I often hear people say or write about Seun Anikulapo-Kuti that he is the “Real Fela.” This characterisation is most inappropriate and even troublesome. Seun is the “Real Seun” and not the “Real Fela”. Fela was Seun’s father and the son has inherited his father’s legacy with high fidelity, but that is where the association between them ends as an artist ‘with a voice.’ Seun is creating his own distinct voice as a musician and his legacy.
The trouble with the “Real Fela” is that there are “contenders” for it. It is inevitable that there will be some subtle or overt rivalry between Femi Anikulapo-Kuti (the first son of Fela), Dede Mabiaku (the spiritual son of Fela) and Seun. All three have participated musically in supporting, sustaining or deriving from Fela’s legacy. Each one of them has been ‘anointed’ by various sections of Fela’s broad international and growing fan base as the “Real Fela.”
Not so surprisingly many fans dismiss Femi outright as not being anything like his father musically or otherwise and even go as far as making him out to be “Anti-Fela.” Many other fans insist that as much as Dede Mabiaku severely personifies Fela, he is not his biological son, therefore, cannot be his real successor. Many fans yet counter this position by arguing that artistic or musical heritages are not about primogeniture but qualifying talent. That leaves Seun in pole position to be acclaimed as the “Real Fela.”
Being the “Real Fela” is a big burden for any of the three contenders to carry. The great men who have produced truly seminal and ground-breaking achievements are not commonly outdone by the children or grandchildren. If we stick to jazz and saxophonists, the legacies of musical giants like John Coltrane, Jackie Maclean and Von Freeman have not been surpassed by those of their sons, Ravi Coltrane, Maclean and Chico Freeman respectively.
This is the case despite the fact that these sons are also true jazz greats in their own rights. Joshua Redman is one of the few who is building a legacy that is surpassing that of his legendary father, Dewey Redman. Interestingly, Pharaoh Sanders is the heir to John Coltrane’s legacy not Ravi Coltrane.
We can then say it does not matter whether the legacy of Seun ends up being ‘greater’ or ‘lesser’ than that of his father, Fela. What is most important is that Seun carves a substantial and significant legacy of his own which he is already doing very successfully both musically and increasingly, politically.
Femi and Dede Mabiaku are also successfully making their own legacies. And it does not matter whether this happens purely within the paradigm of Afro Beat as Fela would have done it or not.
All in all, Seun is the “Real Seun” and should be appreciated as such!