Scion of the globally celebrated Fela Anikulapo-Kuti family, Seun Kuti has reaffirmed the potency of indigenous African music in the face of the mounting negativity of neo-imperialism, or what is described as ‘second slavery,’ just as he lauded his late father’s courageous attempts at mobilizing the masses at the grassroots in what is regarded as Movement of the People (MOP) in the drive towards self-actualisation.
“MoP is also Fela’s idea. It was a party Fela was trying to register to run for president in Nigeria; the military government denied the party registration. I’ve always dreamt of creating something that will be a party. Nigeria’s Resistance Movement was the foundation.
No decision of influence validated my father’s position; Fela was an outsider, an outcast.
So, I had to grow up into a man to truly understand the message linked to the music, which is still the only avenue that African people have to genuinely influence their spirit.
Those of us who choose to wield the weapon right know that this is truly a pure form used to move the society one way or the other. Using our music to reflect our drive and spirit is necessary today for our communities to thrive,” he said.
This formed a crucial thrust in his remarks while featuring at a globally viewed interactive session organised by the now popular Toyin Falola Interview Series.
The series which prioritises amplifying African concerns geared towards providing the needed enablers for African development has featured other prominent Africans such as Nigeria’s former President Olusegun Obasanjo; President John Kufuor; Bishop Hassan Kukah; Chief Dele Momodu; the Alaafin of Oyo, Oba Lamidi Adeyemi (III); Yoruba language, arts and culture enthusiast, Alao Adedayo; Dr Obadiah Malaifia; Aisha Yesufu, among many others.
While speaking about the history of music in his family, he revealed that “The clearest distinction in music in my families between the ages has to be that my father made circular revolutionary music and my grandfather and great grandfather made gospel music, but what is interesting is that the periods of time were different. Gospel music, as at that time, was the music of the elite people.
“The Kuti family was one of the foremost African elite families, even regarding wealth. This was so until my grandmother decided to commit class suicide when she joined the women’s riot organized by market women against anarchy. We shared our quota of elitism.
“We stopped making religious music in the elite way, which was to calm the society down. We started making music for the people, on behalf of the people as part of the people. I think that is what has been different in my family’s intergenerational musical experience.
“I didn’t study at the Trinity College of Music. I went to the Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts. My time in school was my time away from everything relating to Kuti. I really wanted to study and most of all, get away from the noise.”
He also interrogated the kind of diversity and options opened for contemporary African musicians when he said: “I make enough money to be okay; I don’t really lack much and I’m someone that is content with what I have. If I’m able to provide what my family needs, that’s okay.
“What I’m doing artistically is only because African culture is not respected. It is being treated as common and I’m not commodifying the culture. That’s a lesson we will learn in future. Other than that, the sky is big enough for all birds to fly. It’s fine.”
Going further, Kuti discussed primary themes of money, sex and drugs as found in contemporary music. For him, “Actually, I don’t see anything wrong with it. As I said, every musician has their pound of steel and they forge and create whatever they want with it. That’s a gift from the ancestors.
“They’ve given you the gift, whatever you use it for is left for you and your conscience. Personally, I feel that gifts should be used for the benefit of everybody and at the same time, I cannot expect everybody to be me.
“The issue is not the artist making this music, the issues are with the owners of these media houses, the people that control the dissemination of information, choosing to only disseminate these kinds of art.
“Even if my music is not played on TV and radio, how many times have they played Fela’s music in a week? They manipulate the media for people to see that there’s only one type of art, whereas there are other kinds.”
Reacting to issues surrounding to the participation of Nigeria’s teeming young population in the 2023 general election, he stated that “I want everybody to have a chance in 2023 for a better tomorrow. Young people in power, I’m not a fan. I think the Nigerian society needs to have a conversation between young and the old, the rich and poor.
“The issue we have in Nigeria is that the rich people of the country despise the poor people of Nigeria and we need to have the conversation. What are the responsibilities of those in charge of our commonwealth towards our nation? Young people can only tap into this system, if we invest in ourselves.
“We must stop the ‘Messiah Syndrome’ where people will be given a chance. We don’t need to be given a chance, if we are truly interested in building our nation. The power to do that is in our hands already, both the young and old; we just have to agree that we want to do it, then start moving that way.
“Put some money towards the politics of the community, be there to monitor; go to meetings the way you go to party. We all know messiahs don’t truly exist because I can use the words you want to hear for you to support me just the way APC did.
“No one asked, is it change for the better or for worse? We are the messiahs, we are our own leaders and we must rise up to the position of leadership. Youth in politics, for me, is neither here nor there. What we need is people.”
Professor Toyin Falola and Dr Sola Olorunyomi led others in the very stimulating interview session.