Not content to follow in his father, Fela Kuti’s footsteps, Femi Kuti continues to expand his musical palette with his latest studio release, Day By Day, a hybrid of Afro-pop, jazz and urban influences. The album has been a long time coming: seven years since his last studio album Fight To Win and four years since the live Africa Shrine, on which he recorded early versions of three of the songs on this new album. On November 18, Day By Day will be released in America by leading independent label Downtown Records’ newly launched imprint, Mercer Street. The imprint was created as a vibrant outlet for eclectic adult-oriented and world music artists.
Femi’s sabbatical from recording surprisingly allowed him to learn a lot more about being a musician. Femi learned to play piano properly and returned to the trumpet, his first instrument, which he gave up in favor of the sax. The benefits are immediately apparent on Day By Day. Femi says, “Listen to ‘They Will Run’ and ‘Better Ask Yourself,’ they are more jazz than anything I’ve done before. That’s the effect of playing the trumpet coming out.”’
As the album launches into opening track “Oyimbo,” the benefits of recording with Positive Force, his 17-piece band, become immediately apparent. Femi might shun the 24-minute diatribes favored by his father—indeed “One Two” could be the shortest Afrobeat track ever, but in many other ways Day By Day is a return to the glory days of Nigeria’s big bands, of wailing organs, frantic poly-rhythms and behemoth horn sections playing against each other. Yet now the palette is broader. “Do You Know” and “They Will Run” are undeniably afro-jazz. “You Better Ask Yourself” and “Eh Oh” carry the air of lost messages from Marvin Gaye or Curtis Mayfield. The title track is infused with gospel, suffering and ghostly echoes of work songs.
Since Fela’s death in 1997, Femi, a formidable songwriter, performer and bandleader in his own right, brought his music to audiences that might never have heard of Fela, expanding his audience beyond world music fans. Femi toured America with alt-rock band Jane’s Addiction, sang on Rachid Taha’s Made In Medina album and reached out to the American hip-hop community connecting with people such as Mos Def, D’Angelo, Nile Rodgers, Erykah Badu and The Roots.