Unity and positivity in the face of widespread corruption and oppression continue to be key aims of Femi Kuti’s music. His tenth studio album, Stop the Hate is the latest installment, packed characteristically with value-oriented songs, political statements (some more specific than others), and dense instrumentals in classic Afrobeat style.
As Fela’s eldest son, Femi Kuti is always reliable as an artist who follows directly in his legendary forebears’ footsteps, albeit with his own tone. Often less interested in confrontation than motivation, he doesn’t shy away from critiquing power. Opening track “Pá Pà Pá” is mostly a list of demands for healthcare, clean water, and decent infrastructure, along with an entreaty to the people to accept nothing less. But his messaging focuses primarily on uplifting and empowering his fellow masses, as is often the case in Femi Kuti’s work.
Lines like “As we struggle every day / We try to find a better way” and “Action is what they need / Not for us to sit down and cry” are emblematic of Kuti’s approach: high roads are taken, and positive vibes are prevalent. “Na Bigmanism Spoil Government” even outright states Kuti’s wishes that his critiques of government policies will be taken as constructive rather than an attempt at revolution.
To be sure, there is plenty of substance to the more specific critiques. “Land Grab” and “Privatisation” are blunt arguments against the titular issues and the legality of such acts of disenfranchisement. “Show of Shame” decries the Nigerian government’s lack of aid for its citizens, an issue further tied into questions of resource allocations. These pointed pieces are less frequent than the philosophical ones, like “Young Boy / Young Girl” and “Set Your Minds and Spirits Free”, both tracks calling listeners to personal growth in the service of a more utopian collective future.
The sounds are all pulled from vintage Afrobeat, all polyrhythms and nimble horns in catchy melodies, with some critical differences in production and composition. Kuti’s is more of a solo artist approach than a complete emulation of the 1970s large ensemble. Though there are longer tracks – “Young Boy / Young Girl” nearly makes it to eight minutes – and instrumental breaks, most of these songs are made for an ear tailored to contemporary pop, landing somewhere in the four-to-five-minute range and centered mainly around Kuti’s lyrics as markers of the beginning and end. Kuti makes his points clear and accessible, with no five-minute-long instrumental openings required. For Fela enthusiasts, this might be a drawback, but for an artist trying to address a broad global public, it makes a lot of sense.
Stop the Hate is, in its way, a testament to the power of nostalgia. Afrobeat in Fela’s day was a reaction, an innovation that sought to turn the status quo on its head. Today, its signature sounds have traveled the globe. In Femi’s hands, they serve as a reminder of revolutions past and a means of grabbing attention to circulate messages of hope that may not always be adamantly anti-establishment but aren’t willing to bend in the face of corrupt governments, either. Kuti’s music is a reminder that optimism doesn’t have to mean compromise.