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Music, Nigeria

Music man: Seun Kuti on Independence and Identity

On Nigeria’s independence

Oluseun Anikulapo Kuti, known as Seun Kuti, is a popular Nigerian musician, and the youngest son of legendary afrobeat pioneer Fela Kuti. He leads his father’s former band Egypt 80.

When he was nine years old Seun expressed the wish to sing to his father. He became a sort of mascot and would sing a few songs backed by Egypt 80 before his father took to the stage.

Since then, Seun has followed the political and social ethos of his father, and when Fela died of Aids in 1997, 14-year-old Seun became the lead singer of Egypt 80.

What do you think you family, you father, your grandmother, would have made of Nigeria today if they were here with us?

My dad will feel vindicated, people would say he was saying things because he was high all the time and a crazy man. Most people were employed, were middle class and there were only a few people who weren’t employed, in the ghettos. But now 40 years on there are more poor people than middle class. We don’t have middle class any more, either you are comfortable or you’re not.

My grandmother would be disappointed because she fought for this country’s independence. People who gave their blood and sweat, who marched … she would be disappointed that what they had fought for as the founding fathers and mothers of this nation has been lost in a few people’s greed.

Corruption is a big problem in Nigeria …

It’s not just in Nigeria it’s all over Africa. I was in South Africa and I felt that corruption was more aggressive. I know this is funny for a Nigerian to say that, that corruption somewhere is aggressive. They have technology in South Africa. In Nigeria our corruption is very crude, whereas in South Africa, it is sophisticated, and you have a fixed price for everything.

Looking at the future, paint a picture of the Nigeria you want to see and how it is going to get there.

Hopefully the best I can wish for is that more young men and women consider the situation of their politics, and social understanding of their country more important. Not important like spare time – ‘There is a rally today, I’m gonna go and for the next month I don’t have to do anything’… Fighting for people’s emancipation is not like going to church, it’s not like religious devotion. It’s fighting for the essence. And what’s our essence today in the world? Our essence is what we do. If you’re a fashion designer you begin put your whole essence all about fashion, you try to become the fashion. So that is what I feel like in Africa today people have to believe that whatever they’re doing is what’s going to make Africa free. If you’re making shoes, you have to make shoes with the principal of emancipation and revolution. How to make your shoes represent freedom for your people, or how are you going to make your bank represent freedom for your people?

Is it possible to do that?

Yes, with more education people will realise that wealth is secondary to national pride, to self-recognition. I still don’t see myself as a Nigerian, and calling ourselves these names like Nigerians, Ivorians, South Africa, Congolese … I think we lose our identity. All these countries are cut up not up to cultural similarities or social similarities, they are cut up by the financial agenda of the colonial masters. They all had a meeting in Vienna where they all sat down and carved up Africa. According to the way they saw it, not according to the benefit for Africans. I don’t see why my brothers are nationals of different countries. People share the same culture: Spanish are Spanish people sharing the same culture, German people are German people, Chinese people are Chinese people … In Africa we don’t have that luxury. We are all carved up differently.

As a Nigerian I can trace my history to 50 years ago. But I am a Yoruba man and if I see myself as a Yoruba man I can trace myself to thousands of years of history. I am able to have more pride in who I am from a long time ago, knowing that I didn’t just drop in this world in 1960 by the award of some white man. It will give us more pride. We need to learn our history. Even in our schools we don’t learn anything about Nigerian history, in highschool you learn small African history and plenty European and world history. Education and this understanding of ourself is what we need in Africa.

What makes up your identity? Do you see yourself as a Nigerian, African, Yoruba, Christian?

I see myself as first as an African then as a Yoruba man, I don’t see myself as a Nigerian. I hardly see myself as a Nigerian unless I’m going to travel and they say “Nigerian passport this way”. I see myself mainly as a Yoruba man. I’m not being tribalist because I respect all cultures in Africa, seeing myself as an African man first means that I see the Igbo man as my brothers. All these cultures and tribes, we all have histories from hundreds of centuries away that still cause frictions today … in Nigeria, in Congo, in Rwanda, even in South Africa – ethnic clashes because of people who are forced to live together.

At independence day, what should people be focussing on?

I hope people are really patiotic, and what it means is doing the best for your country. People need to think where they want to be and how to influence their country. In Nigeria nobody really believes in going out and fighting for change like they did in Thailand.

It’s easy to understand: When you don’t have leaders people don’t follow. You have to have leaders, and in Africa we don’t have leaders, we just have rulers. Everybody is a ruler. Nobody is leading anybody anywhere.