By Ameyaw Debrah
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Ade Bantu is the front man of the musical collective known as Bantu (also known as Brotherhood Alliance Navigating Towards Unity). His music is an eclectic fusion of the rich cultural heritage of the Yorubas and the sounds of the African Diaspora. His debut album “Bantu” featured Senegalese Hip-hop veterans P.B.S; and his collaboration with the Nigerian Fuji star Adewale Ayuba titled “Fuji Satisfaction”, earned him two nods at the 2005 edition of the prestigious Kora Award.

Bantu's positive lyrics address social, personal and political issues and his work with the Afro-German NGO and musical group, Brothers Keepers, topped the German Pop Charts through their uncompromising stance against racism.

Bantu now performs with his Afrobeat Academy Band, an ensemble that celebrates Fela Kuti's musical vision in a unique and exciting way. Their live performances have been described as a soundtrack to the Pan African Renaissance Movement. Bantu, a BSc Electronic Engineering holder, has toured Nigeria, Sweden, England, Germany, Uganda, Ghana, Denmark and France.

He has shared the stage with several musical greats such as Tony Allen, Dede Mabiaku, Seun Kuti and the legendary Egypt 80 band; and has collaborated with UB40, Gentleman, Xavier Naidoo, Sly Dunbar and Patrice. Jamati had the chance to have the following interview with Ade Bantu.

How would you describe Bantu as an artiste?
Bantu is a grenzgaenger. He is a pan Africanist. I am an “Afropean”, Yoruba-Prussian musician, producer, singer/songwriter and activist, who uses music to explore and celebrate his urban African musical and cultural heritage.

When did you discover your talent as a musician?
I have always liked music. I grew up with my dad DJ-ing every Sunday while the family did “general cleaning”. When I came to Europe to further my studies my course mates invited me to join their rap band, and from there on there was no looking back

Who are your musical influences?
My musical influences are very diverse. I grew up on James Last, Fela, Peter Tosh, Beethoven, Beatles, E.T. Mensah, Stevie Wonder, Public Enemy, Millie Jackson, Soul, Funk, Highlife, Afrobeat, Afrofunk, Juju,- basically good music.

When did you start performing?
I started performing about 15 Years ago

When was your lucky break, your defining moment as a musician?
My lucky break was in 1999 when I scored a radio hit in Nigeria with Bantu the song was titled “Nzogbu“. From there on we grew from song to song. We also scored a top ten hit in Germany with a musical project called Brothers Keepers in 2001. In 2004, we recorded with UB40, and in 2005 we received the Kora Award for Best Group Africa and West Africa. There are many defining moments.

How do you describe your kind of music?
It's an eclectic mix of Afrobeat, Afrofunk, Hip-hop, Dancehall and Fuji music. I call it “The Sound of Fufu”

Why do you choose to perform that kind of music?
The music, my philosophy, my art reflects who I am. My mum is German and my dad is Nigerian. I am a “NiGerman”. I grew up in both countries and continents.

What do you normally sing about?
I sing about the realities of my surroundings. I celebrate Africanism, love, dreams and hopes of my people. I try to amplify the pain and suffering of the marginalized.

How are people responding to that message?
The feedback is good. I think basically it has to do with me being honest. I am constantly learning. I am an apprentice of life in search of the truth, always questioning authority and the norm. I am not scared to show my vulnerability and weaknesses. After all I am not perfect. A lot of people can relate to this.

As a pan-Africanist, do you think pan-Africanism can truly help Africa?
I think Pan Africanism is the only solution for Africa. We must unite. It is simple mathematics. We need to know more about one another, rediscover our common philosophical, cultural and political heritage. That's the only way we can survive in a globalized world. Africa needs to protect her interests, speak out as one voice. Kwame Nkrumah had a vision, we need to study it, revise his Pan African ideas and learn from past mistakes.

Do you think there can ever be a United States of Africa?
There is no alternative; we need a United States of Africa. We are too weak as singular states, too vulnerable to exploitation. Unfortunately our leaders are all myopic. We don't have visionaries. It's still the old generation of thieves and power hungry “militicians” who are at the helm of affairs.

Have you been able to cross borders with your music?
Yes I believe very much so. I have been able to sensitize Germans about racism through my music and NGO work with the Afro-German musical collective, Brothers Keepers. I speak out for Africa and Africans in Europe. I have not forgotten home–my band, Afrobeat Academy, and I have toured Ghana, Nigeria, and Uganda giving concerts and empowering young creative minds through musical workshops.

You have a new single, “No More No Vernacular”. What is that song about?
“No More No Vernacular” is about the experience we all go through as children in school; where you are told that you should not speak your indigenous language. You must only speak “Queens” or “Oxford English”. I got flogged a lot of times for speaking Yoruba or Pidgin English with my school mates. Some teachers couldn't understand why I was so keen on speaking what they called “bush language”. I think it shows how the colonial mentality amongst us Africans creates an inferiority complex. And we wonder why we are not progressing. We have internalized the projections of racist Europe. It is a shame.

Do you write your own songs?
Yes I do. Sometimes I write with my brother Don Abi when he comes in as a guest artist.

What inspires you to write your songs?
I get inspired by conversations, TV, radio, books, magazines, Wikipedia, a baby's cry, Paintings, a kiss, anything that triggers my imagination.

What is your opinion on contemporary African music?
There is so much good music being produced and performed by Africans both at home and in the Diaspora. The problem is that the Anglophone listeners don't get exposed to the incredible music from Francophone Africa and vice versa, I'm not talking about Congo or Ivory Coast music. There is a divide that needs to be addressed. Senegal, Mali, Burkina Faso have very cutting edge artists and producers that are making waves and are recognized world wide. Talk less of Lusophone Africa. We need to be more adventurous when looking for African music. We have 53 countries that need to be discovered.

Do you think that our young crop of musicians have the kind of music that can put Africa on the world map, say win a Grammy?
I think a lot of young African musicians are wanna-be 50 Cents, Ushers or R. Kelly's. Most of them have not researched their musical Heritage. Ghanaian and Nigerian Hiplife or Rap artists don't know about the Ebo Taylor's, E.T. Mensah's, Orlando Julius and many more great musicians and bands. You can't be more catholic than the Pope. So how do you want to better than Americans in what they invented? We can only offer the world something if we know who we are as urban Africans. We must do our homework; know our roots and then go on to create something that represents Africa 2007/08

What have been the highlights of your music career?
Winning the Kora Award 2005; The African Festival Award 2007; working and recording with UB40, Gentleman, Adewale Ayuba; travelling with the German Minister of External Affairs, Frank Walter Steinmeier on his First trip to Africa in August 2007 as part of his cultural delegation; and performing for Desmond Tutu.

What do you hope to achieve in the future with your music?
I want to keep on pushing the envelope challenging myself and incorporating many more sounds and styles to my music. I want to work with various talented producers and musicians from across the globe and Africa in particular

What should music lovers expect from you in the near future?
My forthcoming album is titled “Lovelite Sessions”. It was recorded live at the Lovelite Club, Berlin. It features all my live material performed by me and my 14-piece band, Afrobeat Academy Band. It will be released in March 2008.