One People One World
There was a time when it felt like music could change the world. Musicians used their stage to rally attention to causes. Some artists are in your face like, Billie Holiday calling attention to lynching with “Strange Fruit” to Edwin Starr’s denunciation of “War (What is it good for?)”. Other artists are more subtle. Buffalo Springfield’s classic “For What It’s Worth” called attention to political chaos by asking questions. Reggae artists like Bob Marley and Nattali Rize used their music to rally people to aspire to live a better life. Fela Kuti put his life on the line when he criticized the Nigerian authorities with an infectious beat and humor. Songs like “Zombie” and “Expensive Shit” used ridicule to call out the powers that be. There is no one way to write an effective political song as long as you grab people’s attention and get them to think.
Femi Kuti’s new album, One People, One World tries to hard to make a political statement. He’s trying to continue his father’s legacy, and he can write moving Afrobeat tunes and his heart is definitely in the right place. On other albums, Femi strikes a better balance between being a messenger of change and keeping the dance floor hopping. The opening track, “Africa Will Be Great Again”, lets the message overwhelm the song. The lyric sounds like a campaign stump speech with clunky lines like about “first class institutions and infrastructure” shoe-horned into the verse. The music feels constrained by the message. Other songs fare better at balancing message and music. “One People One World” does a good jobs putting out a positive message and “Best to Live on the Good Side” lets the instrumentalists breath a bit. I can’t complain about what Femi is saying. I’m with him denouncing evil people and calling for equal opportunity, but this record feels more like a civics lesson than a music jam. While we need the lesson, I think it goes down better if we can still groove to it.