Seun Kuti: Music, Politics, And Fela’s Legacy
THE TOYIN FALOLA INTERVIEWS
A Conversation With Seun Kuti Part 1
Many questions arise on the death of an influential and famous person, and diverse matters come to play. People ask, “Who will succeed the Great?” “Will their names live on?” “Should we not immortalize them?” “What will happen to all they have laboured for and all they have built?” When famed Nigerian musician, philosopher, and activist, Fela Anikulapo-Kuti, died on August 2, 1997, people worldwide knew that they had been dealt a huge blow. Abami Eda, the enigmatic music maker, was gone! We have captured the essence of Fela’s life in a book to be released shortly, Fela Anikulapo-Kuti: Afrobeat, Rebellion, and Philosophy.
So, the questions began–What will happen to the Kalakuta Republic? Will the Afrika Shrine survive? What would become of Afrobeat? Was that the end of activism-based music in Nigeria? How will the Kuti name, which people had come to find as a synonym to activism, live on? Fela did bear many children, but the question was: which of his children would fully step into his shoes? Will we have a Fela incarnate?
Undoubtedly, Fela was a man of the people. He made beautiful music, controlled an attention-grabbing band, sold albums, won people’s hearts, had his philosophical views that not only helped shape people’s perceptions of the Fela name but also reinforced belief in his enigmatic personality. Fela was an outspoken political activist. He criticized governments and motivated Nigerians for demanding accountability of their leaders, so much so that his mother was injured by soldiers who threw her down from the window of a story-building. Though Fela won respect and recognition of the West through his music, he heavily criticized the West for its pretences and hypocrisy. He never ceased to show at all instances that he was an African man to the core–and a proud one at that.
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Fela Anikulapo-Kuti was a musician who captivated his listeners with his songs, instruments, and lifestyle. He was a pop icon, a musician whom many sought to emulate and tailor their lifestyles after. There are tales of people who named their houses Kalakuta Republic–after Fela’s famous republic. This shows a level of connection deeper than that of the musician and his listeners. And so, it is understandable that at his death, it felt as though a void had been created in everyone’s heart. People could not reconcile their existence with a no-Fela future. However, Fela’s children had ensured that we could never leave the people to a no-Fela future.
Omoyeni Kuti, Fela’s first child, is a professional dancer. She started “Felabration” in her father’s name to honour and immortalize the great Fela. Just like his sister, Olufela Femi Anikulapo-Kuti, the second child and first son of Fela, took charge of the Afrika Shrine after his father’s death in 1997. He renovated the shrine and rechristened it the New Afrika Shrine. He also took to music in the footsteps of his father. Kunle, Fela’s fourth child, is the manager of the Kalakuta Museum, which was once the Kalakuta Republic, Fela’s country, and home. He doubles as a music producer and singer. Shalewa and Motunrayo are two of Fela’s children who live and breathe music too – although they are not musicians, Shalewa is a graduate of a music school and is a disc jockey. Motunrayo is a dancer and the owner of a record label. There is no denying that these are genuinely from Fela’s loins, for as their father breathed and lived music, so do they also live and breathe music. More so, many of them keep the memory of their father alive. They all stepped into the shoes of Fela in their different ways.
However, there is another, of whom I have been silent thus far. He is Oluseun Anikulapo-Kuti, the third son of Fela. Indeed, one’s position in the family hierarchy has no bearing on what one becomes or how important one is in preserving the family name. Known by his stage name, Seun Kuti, this Fela’s incarnate is his father’s doppelganger, except for the hairless head as Fela had a headful of hair, though with the apparent receding hairline, which one would not miss in Seun, despite his clean-shaven style. Born on January 11, 1983, to Fela Anikulapo Kuti and one of his dancers-turned-wives, Fehintola Kayode, Seun Kuti is the reemergence and reincarnation of Fela, in all shades of Felaness. Seun Kuti grew up to love music, and there was indeed an enabling environment for him to adapt, learn the ropes, get to grips with musical instruments, and get familiar with the basics of musicology. He started engaging the band and playing musical instruments as early as when he was five years old.
Seun is called the “Prince of Afrobeat,” taking after his father, the legendary musician and king of Afrobeat. Seun’s alignment did not start recently. He showed an early interest in music, especially the type of music his father sings, and he started to perform alongside Fela and the Egypt 80 band when he was just nine years old. It would not be out of place to call that a prodigious act. The resemblance between Seun and Fela does not stop at the sideburns or the facial resemblance. It goes on to the similarities in the style and genre of music, political awareness and the energy for political activism, similar philosophical and sociological views, the radical and non-conforming nature, and many more.
The story and life of Seun Kuti is yet another proof that age does not determine one’s success and influence in life. Seun is Fela’s youngest son, yet, he is the one who reminds us of the Afrobeat legend the most. At the death of Fela in 1997, the responsibility of managing the Egypt 80 band rested on the shoulders of Seun Kuti and some others. What an excellent task it must have been to have a 14-year-old lead a band that had gained international recognition during the lifetime of Fela Anikulapo Kuti. Seun must have been faced with aggravated expectations from the fans and loyalists of his legendary father. Beyond that, there would have been critics and naysayers who would have thought it impossible to have a 14-year-old lead a band as grandiose as Fela’s. But Seun Kuti rose and looked naysayers in the face; he took up the challenge and has since led his father’s band, now his band.
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Seun has dedicated his life to upholding the multi-faceted Fela legacy and extending the tentacles of these legacies. He and the Egypt 80 band have released four studio albums. These albums include Think Africa (Na Oil), an Extended Play that was produced in 2007, and which features songs such as Think Africa (radio edit), Think Africa (bonus beats), Think Africa 12 inch (long version), Na Oil (radio edit), Na Oil (bonus beats), and Na Oil (12 inch). In 2008, Seun Kuti and the Egypt 80 band released an album titled Many Things. This album has seven songs: Think Africa, Don’t Give That Shit to Me, Many Things, Fire Dance, Mosquito Song, Na Oil, and African Problems.
In 2011, Seun and the band worked on another album titled, From Africa With Fury: Rise. Seun’s third album boasts of songs such as African Soldier, You Can Run, Mr. Big Thief, Rise, Slave Masters, For Them Eye, The Good Leaf, and Giant of Africa. A Long Way to the Beginning was released in 2014. The album comprises amazing and powerful songs such as IMF, African Airways, Higher Consciousness, Ohun Aiye, Kalakuta Boy, African Smoke, and Black Woman. Black Woman, Seun’s next studio, Extended Play, was released in 2016. This is a special EP, as all the songs are remixes of two songs from the preceding album, Black Woman and Kalakuta Boy. The songs on this EP include Black Woman (Krazy Baldhead Remix), Black Woman (Rich Medina Afro Remix), Black Woman (Helado Negro Remix), Kalakuta Boy (Rich Medina Jacques House Remix), and Kalakuta Boy (The Reflex Dub Remix).
Black Times, released in 2018, is one of Seun Kuti’s strongest political albums. It has thought-evoking songs such as Last Revolutionary, Black Times, Corporate Public Control Department, Kuku Kee Me, Bad Man Lighter, African Dreams, Struggle Sounds, and Theory of Goat and Yam. The latest Extended Play from Seun and the Egypt 80 band is Night Dreamer Direct-To-Disk Sessions. Released in 2019, this EP comprises Struggle Sounds, Black Times, Bad Man Lighter, and Theory of Goat and Yam.
This listing of Seun’s songs and albums shows his dexterity and consistency. These are qualities he has in common with his dad. Music has brought Seun recognition and nominations. He is the second of Fela’s sons to have had a Grammy nomination. He was also invited to perform at the Marsatac Festival in France in 2008 and perform live for the first time during the 2014 Industry Nite. Seun’s songs, fame, and recognitions do not have all their roots in his father’s popularity and wide acceptance alone. Of course, there is no denying that the Fela name has had a significant influence on him and people’s perception of him, but what we should instead focus on is how he has upheld the band, sustained the legacies, won recognitions for himself, and also kept the memory of his father alive.
Seun has also made his mark as an active voice of the people and a politically conscious activist. He has been in the Nigerian scene, voicing out when he should, primarily via his pages on social media platforms. Beyond social media, Seun has participated in some of the masses-conducted protests in Nigeria. All these tell us of a Seun who does as Fela would have done if he were alive today. Without an iota of doubt, Seun Kuti is living up to the Kuti name and sustaining the family’s legacy. His grandmother, famed activist, Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti, will be proud of him, and so would his father, Fela.
On December 5, 2021, Seun Kuti will be a special guest on the Toyin Falola Interview series. Do join us by registering via the details below.
Sunday, December 5, 2021
5:00 PM Nigeria
4:00 PM GMT
10:00 AM Austin CST
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Falola is a Nigerian historian and professor of African Studies. He is currently the Jacob and Frances Sanger Mossiker Chair in the Humanities at the University of Texas at Austin.
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Interview With Beautiful Nubia
Please join us for a conversation with the renowned Nigerian Songwriter, Music Composer, and Band Leader, Olusegun Akinlolu (Beautiful Nubia).
Sunday, March 19, 2023
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Toyin Falola Interviews Holds Conversation With Kunle Afolayan
Touching Base With Dr Abiola Akiyode-Afolabi’s Perspectives On Nigeria’s 2023 Elections
By Toyin Falola
Dr Abiola Akiyode-Afolabi is a well-versed law professor, international relations activist, and commentator. It was delightful to have her join us, alongside Miriam Oke, Chido Onumah, and Jibrin Hussaini, at the last edition of the Toyin Falola Interviews, where we discussed Nigeria’s 2023 elections.
If anything, the primaries being organised in the nation’s two most influential parties, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and the All Progressives Congress, are pointers to what should be expected of the 2023 Nigerian elections. As is customary, the primaries have been rife with electoral malpractices, vote-buying, and unscrupulous voting figures, and there is a shocking video posted on Twitter by Bashir Ahmad, former Personal Assistant to President Muhammadu Buhari on New Media, who lost his bid to secure the ticket of the APC to contest for a seat in the House of Representatives primaries in his home state of Kano. The video shows how supposed delegates are handed pre-ticked ballot boxes and are asked to put them in the ballot box without even batting an eyelid at the malpractice.
The ball is being set in motion. Atiku Abubakar is the People’s Democratic Party flag bearer for the presidential seat. The All Progressives Congress has recently screened its presidential hopefuls and will soon appoint its flagbearer. Peter Obi, who defected from the People’s Democratic Party to the Labour Party and has since been elected as the party’s flagbearer for the presidential seat, is a seeming third wheel in the routine two-dominant-party multi-party system practised in the country. The stage is set. Or is it?
This piece is not much of a sequel to the one on Chido Onumah’s perspectives on the 2023 elections because Dr Akiyode-Afolabi had her unique views on the questions asked. Nonetheless, it will follow a similar pattern, where we will examine points touched on by Dr Akiyode-Afolabi during the interview.
Electoral Violence and Nigeria’s 2023 Elections
Sad as it may seem, electoral violence is an immemorial issue rocking the Nigerian state. Throughout all its republics, Nigeria has witnessed killings and maiming during election periods — whether at the polling booths on election day or among political rivals setting targets on each other’s backs. Nigeria’s electoral process is peculiar, involving the recruitment of violent electoral mercenaries, often branded as party thugs. These thugs sign off their loyalty to a political party and wreak havoc on the party’s behalf — from ballot snatching to intimidating voters to bow to their party’s will.
In the Nigerian political scene, these party thugs sit with political kings. They are deemed crucial to the electoral process and candidates’ success. The recruitment and payment of these party thugs consume huge financial resources. However, political leaders and public officeholders fail to consider the expected uselessness of the party thugs within the governance period of three to four years that separate pre-election and election years. Having tasted ill-gotten wealth that far surpasses what they could have earned honestly, and without any honest and paying job, these party thugs resort to all sorts of vice to pay their bills and keep themselves in shape. Thus, it is not uncommon to find that party thugs become robbers, kidnappers, bandits, and street-terrorising thugs who incessantly cut holes through the state’s peace, security, and quiet.
In most cases, we would rather relate the incessant kidnappings and unrest to unknown gunmen or herdsmen-bandits rather than the true perpetrators of the evil — anarchical party thugs with weapons they were equipped with during the election period. Thus, the rivalry for power and politicians’ insatiable desire for control, regardless of the extent they go to get it, could be strongly linked to the violent crises that have rocked the country for a while now.
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For Dr Akiyode-Afolabi, violent political mercenaries in Nigeria and the political aspirants and parties who are their enablers act out of an abundant enjoyment of sheer impunity — the knowledge that they can do and undo, wreak whatever havoc they want to, without bearing the consequences. Although several of the perpetrators of this electoral violence are known, nothing is done to bring them to justice, further reinforcing the need to carry out their vice during the next election. Over the years, electoral violence has become a norm in Nigeria, and nothing is being done to curb the menace, especially in punishing the perpetrators. Thus, the electorate have joined the camp of political aspirants and political thugs who see electoral violence as part of the electioneering process in Nigeria. For members of the electorate who have difficulty processing electoral violence as a part of the electioneering process, the option of apathy kicks to the surface — especially among women and the youth who earnestly believe politics in Nigeria is a dirty game, and electoral violence is inevitable. Thus, it is not surprising that Nigeria has had a low voter turnout over the years.
The case of electoral violence and the state’s reaction to it is like several other policies in Nigeria. While the Electoral Act was proactively drafted to cover electoral violence and how to punish offenders and culprits, there has not been any action to make that part of the Act functional. It is akin to the numerous nation-improving policies whose existence has never gone beyond the paper. If we were to dig to the roots of why the aspect of the Nigerian Electoral Act that punishes electoral violence has not been enforced, we would be quick to find out that the average Nigerian politician is either directly or indirectly complicit. Thus, those at the helm and those willing to take over from them are all involved, making them reluctant to enforce the punishment for electoral violence, that is, if they consider punishing the crime at all.
Nigeria’s Three-faced Need and the Importance of a Long-term Agenda
The need for a long-term agenda should not be misconstrued as supporting the cabalistic unending Northern presidency agenda or any other agenda that does not mean well for Nigeria as a nation. Rather, it represents Dr Akiyode-Afolabi’s thoughts on what is truly needed to get Nigeria out of its current quagmire. The international relations activist considers the 2023 elections in Nigeria a big issue for the country, particularly because there are more people interested in the presidential position than we have had in quite a while. Nonetheless, most of these aspirants are people who have either held a political position or currently hold one. They are people we know so well. Given their deeds while in office, it will be difficult to convince any right-thinking Nigerian that there is hope for the country if any of the candidates being paraded were elected as president.
The double tragedy that is Buhari’s eight years in office has seen the country go from bad to worse. The country’s debts keep piling up, with no way of repaying them year after year. The people are impoverished, and the currency continually suffers a blow of worthlessness and devaluation, inflation, and the unemployment rate keeps rising. To make matters worse are the rife killings, banditry, and the near state of anarchy that the country has been thrown into. Has any of the numerous candidates aspiring for the presidential seat shown they are the visionary yet pragmatic leaders that can help Nigeria realise a remarkable positive change?
Careful consideration of the likeliest players at the 2023 polls, vis-à-vis the criterion above, would show that Nigeria is not prepared for an election. Dr Akiyode-Afolabi proposed a three-aspect strategy to help us discover a new Nigeria. These are aspects that cannot be fully realised within a four-year term. Thus, there is the need for Nigerian politicians, regardless of their differences—although there are no marked differences in Nigerian politics—to consider government as a continuum and treat it as such. This will help ensure that even if power falls to the opposition camp, the remarkable and change-focused plans that have been kicked into action by the previous government will continue to be nurtured by the new government. This is the only way we can fully realise the three-dimensional solution proposed by Dr Akiyode-Afolabi.
Dr Akiyode-Afolabi’s first proposed dimension is the need for an empowered political class. The Nigerian political field is riddled with whimsical people who are of the anything-goes breed as long as they get elected to office. That is why serial defection is nothing to them, and they can shamelessly befriend a foe today and betray a friend tomorrow. They are overly selfish lot who constantly put personal needs and gains before national needs and expected gains. The Nigerian political class needs to be empowered enough to engage the electorate in an ideological and issue-based manner. A look at the pre-campaign clamouring in the camps of the presidential aspirants will show that they think so little of Nigerians that they believe not much is needed in the way of plans and strategies to convince the people. It is also why Nyensom Wike, who lost his party’s presidential ticket, deemed it fit to incessantly chant, “give me power… power!” To him, that was enough to get him the ticket to become Nigeria’s next president.
The coming months will show us lamentable political campaigns with no depth, so shallow that every reasonable Nigerian would be too ashamed to identify with a country where such gimmicks pass as enough campaign to convince the people to vote for someone. There is a need to empower citizens and help kick structures in place to organise Nigerians and help them truly understand what they want. Nigeria has so much suffered from poor governance that asking the average electorate what they expect from the aspirants — what they look forward to hearing that could convince them to vote for an aspirant — would most likely render them stammering.
In Nigeria, constitutional reformation is of great necessity. The Nigerian Constitution has outlived its essence. What use is a constitution if it does not amply meet the state’s needs nor adequately answer its citizens’ burning questions? The systems of the constitution no longer effectively serve us as a nation, which is why there have been agitations and clamouring for secession, restructuring, regionalisation, and central policing, among other issues raised. In the end, until Nigeria intentionally kicks these three dimensions into action, and until there are successive tenures that consider the government as a continuum and reach a knowing agreement to nurture and not impede the realisation of the three-dimensional issue, a new and positive Nigeria will be anything but reality.
- *** This is the third and final report on the interview held on May 22, 2022, on the 2023 elections in Nigeria. The views of our distinguished panelists have traveled wide and have been reported in several newspapers.
For the transcript, see:
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