For Seun Kuti, an Afrobeat singer, 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.
About 30 years after, his love for music remains unwavering. Just like his late father, the 37-year-old singer has continued to blaze the trail by using music to push for the emancipation of blacks from oppression and the dawn of a new Nigeria. “…for me, music is basically part of my life, it is an extension of myself. It’s what I have been doing and that makes me see music differently from others,” he said.
In this interview with TheCable Lifestyle, the singer talks about his music career, #EndSARS protest, impact of COVID-19 on the showbiz industry, issues affecting the socio-economic development of Nigeria and how the people can chart a new course for the nation.
Let’s look at your music career. You started out early as a musician. What has been the experience so far?
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 and now I am 37. Next year will make it 30 years that I have been performing. So, for me, music is basically part of my life, it is an extension of myself. It’s what I have been doing and that makes me see music differently from others.
Having been into music for years, what would say about the Nigerian music industry?
Well, the Nigerian music industry is still finding its feet. It’s still developing into an industry. Right now, the entertainment part of it is top-heavy but we don’t have a lot of investors to really industrialise the sector. But with time, I am sure we will begin to find real investors in the industry so that we can be able to create our own CDs, have our own entertainment televisions competing with the best in the world to really be able to project all that we have here.
We have continued to witness an increase in collaborations between Nigerian musicians and their international counterparts. Do you think the trend is a good one for the music industry in the country?
Definitely, it’s a welcome development. Music is a universal language so the more collaborations we can get with other international figures the better for the culture and also for the unification of artistes globally. It is always interesting to see that happen.
In recent times, we have seen a kind of comparison between some contemporary artistes and Fela. Some artistes are also fond of saying they were inspired by the legendary singer. What do you make of this?
I have no comment on that.
You’d agree with me that music is a powerful tool for social change. Fela was renowned for using his songs to speak truth to power. Do you think contemporary musicians, including you, have done enough in using music to point out societal ills?
I don’t know. I am not in position to determine that. It’s Nigerians that should rather be the judge in this instance. They are the ones to decide the kind of music they like or enjoy.
You have been vocal about socio-political issues for a while now. What’s your assessment of the situation of things in the country — insecurity, ASUU strike, fuel price hike among others?
Nigeria is at a crossroad where the people have to decide whether to continue as it is or change the status quo. Many people say, oh, engaging in the struggle to change the country is hard or expensive. But the truth is that if you don’t do anything about it, things are still going to be hard for you. You will still be in traffic for four hours every day, battle with epileptic electricity, lack of water and all that. It’s not as if people don’t do anything, things will be better. Things actually get worse and that money you have that you don’t want to spend with the government increasing electricity tariff, VAT, fuel price, stamp duty among others.
So, I think in general, Nigerians just have to take responsibility as citizens. We have to stop being masses and start becoming citizens. That’s where the real solution to Nigeria’s problems lies because if we continue to look at the oppressors and expect them to make the needed change for us, we’ll never see that happening.
Let’s look at the #EndSARS protest, you’re among celebrities that backed the movement aimed at addressing police brutality in the country. How would you assess the conception of the campaign on social media to becoming a strong movement on the streets? That seems remarkable in the history of Nigeria.
Well, I don’t know how to answer that because I wasn’t really part of those organising the protest. So, I wouldn’t know. I only supported the people’s position during the whole thing. Whether it is insecurity or police brutality or other happenings in the country, we the Nigerian people need to embrace our political responsibilities and take our destinies into our own hands because I don’t really think there is any way this present crop of rulers can bring about what we the people really need.
Still on #EndSARS, do you think the President Muhammadu Buhari-led government handled the situation well and what would be your reaction to talks of a second protest in the country?
Like I said earlier, I didn’t plan the first one so I don’t really know. If it’s happening, it’s happening. I’m not predicting nor discouraging it. However, the federal government doesn’t handle anything in Nigeria right and the #EndSARS protest is not different. It is not as if we as a nation are being governed in any way that is appropriate. So, on issues that concern the Nigerian people, I don’t think any of these issues have been solved in this country since 1960. Any problem you can think of that we had in 1960, we still have them now, that’s if it’s not even worse. So, on whether the federal government handles the situation well or not, l don’t think that makes any difference.
You were in the news recently over Lagos state government’s threat to shut down Afrika Shrine as a result of an #EndSARS-related meeting scheduled to hold there. To what extent do you think this government respects people’s right to association?
You didn’t come to my press conference on that. If you had come, you would have gotten my take on that.
2023 is very close. You’re one of those advocating for the youth to take over power from the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and the All Progressives Congress (APC) at the next general elections. Do you think the youth are a quick fix to Nigeria’s problems?
I have never talked about the youths taking power but the people taking power.
Okay, so do you see the people taking power in 2023?
Not really. I’m not a soothsayer, so I can’t predict the future. But what is important is that the process of the Nigerian people liberating themselves must start now. We must begin that process now, not tomorrow or next year. Everybody must try to play their own role the much they can to fix this country.
It is said that the kind of people in a society/country determines the quality of leaders they get. How do you situate this assertion within the Nigerian context?
I don’t think that’s really true. l would rather say the kind of leadership you have determines the kind of people in a society, not the other way round. The people don’t really determine anything, especially in a country like Nigeria where the masses don’t own much. Nigeria is so capitalist that the citizens don’t owe anything anymore — healthcare, education among others. Everything is privatised and even the ones that we own are not properly funded by the government for them to be able to function. So, whatever Nigerians are today is basically the image of the elites. We project the image of our rulers/elites. It’s the behaviour of the rulers that you see everywhere, it’s never the other way round.
So, are you saying that the people don’t have a say?
Yes, at the moment because they have been pressured into being quiet. Some are quiet because of their assets, some to keep their jobs, others for so many other reasons. But the moment people are able to break away from that and speak up for themselves, definitely things will be different. The situation is because the people don’t understand the power that they have in politics. The Nigerian people have been put out of politics from 1960 to about 1999. So, there has been apathy because being political was illegal under the military rule. But the whole game is now being demystified. People are now waking up to understand their roles in the system and things can only get better if we maintain the pressure to do what’s expected of us.
Will Seun Kuti go into politics?
Seun Kuti is already into politics. I make political music, l have a movement and I’m trying to form a political party. What else should l do before it’s being acknowledged that I’m into politics?
The year 2020 has been a tough one for many… what has it been like for you and your music career?
2020 has been very weird because of the lockdown especially as musicians not having lots of works to do or nothing to do in some instances. I don’t think l have done any major work since the beginning of the year. So, as musicians, most of us will tell you that it has been a tough year. But like they say, when the going gets tough, the tough get going.
In the industry, l don’t think many other artistes also worked either. Entertainment is wide but it has been a tough year for music globally, not just in Nigeria. Hopefully, we can bounce back next year.
The COVID-19 has inspired new initiatives in the global entertainment landscape. We have seen a lot of e-concerts and other events going virtual. What positives are you taking from this experience to also grow your brand?
I have never seen myself as a brand to be grown, so l have never worked around this branding business that other artistes talk about. For me, surviving the year with my family intact with nothing bad happening to anyone is the most important. That’s more important for me than growing the brand. I’m a musician, not a product.
Could you share some of your religious views with us?
I don’t really have religious views that can be shared with people. That’s the truth.
What would you say guides your day-to-day actions then?
My brain. l think about what to do and decide whether to do them eventually or not.
What project are you working on currently and what should your fans be expecting from you in the coming months?
Well, l was supposed to record my album this year. That is not to say it would have been released this year, it could as well have come out next year. However, all that couldn’t happen because of COVID-19 and the attendant lockdown. So, hopefully, next year l can record my album and then fix the release date. What is also important for us is to get back on the road, the band touring and being able to play at shows again. That’s what we are looking forward to. l don’t really have any big project other than that. We’ll also be back at Afrika Shrine on December 26 — Boxing Day. That’s another thing people should look forward to.
You say that you don’t really have a brand or see yourself as one. What is that thing that you actually stand for or want to be identified with as an artiste generally?
Generally, l stand for people just living with dignity. l believe that everyone deserves to live with a certain amount of dignity as human beings which is crucial to our well-being both mentally and physically. Without that level of dignity attached to our existence, we tend to be imbalanced creatures. So, that’s what I stand for basically and l try to project that to those around me and the society at large.
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