A chat with Afrobeat musician, Seun Kuti any day is an interviewers’ delight. Recently, this reporter sat down with the Egypt ‘80 bandleader and Grammy award nominee and he opened up on music, marriage, family, and rape among other interesting issues. Enjoy it.
How has COVID-19 lockdown affected your business as an artiste who is always on tour?
It has affected me tremendously. But not only me, it has affected Nigerian artistes including my elder brother, Femi. When I went to see him on his birthday, I told him that I was more affected than him because he was able to do one tour in Brazil before the lockdown. I have not worked since last year December 7. My last show was in January here in Nigeria. I have not really worked this year, but the ancestors always take care of their own (laughter).
Ancestors? I thought you were an atheist?
I am not an atheist. You know, it is a word that is being thrown around to describe me, but I am not. I am more of someone who does not believe in the conventional spiritual system that the world subscribes to.
So, what do you believe in?
I believe in my ancestors; those people that gave their lives for my own to blossom. I believe in humanity, nature, the sacred time, and I believe in myself.
Your father was the Chief Priest of the African Shrine and he performed sacrifices by killing cocks. Do you do the same?
Growing up, my mum was very traditional in her beliefs. I had a lot of etutu (sacrifices) growing up. All my body is inoculated from different types of illnesses. I have gbere (incisions) all over my body (laughter).
A lot of people out there believe coronavirus is not real. What is your advice for them?
I don’t know. I mean to each, his own. As for me, I take it seriously. I think it is for real but at the same time, I try as much as possible not to let it cripple me with fear, so it is a fine balance.
Have you lost anybody to coronavirus?
No, but my best friend had it, and my wife also had it last week.
Yes, she was having malaria but you know if anybody sneezes now, it is coronavirus. As soon as she sneezed, we locked her in her room (laughter).
How do you feel about having a daughter that will be seven-year-old in December? What does she mean to you?
I don’t know. It is not different from having a five or four-year-old (daughter).
But daughters are always doting on their dads…
My daughter and I are very close. We have a great relationship, yeah. Right from when she was a baby, we have always shared a special bond.
What new project are you working on after seven albums?
I am working on my next album, and then the one after that. An artiste like me can’t stop working. So, if somebody had told me there would be lockdown and I would not work for seven months, I would have called it a lie. But when the going gets tough the tough gets going. Today, I sent a message to my elder brother because there is some money we are expecting, and I said, Egbon kilo n’sele? (Brother, what’s happening?) And he replied ‘ah we are still waiting-o’ (laughter). So, it is affecting everybody, but we have a restaurant, so at least I am not hungry, my restaurant is feeding me.
This is the time to reach out to the poor and downtrodden. Are you reaching out?
I don’t believe in charity, I don’t believe in giving handouts. I take care of people around me. I make sure that the welfare of people close to me is fine. I am active in my community but I will not go to the extent of describing it as charity, this is something I consistently do not do in terms of thinking ‘oh, I am helping people’, no! I engage my community. I try to develop my community as much as I can, and developing your community is not by building or doing business. It is also by developing the people, making sure that young people that have dreams in a country that stifles their potential, are able to find a source of inspiration or assistance in reaching that goal. That is important. I will not come out and say, I reach out to the downtrodden, that is not my style. I feel charity is what sustains oppression. Those that benefit or are able to secure their own comfort within oppression and are okay with the situation, continue to pacify those that should be enriched because they are not getting anything from the system. So, we are happy to see grown men lining up for N100, packs of rice and things like that. Where is the dignity in such a life especially when we know we cannot even sustain it? There are over 100 million Nigerians living in abject poverty. How much charity can we do? We need systemic change not charity.
One issue that has dominated national discuss lately is rape. A lot of women are being sexually abused. What is your take on this as a celebrity?
This rape thing eh… even me, I have been affected, because I did a song with D’banj that has not been released, and everybody is saying I have to abandon D’banj. You want my take on rape? For me, the appropriate discussion that should be had among African people all over the world cannot be rape. What we must discuss is rape culture. The things that happen among us in our community that empower, embolden and encourage rapists. We can continue to go after individuals, but as long as the culture that encourages, emboldens and empowers rapists continues to be sustained, then rape will not stop. What do I mean by rape culture? Young men are brought up and told that women are created for man. In fact, majority of Nigerian men are raised believing that God did not even remember to create women. Men were bored and God was like ‘oh, Adam needs Eve so he crated Eve’. Now, this is one aspect of rape culture, that mentality that diminishes women in front of men, that makes certain people believe that women are property. So, you find a higher percentage of women being abused because we have a higher percentage of religious people that believe this. That is why you hear people saying I cannot rape my wife.
Now, we also operate a capitalist system. Capitalism is exploitation whether you like it or not; it is the exploitation of man and nature. We see it in what we call climate change and global warming. See how nature is being abused, destroyed and raped! We sit down in Africa and watch men completely rape nations. People in Nigeria using our own resources to become billionaires by selling us to the highest bidder, not thinking of the larger good of everybody, but thinking of how they can extract as much by raping their own people. Men like these are elevated in our society, and there is a small gap between raping a people and raping a woman. It is not only in Africa. Men that exploit nations must exploit industries, people and persons. Harvey Weinstein, Bill Cosby, the list is endless. Look at the top, Donald Trump, Boris Johnson; they all have rape allegations. We listen to songs all day debasing women. Spank a bitch! F-ck a hoe! Women aint sh-t! Black women this, black women that! We support these people and elevate them to the top of the entertainment industry and arts, and children begin to look up to them. And to justify this, they argue that ‘Arnold Swarzeneeger is killing people in his films, why are you not saying that is the reason why there is so much killing going on? But you are saying that it is what we say in our music that is affecting the youth. There is nobody in this world that will think about killing people after watching one scene in one film; nobody does that!’ And you watch the film, maybe once or twice in a year no matter how interesting that film is. But talking about your favourite song, you hum it to yourself in your palour, in the bathroom. You hear it play at least 20 times a day. It is not the same influence. Stop deceiving our youths. There is exploitation everywhere. Everywhere rapists abound! Then we are surprised when these same people are exposed for actually raping one person. My people have been made to believe that, once you are rich, freedom becomes the power to do and undo as long as you can. For them, nothing is sacred, nothing! We encourage the freedom of individual power with no responsibility attached and then we complain that people are raped. Rape culture exists in the church where little boys and girls are abused. As long as we embrace this mentality, it will continue to be what it is, and it is not only in Africa, it is also in all communities. How are they raping their women in (Saudi) Arabia? How are they not raping their women in America? It is all the same because people are infected with rape culture. Rape culture has its foundation in religion and capitalism.
Are you saying we should scrap religion and capitalism?
I don’t care, but stop subscribing to the ideology.
You sound Marxist…
I am not a Marxist. I am African. How can I be a Marxist? Marx was a racist. If you say because of racism you want to cancel one white person, you will end up canceling the entire white race. Racism in Europe and America begins from the top. Even if they try to make you think that it is only ignorant Europeans that are racists, go and check the history of Europe, the real racists are the founders of Europe. It came from the top. They are the ones that told their people that black people are inferior.
Seven years after, when are you making the relationship with your wife official?
How are you sure it is not already official?
Because you once told me you don’t believe in marriage…
I don’t believe in your concept of marriage but I am married to my wife. Everybody knows that we are married, and she is close to me, but our marriage falls outside the concept of what you people think marriage is.