Afrobeat... not just a music, but a movement, says Seun Kuti in Ghana
THE show was big. It was not for many but those who understand the concept of good music. It was no wonder that the audience was a multicultural one. Seun Kuti, 26, son of Afrobeat legend Fela had touched down in Accra on February 17 as part of a 13-city tour of West Africa. An eager audience had gathered to see him and the famous Egypt 80 band at the premises of the Alliance Francaise. True to type, Seun proved to all that he is his father's son. He performed some songs from Fela's repertoire as well as from his debut album Many Things, which came out last year. After the show, he spoke to OLASUNKANMI AROKOYU. Excerpts:
YOUR father's band had a lot of bands men; you have 14, why did you decide on a small band with only two female dancers?
Two female dancers to me are enough in this day and age. You don't need to over elaborate. Fela was Fela and he could afford to put 80 people on the road. These days it's not that easy to do that kind of work. It's an economical thing to do. Secondly, it was not left to me because the people here are the ones that really believed that the band could still survive after Fela died and they stayed.
How many members of the band came from Fela's band?
Right now 12 of us played with Fela.
What is the role of religion in your music?
No role, man, whatsoever.
Your father practiced traditional religion he had... (cuts in)
I don't practice any religion. Just the way his father too was a reverend father and he was a pagan, I think I'm one step further in this cycle. I'm a complete free thinker. I'm so much of a free thinker, that I think atheists actually have a religion. I'm a free thinker. I don't believe in anything I cannot see and I cannot do.
Not even in the traditional religion that your father practiced?
No, if there was juju as they call it in Africa, oyinbo no go take over Africa. Dem go don pursue dem with juju since.
There was a lot of sex in Fela's music, where does sex stand in your music?
There was more politics than sex in Fela's music.
I meant in his lifestyle
In his lifestyle of course, there's a lot of sex in everybody's lifestyle. Except people without game, every boy with game taps some at least five times a week.
Do you have any problem with being judged as Fela's son?
No! I have always been Fela's son. It's not like I applied for a job when I was 20 and got employed as Fela's son. You know, I've been Fela's son all my life. Being Fela's son has always influenced everything that has happened to my life from when I was born, (through) primary school, secondary school, university, my professional life, my private life. So, being Fela's son is just part of who I am. It's not my totality.
Is there any way you'd like to be different, by doing something of your own out of Fela's image?
Well, to me what I'm doing is being a good Afrobeat musician. There are a lot of rock and roll bands that are wild out I don't see anybody tagging them with all the great rock and roll bands that have preceded them. Because Afrobeat is African and Fela was the only one doing it for a long time coming through as an original Afrobeat band, you cannot escape being compared with Fela or anything like that. Even if I wasn't his son there'd still be this comparison. For me it's not a matter of being compared to Fela all the time, it's just a matter of doing what I love doing. And I love being an Afrobeat musician. I love doing what I'm doing. I was privileged enough to be close to the master and watch him and learn from him a lot during my formative years. So what can I say?
What's the role of Afrobeat in society right now?
Well, I think Afrobeat is a non violent weapon in African society. I think a lot of people fail to see that Afrobeat is not just a genre of music, it's a movement. It's for the emancipation of the black race and it's important that people understand this aspect of Afrobeat that being an Afrobeat band does not just mean dancing to the music and singing the lyrics and saying you like what we do. You have to be a part of the movement by making sure that you live this life of equality for all African men and making sure you try to be part of the solution. That's what I believe in. Afrobeat is for the society. It's a voice for the 90 per cent of Africans that have no voice because when our politicians speak they speak for themselves and 10 per cent of Africans. The rest nobody listens to, nobody goes to really make their problem, their own problem. I don't think it's only Afrobeat that should be doing this. I think all genres of music should, being an African musician you owe Africans the moral responsibility of helping your people. Maybe a lot of Africans don't go through Africa, when they make money they don't care about the life of their fellow brothers which is one of the main problems one goes through in Africa today. If you look at Europe and America, it is these elite that actually fought for the equality of them and the common people. Every revolution is led by the intellectual, by the elite. Except in Africa the elite don't care about what's happening to the rest of the people. I don't think Afrobeat alone should do the job. Everybody who is African has a responsibility.
Apart from Fela, which other personalities have shaped your philosophy about life?
Well, a lot of people religiously, politically and individually. I grew up with my uncle Beko and spent a lot of time with him. Doctor Beko is one of my mentors. There are a lot of famous people I spent time with as well who helped me and advised me. And I've read some great philosophers too. To me, it's not being shaped by somebody's philosophy that matters, I believe that your philosophy should be like a map that is constantly being improved. It should be spreading and the square feet you cover on the map should be increasing, it should not be stagnant. Your philosophy should be liable to change as soon as you find something that you believe is a higher truth than what you believe in.
What do you think about popular Nigerian music as it is being exported outside of Nigeria?
I don't think it's being exported outside of Nigeria in the sense of being exported outside of Nigeria. It is being exported outside of Nigeria to Africans and Nigerians who are not in Africa or in Nigeria.
You don't think that the music is being taken outside of the continent, why?
They are getting bigger in Africa just like any African should be but I don't think they're working hard enough to integrate their music into the international market like it should be. 90 per cent of their fans are still Africa based.
You have a record company that is based in Europe, that's why you have a wider reach than the others?
Everything about me is European. That's what I've always wanted because the Egypt 80 has always been an international band. That's one of the reasons I waited for a while to release my album. I didn't want the band to be released under me on a lower level and I worked for my career to be of international standards. It's not a matter of being Fela's son. Being Fela's son will definitely open doors for you and give you that first listen that most people may not get. It makes people to say let's see what you have got to offer. It's your job to make sure that what you have is something that they may want to put their money on.
Apart from you, Femi and Bantu, which other musicians are in the Afrobeat genre?
Ade Bantu yes, Asa, Nneka, not Afrobeat but Nigerian musicians who are also on the international circuit of music. You know when I say international music circuit, music is bigger than the way we see it in Africa. In Africa, everything is equated with show off, hype and money. As long as you're living in a big house, drive a big car, have a video and some girls in it, then you're a big star for Africans. These other music stars perform at music festivals all over the world, during summer and winter with big stages that cater for over 60 to 100,000 people. They are not in this circuit, that's what I mean by they're not properly integrated into the international music scene.
How influential is Baba Ani and other veterans of the Egypt 80 band on your music?
Everybody is very influential in the music. The band is like a team, there are three generations of musicians. So it's interesting how our ideas work. It's good to have that old school professionalism meeting these young dynamics. So I think that's what gives our music the edge, everybody respects each other's individuality.
Do you think there will come a time when Afrobeat music will just be good music that people listen to devoid of politics?
No! Not now though. It's good music that people listen to. It's just that it includes politics (laughs).
It has to be political?
It very much has to.