“EVERY AFRICAN HAS BEEN ASSAULTED BY THEIR MILITARY OR THE POLICE”- SEUN ANIKULAPO KUTI
“The brutality against us isn’t only by the police! There is domestic brutality of homelessness.Educational brutality of inadequate and underfunded schools the brutality of road accidents due to bad roads nko? The brutality of darkness and high tariffs. Ladies and Gentlemen the Nigerian government have been killing their people since forever. SARS is following orders just the way the people that killed my grandmother were following orders. Don’t let them give you scape goats! If those officers have been running rampant for years then all their commanding officers must be brought to book for negligence and as accessories to those crimes or else this is nothing but theatre. Our goal is a better Nigeria and overhauling the police isn’t going to create a better Nigeria, it’s the entire relationship between the people the government and our resources that must be at the core of our demands.” – Seun Anikulapo Kuti
Seun Kuti, an Afrobeat singer. In this wide-ranging interview with A-CHOICES, he discusses finding his musical feet, how is father inspired a generation of musicians and why police brutality (# EndSars) and Human rights abuses must stop in Nigeria. For Seun Kuti, music is a way of life. At 8 — when many of his peers were still trying to find their feet — Seun had already started pulling the strings in the music landscape by playing the band of Fela Kuti, the late Afrobeat legend who happened to be his father.
A-CHOICES: Tell us about your musical background, and how your father influenced your choice of music as a career?
SEUN:Well, growing up in Kalakuti Republic, it was impossible to escape music. Music was always around. And, I wouldn’t say also that my dad kind of overtly lured me towards music. I think it’s more of the environment we were all raised, it made us musical.I don’t really have the experiences of most artistes. I have always been involved in music. From when I was like eight, I started playing my dad’s band.So, yeah, I studied for a diploma in music at the Liverpool institute for performing arts and I was classically trained also.
A-CHOICES: Fela Kuti is widely regarded as Nigeria’s greatest musician. What does that means to you?
SEUN: About my father being the greatest musician, I don’t know. What matters to me is also that he was also a great father to me, I think that takes the cake more than his relationship with the world. But also being a musician, I think it’s good to have greatness as a yardstick, you know? It keeps you working.
A-CHOICES: How did you find your musical feet?
SEUN: Well, I caught my musical feet, as they say in the Egypt 80 band when I was eight and I think, being in the band helped me find my feet musically, learning from a young age to play amongst professionals.
A-CHOICES: What if anything in particular do you hope that listeners come away with after listening to your music?
SEUN: Hum, anybody that listens to my music, I want them to come away with the fact that this music is trying to inspire revolutionary consciousness. Even if they don’t agree with what I’m saying, they must at least agree that I’m trying to make a difference in the world.
A-CHOICES: What do you consider as the essential elements of your music?
SEUN: The essential element of all Afro beat music is a panAfricanist consciousness. Without a panAfricanist consciousness, you can’t be a truly afro beat musician from Africa. And I think consciousness, for me being an African, consciousness is definitely the main ingredient. Now that we have afro beat bands from Brazil, from South America in general, from Australia, from Asia, I think revolutionary consciousness is key.
A-CHOICES: Who can you cite as your main musical influences?
SEUN: My father is my main musical influence, definitely my father. But also as a saxophonist, there are many greats I look up to. Grover Washington is one of them and I think the greatest saxophonist ever is Sonny Rollins, even though I’m not a tenor saxophonist, I steal some of his leaks
A-CHOICES: What outside of music is currently inspiring you? It could be anything. A book, a TV show, a movie, a painting, anything?
SEUN: Well, right now outside of music, I have two main influences and they are both books. The first one is “Yurugu” by Marimba Ani, I think it’s the greatest ever book on African mental liberation, it’s the greatest book to elevate African consciousness I’ve ever come across in my life. And then to understand what our task must be as African people, I think Chinweizu’s “The west and the rest of us” is a great inspiration right now.
A-CHOICES: Just like your older siblings such as Femi and Yeni, you have helped promote the legacy of your late father who stood for truth and responsible governance. Antagonism of the government saw Fela become a victim of physical abuse in the hands of military officers. Have you ever experienced such treatments in the hands of police or military officers?
SEUN: For the mere fact that for all my life growing up till my father died, we definitely have the affected psychological which is even worse than physical assault and I was a kid when all these things were going on in Kalakuti as well but also, I don’t want to make my case too special. I think every African has been assaulted by their military or the police at some point in their life, especially the poor Africans.
A-CHOICES: Afro beat has spread to many corners of the world and is still popular with many fans. Nigerian music today is heavy on hip-hop, sound systems and rap. How is the Afro beat scene in Nigeria currently?
SEUN:Well the Afro beat scene in Nigeria is just about reviving itself right now because for some reason, over the past couple of years, I have seen many young Afro beat bands coming up again. You know? That’s interesting to see.
A-CHOICES: Some years back you strongly participated in the “Occupy Nigeria” organised to express disapproval over the hike in the price of petrol under former president Goodluck Ebele Jonathan. Last year, you were at the forefront of the nationwide protests #EndSars Now. Do you see an end in sight to police brutality in Nigeria?
SEUN: For me, police brutality in Africa is lead to violence against African people globally. I think we are at crossroads on how we eventually come out of this continual oppression of our people. I believe that the power is with the people, the more our consciousness is being raised by the situation, the more we are going to be able to do something about it. I think Nigerian people are now ready to defend themselves against the tyranny of corrupt police who are hell bent on keeping the slave – slave master narrative alive because that was their job, to keep us silent, to keep us oppressed. So what the police truly hates among black people is our ability to now express ourselves. It’s truly an attack on our expression globally but we must stand firm and resist this attack by any means necessary.
A-CHOICES: You took over the Egypt 80 band at 14, What are the challenges you face as a musician, composer and father?
SEUN: I wasn’t a father at 14 *laughs* so I didn’t have that challenge, I think. My main challenge was musical, to be able to become the musician that I needed to be, to be the front-line of such a great band, I think that was the biggest challenge and the answer to that was working.
A-CHOICES: The Egypt 80 still contains many of the musicians who played with Fela in the ’80s and ’90s. What’s Baba Ani up to now?
SEUN: Baba Ani is doing great, I saw him the day before yesterday at the rehearsals, working, we all hung out, relaxed, chilled but he is retired now. He is no longer in the band but he is living a good life with his wife and his son and he’s fine, he’s doing okay.
A-CHOICES: Talking about your grandmother, somebody actually said that Fela exaggerated when he said that the soldiers threw his mother down from the balcony during the Kalakuta invasion, do you think the person was right?
SEUN:I don’t know what the person was smoking or drinking *laughs* when they said that but there was no exaggeration, no matter. You know the Nigerian Army has a story so I’m sure this person is one of their sympathizers that it was after they set the house on fire that my grandmother jumped by herself out of the window. Well, if they didn’t set the house on fire, would she have jumped out of the window? I don’t even understand the excuse. It’s the same thing that is happening now. How they are saying that its hoodlums that came to shoot at the protesters, not the army. You know the Nigerian army security forces, they are cowards. You can tell by their designation at Sambisa forest that they can’t really face people that are ready to face them. They are cowards, they are bullies, so they cannot own up to their actions and they benefit from their oppression and brutality to spread the nasty stories about.
A-CHOICES: Fela took the Federal Government to court for the Kalakuta invasion and he lost the case, did he ever discussed how he feel with you?
SEUN: We never took them to court. The government formed a panel of enquiries by themselves, and found themselves not guilty because the soldiers that did the act were not identified. Unknown soldiers . We didn’t lose the case in court.
A-CHOICES: Would you say that his refusal to participate in FESTAC was the reason he had problems with the leaders in Nigeria?
SEUN: Hmm.…Festac probably was one of the many reasons, not the only reason. Fela was already a marked man even before Festac.
A-CHOICES: What countries will you visit on your next tour?
SEUN: I don’t know, whatever country coronavirus pandemic allows us to go to next, that’s the country we’d definitely want to visit when we go on tour. It’s out of anybody’s hands now, we just have to see how the world plays out.
A-CHOICES: Would you say West African artists are taking contemporary American RnB and blending it with African themes in the same way Fela did with the contemporary RnB of his time?
SEUN: Well, I think what is different is; music is not about sound and merging really. Music is a spirit, it’s a merging of some kind of spirit, so what Fela had was the blending of the plane of blues and jazz and the revolutionary sound of funk and what it stood for. What was driving the world in the late 60’s and early 70’s was black revolutionary thoughts and this was what merged. Some Koola Lobitos tunes were also influenced by many jazz, blues, kind of but people mainly say it was Afro beat then because it was just in its own, there was no merging of spirits.
So right now, definitely there is a merging of spirits but I don’t think it’s the same kind of revolutionary spirit that is merging, this is more of commercial likeness. This music, they share the same spirit in terms of consumerism, materialism, and anti humanism. In that aspect, there’s also a merge but it’s on a different spectrum. We have to see this is not really a sonic thing but a spirit thing.
A-CHOICES: What advice do you have for aspiring musicians and Nigerian youths as a whole out there?
SEUN:I tend not to advice people generally about their lives *laughs* but one thing I can say is we all have to (especially we African artists out there), we all have to try as much as possible to be a part of the solution. That’s what truly matters, that’s that.
A-CHOICES: Is it hard sometimes to carry the weight of Fela?
SEUN: Also, being Fela’s child is not something new, life is hard, everything in life is hard, going to work is hard, nothing is easy if it’s in life, being in love is hard, everything is hard. So yeah, being my father’s son is definitely hard but that is because life is hard. *laughs*
Author: Gbenga Teejay Okunlola