What Image have we got here, who is the subject?
This is an image of the legendary Femi Kuti, son of infamous Fela Kuti. The Kuti’s are musical royalty!
I am a genuine fan of both Femi and Fela and have been listening and collecting their music for a very long time. Femi was in London with his band and dancers, and just like his father he has a female entourage. Femi’s son (who I also photographed) was there too. I happened to be with a friend who was filming Femi as a part of a documentary, they really were two amazing days. The image was taken the morning after a concert, I did not plan it, it was impromptu. The image was shot in a hotel room against the curtains, Femi is a very playful person who likes to crack a joke and mess around. I think for that shot it worked.
Were you able to bond much with Femi?
Femi and I still speak, amazingly I dropped him an email thinking it would take sometime before he or someone from his PR team would come back to me and he just sent me an email straight back. We’ve been in contact ever since. There have been talks about me shooting his album cover, I’m really hoping to do something with him again.
What were you intending to capture?
Just before I shot the image he was playing a solo piece whilst my friend was filming, it was like a filler piece for the documentary. I composed the shot slightly differently to the recording but I really liked his clothing against the curtains. The room was quite dark, rather than fight it, I worked with it and showed the parts of his body that were naturally exposed. I wanted to capture Femi as himself, so I just let things happen. Looking back at the image, I see Femi.
What was going on around you in the room?
Femi’s son was in the room playing on a games console, there were phones ringing, people calling from Africa and Europe. Downstairs in reception there were people queuing to meet with him. It was a bit crazy but it was nice because he shut everything out for us so we could do our thing, which was ideal. It meant there was no restrictions on time, we weren’t told that we had to hurry up. Femi gave us his time, he said; ‘You’re here, if you want something just let me know, let me know where you want me to be.’
Did you take anything away with you from that day?
I think this shoot was about three years ago. It was nice to experience a family like atmosphere before the concert in the Green room. There were about ten people who all knew each other; dancers, friends and family. They were just cool, they weren’t under any pressure, there wasn’t any tension. People were messing about, it was just like being at home with your friends before you go out. I really liked that. I felt at home, and Femi contributed to that. there wasn’t a hierarchy amongst people, everyone was there to do just what they had to do and enjoyed it.
Would you say there was much similarity or resemblance between Fela and Femi Kuti?
There was definitely a resemblance, obviously I’ve never met Fela but from the documentaries, stage performances and interviews I have watched I felt that there was a strong similarity between father and son.
Femi also spoke about his father a little. It was quite interesting to hear his perspective. It was nice to hear him speak about Fela, he never referred to him as “The Great” or other words you associate with hearing about Fela Kuti. He spoke of him as a person he knew, who was always around. He mentioned The Chapel, which was a club his father had built, the issues and struggles surrounding the club.