Seun Kuti, son of the late afrobeat legend, Fela, tells â€˜NONYE BEN-NWANKWO why people think he is a controversial artiste and why he is not getting married anytime soon
We learnt you just came back from a world tour
Oh yes. It was a six-month tour. We went to Canada, Trinidad, Cannery Island, Algeria and so many other countries. We went to Brazil, Argentina as well. I went with my band members and it was very successful.
So the foreign crowd still identify with afro beat music?
Oh yes. We had a good time and the fans had a good time. Music is music anywhere and it has a universal language. I donâ€™t think race or nationality impacts on music. It has got nothing to do with tribe. If it is good, people will love it and they would dance and sing. Music has nothing to do with feelings or language. We left in March and came back in May for 10 days and left again till we came back in November. I had to cancel some shows to be able to come back because I was tired. Offers kept coming but I couldnâ€™t keep touring. I was exhausted. I was performing almost four times a week for almost 24 weeks. I was physically exhausted.
But you hardly get engagements in Nigeria, why?
I donâ€™t know. I come back here to rest because I donâ€™t get jobs here. I donâ€™t understand it as well. At times, I am saddened by it because it is just a shame. It is not even about me but the band which has the pedigree of being a big band. But just for political reasons, we are being excluded. I believe afro beat should be in high demand in Nigeria, Fela did a lot for Nigerians. I watch the shows here and it is not as if they are better than what I do.
Donâ€™t you think you are not invited to perform here in Nigeria because your songs are so controversial?
In America, political artistes hardly get shows. The entertainment industry is highly corporate these days. Artistes are no longer artistes, they are businessmen. You hear them calling themselves â€˜brandsâ€™ and such names. Most of them that are famous no longer have the artistic spirit. The spirit is feared in corporate world. The real artiste cannot be dictated to. They want people they can tell how to dress and what to sing. Artistes who play political music are totally ignored these days. It is not only in Nigeria. It is normal that Nigerian establishments fight back against me. But why I am not happy about this is just because of The Shrine. Even if people think my brother and I are not making good music, I think Fela has done enough for this country for people to support the Shrine. But they give stupid reasons that the Shrine is dangerous.
But is it not?
It is not! The Shrine has never experienced a case of robbery except once when we invited Fuji people to come and perform there. I donâ€™t want to name the artiste but at that show, they were robbing people even in the toilet. Apart from that, thereâ€™s no other case of robbery.
Is it not high time you switched to the other side?
There is no benefit in â€˜the other side.â€™ I have been playing music since I was eight years old and that is like 23 years ago. I respect the few artistes who have toed that line and maybe, made it. But they eventually became pastors. These are people like Ebenezer Obey and Kris Okotie. The other ones are those who praise-sing people who can be their children just because they want to make money from them. I donâ€™t want that to be my portion.
Is it right to say that you are controversial just because your father was and in your quest to be like him, you try to emulate him in all things?
I donâ€™t think I am even controversial. The society is morally bankrupt, so they find truth as controversial. I try as much as possible to be myself all the time. Being Felaâ€™s son is part of who I am. If someone as great as Fela is your father, it is very likely that he would influence you. I donâ€™t owe anybody any explanation for that. I have never made decisions because I want to be like my father. In fact, my father never encouraged us to make decisions like that. We were taught to accept who we are in its entirety. A big part of my individuality is that I am Felaâ€™s son, what can I do? I just say things the way they are. One day, I wore a suit for my video and the next thing I read about me was, â€˜Controversial artiste turns his back against his father, wears a suit.â€™
How old were you when he died?
I was almost 15 when he died.
What kind of a father was he?
Fela didnâ€™t beat his children; that wasnâ€™t his style. He said he didnâ€™t like his father because his father used to beat him. He didnâ€™t beat us because he didnâ€™t want us to â€˜hateâ€™ him the way he â€˜hatedâ€™ his father. He used to talk to us to correct us and we would listen. He believed so much in talking and he could talk to you for close to two hours, which you wouldnâ€™t want again.
You said you started playing music at the age of eight, couldnâ€™t you have chosen to do another thing but music?
Growing up, I thought of doing so many things apart from music. I was really good in school. I didnâ€™t need to read to pass my exams. I could have done an intellectual job. I could have been an Economist. That was basically my dream. I was the captain of my high school football team. I love football a lot. I still play the game.
So why didnâ€™t you go professional?
I could have but my uncle told me that professional footballers retire in their 30s and that all the good coaching jobs are taken. So, I would probably be bored for the second half of my life. That is why old footballers get fat. This brought me to the other love that I had which is music. I love music. My parents never asked me to play music. Maybe it was out of love for music and a bit of naivety that made me get into music.
Hasnâ€™t your music put you in trouble before?
You only get into trouble when you do something that is against the law. My music cannot put me into trouble. This is democracy. They can only attack us economically.
Did you watch your dad perform?
I used to go to all the shows with my dad. I saw his lifestyle. He made money; people loved him and his music. There were women everywhere. I felt it was the easiest job ever. But that was very naive. Music is not easy at all. I think a musicianâ€™s life is one of the hardest to live. We have to be perfect anytime we work. If a musician makes a mistake on the stage, that is the beginning of the end of his career. If you make it two or three more times, people will say you are not â€˜tightâ€™ on the stage.
Can we ever see you and Femi collaborating?
Collaborations like that are money spinners. If we would collaborate, it is not because we want to do something great for music because we are already making great music individually. But if we do it, it would mainly be for financial reason. We agreed that as soon as we feel our career is slowing down and money is not coming as it should, we would jump into the studio and do a money spinner.
Did you actually mean it when you said you werenâ€™t going to get married even to the mother of your child?
I donâ€™t believe in marriage. If I had wanted to be married, I would have been working towards it. People can decide what they want to do with their lives. I just donâ€™t believe in that institution especially as it is set up today
How do you mean?
I donâ€™t like the idea of â€˜ownership.â€™ Nobody has the right to own anybody. This is a capitalist idea so that people can make profit off love. You donâ€™t make profit off love.
What if the mother of your child decides to get married to someone else?
She is free. If she wants to be married, then that is her choice. What will I do about it? Will I put a gun to her head and insist that she should not get married? But I know she will not do that because we have a strong bond and we understand each other and our partnership is great. We are raising a beautiful daughter and it would be a big surprise if she says she wants to get married to someone else.
Do you miss your father?
I miss him. He raised me. I grew up with him. It would be callous of me to say I donâ€™t miss him. It would be a lie too. Lies are even worse than callousness. I wish I could have a conversation with him. It would be great if I could talk to him.
Culled from Saturday punch newspaper