my family because I just didn’t have time, my time was for music, you know. Always I was being punished, but I knew whenever I was punished it was because it had something to do with some notes – whether it was a band, or just a man playing guitar – that I was following” – Busi Mhlongo
Born in Kwa Zulu, Natal, Busi Mhlongo grew up with a song on her lips. Despite being raised within her family’s Methodist tradition that sadly had little recourse to music, Busi sought out other religious denominations with musical services and remembers, ”even following people, maybe someone with a guitar, to find out where there was music.”
Haunted by melodies, she persisted in the face of adversity and begun singing from an early age with groups led by her older and more musically advanced brother. Around 1963, the success of a great South African stage musical called King Kong, caused a talent drought when many of the currently hot musicians left the country to tour the show internationally. So Gallo Records had a talent competition and Busi and her brother went to Johannesburg and won it.
“OK, the song we did was ‘My Boy Lollipop’,” said Busi Mhlongo. “I was a kid, really, and yes I was really rocking that My Boy Lollipop. It had been a hit for Milly in England – Island Records’ first hit – and I guess because of Apartheid and the way things were working, they sort of shut Milly out and My Boy Lollipop was moving. All this for me, it was for joy, not really knowing that I would be ripped off in the business.”
Busi took part in many theatrical productions throughout the 1960s, including the lead in Gibson Kente’s The Jazz Prophet and Liefa stage and film productions of Bertha Egnos’ Dingakaand Alfred Herbert’s African Jazz and African Follies. She worked with most of South Africa’s greatest jazz and mbaqanga stars at festivals and gigs too numerous to mention and so it was that she met her husband, Early Mabuza.
Early was a drummer who played with Dollar Brand, but was more widely known for his role in a cinema commercial for condensed milk. When he joined the cast of a show Busi was appearing in, as the guest artist, she was at first dismissive: ”To me he was a tall guy who drank condensed milk at the movies, so when I saw him I thought, ‘Well he’s not so tall…’ “I was never so much in awe of Early as the rest of the cast and then, one day we were practising and I was sitting pretty. I had this mini skirt on and when I moved to pick something up, my legs opened and he hit me with a drum mallet. I flipped out, like, what is happening? He said, ‘Sit like a lady.’ That’s how he proposed! He was a very quiet man, he couldn’t speak. But he was a good drummer.”
Busi and Early had a daughter, Mpumi, but when the music called her away to tour the Portuguese cabaret circuit, Busi left him holding the baby and taking the opportunity, left South Africa for Portugal, via Mozambique and Angola. Barely a couple of months into her tour the sad news of Early’s sudden death reached her. Trying to overcome the tragic death of her husband Busi then spent five years playing in Portuguese casinos, performing the popular hits of the day and always closing the show with her African songs: ”I always sing my African songs because they make me feel really free. You know, like when you’ve been really serious and somebody says OK, now you can put on your shorts!”
”I always moved because of music,” she said. ”Music has been my ticket.” She went to London briefly in 1972 and recorded with Dudu Pukwana, Julian Bahula, George Lee, and Lucky Ranku. She even worked with Osibisa as their lead singer.
It wasn’t music that lead Busi to America, however, but illness. She had developed cancer and had to be treated in hospital there. Fortunately, she recovered and completely healed. As soon as she was well enough, Busi accepted an invitation to join the cast of a stage comedy called Reefer Gladness in Toronto, Canada, in which she got to sing the songs made famous by Billy Holliday and Bessie Smith. Jackson Pollock, the abstract painter, was enchanted by her and his influence led to Busi being given her own starring vehicle, called Ship Of Fools.
It was a great relief for Busi to be performing again and she had a wonderful time playing gigs with her own band at St Lawrence Hall but, in 1979, after five years in Canada, she got the chance to return to Africa on a tour of Zimbabwe, Zambia and Lesotho.
She slipped into South Africa, a decade after she’d left but the Security Forces were quickly on her case so, after nine months, Busi was obliged to accept an invitation to return to Portugal to join a musical called Black Ground. Of course her agent called the minute he heard she was back, so Busi went around the casino circuit one more time, but she knew that this was just a passing moment and that she had to move on. One New Year’s Eve in Madeira, a Dutch family invited her to Holland. When they rang a few days later and repeated the offer, she accepted and quickly left.
Through her Dutch friends, Busi made contact first with a group of Senegalese musicians, and later with a Gambian group, Ifang Bondi and spent a couple of years based in Amsterdam, playing African music at major festivals and shows.
As one of the highlights of the Africa Roots Festival, she worked with many visiting African musicians and began to develop her own inimitable style. In the mid-eighties, Busi returned again to South Africa and formed the original Twasa band with the late “Doc” Mthalane. She played with Twasa and Winston Mankunku Ngozi to packed houses at The Blue Note in Durban before moving back to Holland in 1988. Her shows at the Melk Weg in Amsterdam drew rave reviews and led to a series of workshops which she ran at the club, then to a series of government-sponsored concerts in schools throughout Holland.
Billed alongside Salif Keita and Manu Dibango, Busi was the highlight of the African Music Festival in Delft in 1989. There, she met Brice Wassy who had been instrumental in the creation of the Urban Zulu album and worked as the musical director of her band. She then returned once again to South Africa to reform Twasa. After touring Holland and Belgium in 1993, she recorded her debut album with Twasa – the majority of which was composed by “Doc” Mthalane, before returning to Durban in 1994. As a part of a program to reconnect township youth with their roots, Busi ran workshops in Zulu singing and dancing in Clermont, Natal.
In 1995, Busi topped a popularity poll on Radio Metro, and appeared on the main stage of the Grahamstown Arts Festival with Sipho Gumede as well as taking part, with Madala Kunene and other M.E.L.T. 2000 (then B&W Music) artists in the Outernational Meltdown concert at the Limpopo Club of the Africa Centre in London. She appears on Sipho’s album, Ubuntu – Humanity and also on Madala Kunene’s Kon’ko Man.
Busi kicked off 1996 by appearing with Hugh Masekela at a concert in London to mark the end of the Africa ’95 festival and was subsequently invited to tour France and Germany. She has supported the world famous Ladysmith Black Mambazo and also collaborated with Max Lässer on the recording of his album, She also toured with Pops Mohammed and members of Amampondo.
Busi recorded two solo albums in Europe, Babhemu and Urban Zulu. The latter, produced by Will Mowat brought her international fame and recognition and was released on MELT in 1998. Drawing on a number of styles such mbaqanga, maskanda and marabi, Busi was inspired by The “Sxaxa Mbij” (“pulling together”) Peace project led by Khaba Mkhize in KwaZulu-Natal.
Urban Zulu is essentially Busi’s reinterpretation of maskanda – traditional Zulu music normally sung by Zulu working class men – for which she pulled in the expertise of Phuzekhemisi, a famed maskanda band. Two members of this group Themba Ngcobo and Mkhalelwa Ngwazi co-composed and co-wrote the entire album with Busi. In addition to the various Zulu musicians she worked with on this album, Brice Wassy –who has also worked with Salif Keita – contributed to the direction and production of the CD.
Holding the No.1 spot in the European world music charts for two months solid Busi’s position as one of the leading South African divas was firmly established. Touring internationally and bewitching audiences with her powerful stage presence and vocal prowess she rightfully took her seat in the musical arena as one of the most phenomenal and exciting musicians to have emerged from South Africa.
Busi scooped three awards at the FNB South African Music Awards, for Best Female Artist, Best Adult Contemporary Album (Africa), and Best African Pop Album. Ranked alongside Miriam Makeba, Letta Mbulu and The Mahotella Queens, unique in becoming the first female to be spreading the maskanda style of vocals internationally, Busi was applauded by audiences the world over.
Busi’s lyrics carried universally powerful and poignant messages. Her songs concerned the empowerment and reconciliation of peoples who, though sharing the same citizenship, have very different political aspirations. Inanda – where she grew up, was the birthplace of African Nationalist leader John Duke, and the late prophet Isiah Shembe and largely shaped Busi, ”The spirit of these great sons have served as a source of inspiration for me and my music”, she explained. ”I am a bit traditional and it is because of them. They taught us unity, love and peace among the people. Their legacy should live on.”
”Hear the cock crow the alarm for a new dawning! Change is the only constant. Open the gates of mercy in your wall of fear and anger so the blossom of compassion can bloom, feeding from the roots of courage. In churches, keep preaching truth. In schools, keep instructing right knowledge. At home, keep persevering through crises. Leaders, sit and reason with the people and listen to their talk. So let us unite and proclaim your right, as the cock crows the alarm, claim your right to the family of mankind!”
Busi Mhlongo died June 15th of 2010 of breast cancer at Albert Luthuli Hospital in Cato Manor, Durban. She was 62.
All the members of Sierra Leone’s Refugee All Stars lived in or near Sierra Leone’s capital city before fleeing Freetown during the country’s decade-long civil war. Throughout most of the 1990s, Freetown remained relatively sheltered from the rebel war that had turned much of the West African nation into a bloody battlefield. Near the turn of the 21st century, however, rebels attacked the city and forced a panicked mass exodus to neighboring countries.
Among the thousands who fled were Reuben Koroma and his wife Grace. Reuben and Grace had fared among the best, having fled Freetown in the midst of a rebel attack. In the camps, the couple had one another, but had lost everything else, including contact with family, friends, and the musical life they had known.
Walking through the squalid and dangerous Kalia Camp in Guinea, Reuben found Francis ‘Franco’ John Langba, a ‘musical brother’ from the pre-war music scene in Freetown. Franco had been separated from his wife and kids and had still not been able to learn anything of their fate. In camps like Kalia, discovering someone alive feels like a miracle. But the three took the miracle a step further by making music for their fellow refugees.
Soon, the camp was caught in the middle of the region’s fractious politics, and the defenseless refugees were relocated to Sembakounya Refugee Camp in the remote countryside away from the volatile borders. It was there that Reuben, Grace, and Franco met their future band mates; Arahim ‘Jah Voice,’ so called for his perfect high pitch, who was forced to watch rebels kill his father before they cut off his arm at the shoulder and left him for dead.
Mohammed Bangura had similarly been forced to watch the murder of his parents, his wife, and their infant child before having his hand severed.
Alhadji Jeffrey Kamara, called ‘Black Nature,’ is the youngest of the group. Orphaned by the war and tortured by police in Guinea where he had fled, Black Nature is considered an ‘adopted son’ by the others.
With the help of a Canadian NGO (CECI) the newly dubbed Refugee All Stars acquired beat-up instruments and a rusted-out sound system and began to play for their fellow refugees, bringing sorely needed hope and relief to a traumatized populace.
At Sembakounya Camp, American documentary filmmakers Banker White and Zach Niles along with Canadian singer-songwriter Chris Velan encountered the Sierra Leone’s Refugee All Stars.
The first-time filmmakers, both living in San Francisco, had previously had substantial experience in Africa, and were in Guinea looking for stories that would balance the Western media’s focus on the region’s violence with a sense of African society’s beauty and resilience. When they were introduced to the All Stars, Niles and White knew they had found their story.
They ended up following the band for three years as they moved from camp to camp and eventually returned home to face their war-torn country and reunite with family, friends and former band-mates, many of whom they believed may not have survived the violence.
It was during this trip that the current line-up of the band was cemented and their lifelong dream of recording in a studio was realized. It is in such grace notes – and in the warmth, humor, and searing candor with which the band members bear their personal and collective wounds – as well as in the music they make, that the All Stars express their fierce loyalty to each other and to their people, and indeed to refugees of all the world’s terrible conflicts.
They must face the present with courage and the future with hope in order to save their lives. Thus the band’s return to a barely reconstructed Island Studios in Freetown, while the devastation and a shaky peace treaty signed in 2002 keep many refugees away, comes as a powerful message of renewal.
On September, 26th 2006, Sierra Leone’s Refugee All Stars (SLRAS) realized what once seemed an impossible dream when Anti Records released their album Living Like a Refugee, to wide critical acclaim throughout the world. The album was recorded with the help of filmmakers Zach Niles and Banker White throughout the film’s production from August 2002 – October 2005.
Living Like a Refugee was produced by the film’s musical director, Chris Velan and each song is an original composition written during their years in exile. Featuring field recordings from the refugee camps in Guinea as well as studio efforts at Sam Jones’ Island Studios in Freetown (as seen in the film), these 17 tracks tell the story of life in the camps (“Living Like A Refugee”).
Enduring the horrors of war (“Kele Mani,” “Weapon Conflict”), facing hunger (“Bull To The Weak”), remembering lost family members (“Ya N’Digba” was written for bandleader Reuben’s mother) and yet still managing to give thanks (“Compliments For The Peace”). While each of the stories in these songs is told from the band’s personal experience, it is the special gift of Sierra Leone’s Refugee All Stars that the messages they deliver are truly universal. Taken as a whole the album serves as a musical document of the band’s incredible journey.
The title track, ‘Living Like A Refugee’ was recorded by the light of an oil lamp in Sembakounya Refugee Camp in Guinea, West Africa. Playing on impossibly worn instruments, the band sang and laughed into the night – healing and being healed through their music.
Other songs were recorded in a Freetown studio during the band’s first trip back home. These are joyous full band realizations of songs that Sierra Leone’s Refugee All Stars had been practicing throughout their time in exile and were brought to life with the help of their pre-war friends and band mates from The Emperors Dance Band who they reunited with during the course of filming the documentary and have now become permanent members of the band.
Living Like a Refugee was first sold independently on the film’s website and at film festival screenings. Niles and White would send 100% of sales back to the band in Sierra Leone. They also produced cassettes for the band to sell in Sierra Leone where they quickly became a sensation. As the film continued to grow so did the album’s popularity.
In 2005 Sierra Leone’s Refugee All Stars were nominated in the category of ‘Best New Artist’ at The Sierra Leone music awards and played their hit Soda Soap for a crowd of 15,000 at the National Stadium in Freetown. But that was only the beginning. When both the film and the band were invited to the South by Southwest (SXSW) Music and Film Festival in Austin, Texas in March ’06 it was an opportunity the filmmakers couldn’t refuse. So once again pushing their credit cards to the max Niles and White brought the entire band to the US.
At SXSW the band was a huge hit winning over fans and the music industry execs alike. Around this time, Niles and White realized that to build on this success they needed help. Calling in music industry veteran, Mike Kappus and his Rosebud Agency to help book more shows and eventually to manage the band’s budding career. A summer 2006 tour took shape and Kappus contacted Anti Records who after seeing the film and hearing the music agreed to release the album.
Now Sierra Leone’s Refugee All Stars tour the world spreading their message of peace and love in a “can’t help but dance” show that fans from all musical backgrounds can enjoy. For a group that started in a remote Guinean refugee camp and only started touring outside of West Africa less than a year ago, they have come a long way. In the past year the band has appeared at some of the most prestigious music festivals worldwide including Bonnaroo, The Montreal Jazz Fest, The Ottawa Jazz Festival, The Folk and Roots Festival in Chicago, The Fuji Rock Festival in Japan, as well as headlining at Central Park Summerstage.
In November, 2006 the band opened for Aerosmith at the Mohegan Sun Arena and most recently performed for an international audience at the World Economic Forum in Switzerland.
They have also been featured on CNN and CNN International, PBS and CBS Sunday Morning, as well as having performed live on the Oprah Winfrey Show. Their sound is also finding new avenues of exposure including a song in the film Blood Diamond and two humanitarian relief compilations, which they recorded in the studio with Joe Perry and Steven Tyler.
The second album from Sierra Leone’s Refugee All Stars came out in 2010. Rise & Shine features an uplifting blend of reggae and African grooves with a touch of New Orleans spice.
Produced by Steve Berlin (Los Lobos, Angélique Kidjo, Michelle Shocked, Rickie Lee Jones and Ozomatli), Rise & Shine was recorded in Freetown, Sierra Leone and New Orleans, Louisiana. Much like the band, the residents of New Orleans know both the bitterness of exile and the redemptive power of music, and the spirit of the Crescent City permeates this uplifting album.
Sierra Leone’s Refugee All Stars also recorded a special version of Bob Marley’s “No Woman, No Cry” exclusively for the Putumayo collection Tribute to the Reggae Legend, released in July 2010.
Omar Pene (born 1956 in Dakar) is the iconic lead singer of the Super Diamono. He was born in the working class neighborhood of Derkle, in 1956. Joining his first band, Cad, in 1975, he remained with the group for a few months. In the mid seventies (1975-1976), he joined the Super Diamono, one of the longest running Senegalese popular bands, similar to Orchestra Baobab and the Super Etoile of Dakar.
Recruited by Bailo Diagne, the first bass-player and a founding member of the group, Omar Pene stood out as the most natural fixture in the band. Along with his band members, Bassirou Diagne, Bob Sene, Aziz Seck, Lapa Diagne, Adama Faye, Abdou Mbacke and, later, Ismael Lo, already known as “l’homme orchestre” (one man band) due to his solo performances, they helped shape Senegalese contemporary music.
During the 1980s, in Dakar, there were two dominant types of music fans, the ones attracted by the frenetic and highly syncopative Mbalax of the Super Etoile, who frequented Djender and later on Thiossane night club; and those who loved the progressive bluesy-funky- soulful brand of local fusion of Super Diamono- who filled the Balafon Club located on the other side of town, near the Port Autonome de Dakar.
Although Omar Pene and Youssou N’dour, always maintained an healthy and lively artistic competition, their supporters pledged a loyalty only seen among opposing football fans (soccer). In many ways, both used the Mbalax, which is almost unavoidable, once the Sabar is involved, but they did it differently.
Over the years many of the group’s original members went on to other things, Omar Pene stayed; and to this day- even as he is now enjoying his solo journey he uses the Super Diamono, as a backup band.
In 2009 he released the all acoustic album Ndam.
Omar Pene established himself as a “conscious singer,” instead of indulging in praise songs- as many of his contemporaries did in honor of the riches and famous, he maintained a repertoire of socially engaged and sensitive songs. To this date, he has released dozens of hits in more than thirty albums and cassettes.
Ba Cissoko is a master kora player. He belongs a long lineage of griots (jelis), master singers and musicians. His uncle M’Bady Kouyate transmitted his knowledge to Ba cissoko since he was a child. Since then, Ba Cissoko has renewed the kora while refining his knowledge of the art of storytelling.
His 2006 album, Electric Griot Land, is a nod to Jimi Hendrix’s vision, who adjusted his blues origins to his time. That’s Ba Cissoko’s musical process, who was just born when the guitarist was starting on his revolution.
In 2009 he released Séno, another nod to Jimi Hendrix’s vision. By his side in 2010, his band included his two cousins, Kourou the elder on bass and bolon, and Sékou, the young prodigy who transforms the kora with saturated effects, and Dartagnan (percussion) and Abdoulaye Kouyaté (guitar). ”To modernize the Manding tradition to better spread it; to transgress it, to really honor it,” says Ba Cissoko.
Juldeh Camara is a master musician from Gambia. He was born in 1966 in Basse, Gambia. Camara is a virtuoso of the ritti, a one-stringed fiddle, and renowned griot (a West African poet and praise singer) in traditional Fula society. Juldeh has the drive and effortless flow of a great bluesman. While his instrument brings to mind Mississippi Delta players like Big Joe Williams, as well as Ali Farka Toure – one minute it’s Blues harp, the next a Celtic fiddle, then a Saharan herdsman’s flute.
Juldeh and British musician Justin Adams have been playing together since 2007, following the release of the critically acclaimed “Soul Science” in 2007 (winner of the BBC Radio 3 World Music Award in the Crossing Continents category), touring at festivals in Siberia, Mexico City, Morocco and WOMAD. The touring experience has clearly brought them closer together as musicians and added to the unique nature of their musical style.
“Tell No Lies” (2009) is another collaboration between Justin Adams & Juldeh Camara.
One of the heirs of the genius of Nigerian Afrobeat superstar Fela Kuti is his son, Femi. Femi’s version of Afrobeat is the exciting new sound to emerge from Nigeria for years, borrowing the best elements from his father’s powerfully polyrhythmic prototype – the funky, jazzy, heavily percussive sound that took James Brown’s beat back to Africa. Femi adds to the winning formula with a freshness and exuberance of young Lagos and its taste for the new R&B and dance music of the United States of America and Europe.
Femi first rose to international prominence in 1985, when he appeared at the Hollywood Bowl, fronting Fela’s forty piece band, Egypt 80. Fela failed to make it onto the plane, having been arrested at Lagos airport and jailed on a trumped-up fraud charge. Femi, already a member of his father’s band, came to the rescue that night, giving a show that brought the audience at the packed Bowl to its feet. Even though the fans had paid to see and hear the charismatic Fela, Femi was able to fully satisfy them with the same rude, muscular saxophone style (soprano, alto, tenor and baritone) and lean self-confidence bordering on arrogance.
Two years later, Femi had formed his own young band, The Positive Force, and released their debut album for Polygram Nigeria. Titled No Cause for Alarm, the album was a raw but impressive mixture of funky soul-jazz, driving percussion and horns, with sharp social comment.
Strong interest in this album prompted a dramatic debut appearance in Paris, where Femi’s no-hold-barred show devastated a huge audience. He has since carried out numerous, extensive European tours with critics favorably comparing the big band sound of the sixteen member group with Fela Kuti’s legendary Egypt 80.
The performance of The Positive Force’s lithe and sensual dancers/singers is described as a visual feast which has to be seen to be believed. In 1994, Femi was signed by the legendary Motown label. An album, Wonder Wonder, was released in 1995, and was followed by a successful tour of the United States. Unfortunately, soon after the record’s release, a change in the presidency of Motown resulted in the scrapping of Tabu, the African music boutique label which the company’s former president, Jeryhl Busby, had championed. An undaunted Femi pressed on, carrying out extensive tours within Africa, with further acclaimed visits to Europe in 1996 and 1997.
Sadly, in August of 1997, Fela Kuti died. Another tragedy was to shake the Kuti family to their roots shortly afterwards with the untimely death from cancer of Femi’s younger sister, Sola. Together with his other sister, Yeni, Sola had been a founding member of The Positive Force and her presence sorely missed. Her place in the group was taken by Femi’s wife, Funke, who has proved to be a gifted singer and dancer. In December 1997, Femi signed a recording contract with Barclay/Polygram. His Shoki Shoki album was first released in Europe to tremendous critical acclaim.
Femi performs regularly in Lagos, the capital of Nigeria. He has also toured extensively in Europe and the United States, including a 50-date European tour and US club tours. Femi and The Positive Force will continue to return to the US on tours and festival dates.
In July of 2000, UNICEF published Femi’s AIDS in Africa essay in its Progress Of Nations 2000 report. On September 4, Femi received top honors at the Kora All Africa Music Awards, including Best Male Artist in Africa and Best Song for his sexually charged single, “Beng Beng Beng.” At the globally-televised World Music Awards in May, 2000, Femi received the Best-Selling African Artist award and performed “Beng Beng Beng” to a captivated audience.
In 2001 Fight to Win continued to evolve this development of a democratization and an openness in afrobeat instigated by Femi Kuti since his first album. Containing Nigerian jazz funk rhythms with a touch of hip hop, Femi collaborated with American rappers such as Mos Def and Common, and soul singer Jaguar Wright, creating an album of universal critical acclaim.
After three years spent between studio work and touring, Femi Kuti returned to the roots of a musical and political movement of which he is, as of now, the unique symbol and only representative. He decided to invest his success in the reconstruction of a new Shrine, a musical temple, erected, displaced and rebuilt by Fela Kuti following repeated attacks against the old ones by a corrupt military power.
Just as his father before him, Femi Kuti and his Positive Force continue to make of this place a space in which music is the weapon of the future. For this heir to afrobeat it’s a turning point. Having achieved recognition on the international scene since the 1990s, Femi Kuti could have chosen to live in a western city such as Paris, London or New York City, all cities which have taken him to their hearts. But it’s in Femi Kuti’s hometown of Lagos, one of the most explosive cities in the world, he has decided to pursue the fight.