Jul 13, 2010
Seun Kuti - An interview from Feb. 2009
This is an interview Bob Baker Fish did in inpress with Seun Kuti, the 26 year old son of legendary Afrobeat superstar Fela Kuti. He’s just released an incendiary debut album with Fela’s old band Egypt 80 called Many Things (Cartell Music) and is playing with them at Womadelaide.
I’ll start with an easy question (laughs). Do You think music has the power to change things?
It is a question of opinion. I think music has the power to change things. But just like anything it can not be done by just one person or one group or ten groups it has to be a collective thing. All the musicians in the world have to have it in the back of their mind that music is a gift that should be used not just to get rich in their pocket but also to uplift their people. If every musician in the world is putting their music to advocate for some kind of change then definitely change will come.
Were you always going to make Afrobeat music?
Definitely. Being Fela’s son there’s no escaping it. (chuckle). But at the same time if I live this life to know what I know today I would still want to use my music to try and increase peoples awareness of what is going on in the world and also try to change the lives of my people.
Is Afrobeat inherently political?
I don’t think Afrobeat is the only genre that can do it. Afrobeat was created to do it. I think if you’re a rapper or a pop singer, or a working musician whatever you are and want to use your music for positivity it’s possible. Not just your voice, because what we’re seeing in the news for a while is gone but our music lasts forever.
I heard you were originally a backup singer in Egypt 80 is that true?
I’m not a backup singer. I’ve never been a backup. I used to open the shows for my father. I used to sing a little bit or one of his songs.
So you go back quite a way with the band.
Even before I started singing on the stage I knew all the members of the band because my dad used to take us to every gig and I used to go on every tour. Even my manager I think I met him as a little boy. I don’t think I met him then. But if I did I must have been a little boy. My dad so everyone in the band is like family to me. I’ve known them since even before I started singing in the band you know. It wasn’t just because of the band I would always be around them growing up.
So what’s it like being their leader now for both you and them?
I think I’m only the leader when it comes to doing something like this and everybody is having a good time and I’m being interviewed until 8 in the morning or something. I think this is when I am the leader (laughs). And maybe financially too (laughs again). But I think the way the band is run you don’t need something like the leader. Every decision is made democratically. And the band trust me. They know I want the best for the band. I’ve given my whole youth for the band. My whole life and everything has been about the band I think everybody close to me knows that whatever decision I make is for the band to grow.
After Fela died I’m wondering if maybe the band wasn’t going to continue.
Yes definitely. I was surprised to find out the family didn’t really expect the band to go on. That’s why I’m the one playing with the band today, because nobody was going to do it and the band didn’t get any support from the family to keep going on. So what did I have to do? What could I do in order to keep playing with the band. So don’t come to us for any assistance and keep what you make. So here we are today.
When did you start this?
We’ve been doing this for a long time. 1997. Immediately when Fela died we continued. It was very tough in the beginning trust me. But that’s our history.
Why has it taken so long to release your debut album?
It’s a whole combination of factors. From my personal issues to getting a proper record contract . From my point of view I didn’t want to do an album as a teenager or too quickly and as an adult I’d be wondering why did I do this album I really don’t like this album I made. And Afrobeat is a way of life, you have to live your music. You can’t just sing Afrobeat and do something else. I can’t be singing Afrobeat and go to a government launch like many African artists do. I had to decide. Afrobeat was my calling you know. After making this decision then we were looking at doing the album.
Is Afrobeat more accepted now in Nigeria by the government?
Afrobeat is still seen as the opposition music. It doesn’t get as much support as other genres of music in Nigeria. Because it was created in Nigeria and because it would talk about Nigerian politicians, Nigeria would be tougher on Afrobeat than anything else.
How do you and the band go about composing songs?
I write the music, that’s it. Yeah. It’s not so hard.
I find that hard to believe. It can’t be that easy.
The writing of the songs is really simple. Trust me (laughs).
Okay. I’ll trust you on that. Did you ever feel any pressure when writing lyrics to live up to your father’s words?
No no no no. If I thought like that I would never have finished making my album. I don’t think music should be compared you should just enjoy music. I had some things I wanted to say so I said them in my own words. I didn’t think about what my father would have said in that instance or the words he would use. That being said I’m still inspired by his style and words you know.
Is it hard to be something other than your father’s son? Particularly after making an Afrobeat album?
It’s not hard for me. I am my own person. It’s hard for people to believe I can be my own person. I don’t think that there is a tradition that I have to handle, So I’m living my own life as my own person. One of the things my dad actually taught me was the only person I have to impress in this world is myself. I’ve been able to do that quite comfortably. I’m impressed with who I am. I don’t feel any obligation.