Nigerian saxophonist Femi Kuti plays live in his home country at least three times a week, sits in on studio sessions with some artists who request his collaboration, and is finishing a new album with his band, the Positive Force.
He's also a family man, an ambassador for Amnesty International's Art for Amnesty project, and was one of the performers on last week's Jam Cruise out of Fort Lauderdale.
Although the son of famed Afrobeat musician Fela Kuti says it's all part of the trade, a Skype call from his home in Lagos revealed him to be stressed and fatigued, as he tried to herd small, screaming children out of a room so he could talk quietly.
"We have problems getting visas for [band] members," Kuti said, as he was preparing to fly to Florida for the cruise. "We are coming with two dancers instead of three, because one of the dancers left, and it takes six to eight months to apply for a visa for a new dancer."
He had no such problem with his musicians.
"And if I did, I would change what I was going to play on tour, and nobody would notice," he said, adding, "Luckily, at this stage in my career there's so many musicians that I know around the world, I could call people in France … so many people."
There's no disputing Kuti's connections among musicians, regardless of genre. He and the Positive Force play a form of jazz that's intrinsically African — blending reggaelike horns with bright keys and consistent drumming, all beneath Kuti's chanting vocals — but they have recorded with Mos Def, the Red Hot Chili Peppers and some Motown artists.
Because Afrobeat is international, the bandleader said, those collaborations don't seem out of place to him. But Femi Kuti and the Positive Force are not just purveyors of African music. His lyrics are relentlessly political. The 2004 song "I Wanna Be Free" rails against corrupt politicians, and last year's "Dem Bobo" laments the struggle between crooked government officials and pro-democracy activists.
"Amnesty uses my face for this project because people will identify me easily," Kuti said. "When I bring my music out [on tour], 98 percent of it comes out with me."
The reach of his message is wider now that, at 50 years old, Kuti embraces Internet resources such as Skype, Google Play and Twitter to reach colleagues and fans.
"I joined Twitter now [@femiakuti]. I completely forgot to drop off my band's passports because they all want me to follow them back," he said. "I've been tweeting for the past five hours, which is something I don't want to do, but I have to."
Femi Kuti and the Positive Force
When: 8 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 13
Where: Grand Central Miami, 697 N. Miami Ave.
Cost: $30 plus fees
Contact: 305-672-5202 or GrandCentralMiami.com