Seun, you started playing with your father at a very young age and you always state it was around the age of nine that you decided you also wanted to become a musician. In all those years has there never been a moment where you thought of packing it all in and do something else?
Seun Kuti: (laughs) I ask myself that question almost every day! As you say, I started playing music at a very young age and at the time I never thought this was what I would be doing for the rest of my life, but I loved it so I just kept playing. At that point I was still keeping my options open though. At school I was good at economics, so I pondered on doing something with that for a while. Apart from that I've also always been quite athletic and always loved playing sports, so I also contemplated on becoming a footballer for a while. My uncle talked me out of that though; he asked me: "If you became a footballer, you'd have to retire around the age of 35. So tell me, what would you do with the rest of your life?" (laughs) In the end I decided to keep on doing the thing that felt most natural to me and that was playing music. I honestly don't think there's anything out there I could be better at, so I think I chose the right path."
The house you grew up in, the Kalakuta Republic (14 Agege Motor Road, Idi-Oro, Mushin, Lagos, Nigeria, red.), has since been turned into a museum. How do you feel about that?
Seun Kuti: "It will always remain our family home, the only difference being we don't live there anymore. It's the place where Fela lived and spent most of his time, so I can understand why people would want to come and visit that place, but personally I wouldn't want to live in a place where strangers are running in and out all the time, taking pictures and what have you! (laughs) As big as that house was and still is, I only ever occupied one room, so you can understand I couldn't live like a kid at his parent's house for the rest of my life. I still visit the house quite often though as it's really close to where I'm living now."
In 2013 you became the father of a beautiful daughter called Adara. How did that change you as a man and maybe also as a musician?
Seun Kuti: "As a musician it just meant I had to work just that bit harder, as there's another mouth to feed now. That being said, my pace might actually have slowed down somewhat since she was born, as she's distracting me all the time! (laughs) It has changed me emotionally though; she actually taught me how to love someone unconditionally. My dad passed away when I was only 14 years old and up until that point he was the person I loved most in the entire world. It was the first time in my life I felt overwhelming feelings like grief, sadness and bereavement, and when my daughter was born, the feelings I felt were just as overwhelming. Becoming a father definitely developed me as a human being."
Compared to your early days, you're now a lot more talkative on stage, articulate even.
Seun Kuti: "Well, in those early days, I was still learning and finding my place. Now I feel I've attained a level in my life where I can teach people something, so that's what I try to do on stage."
In the form of Egypt 80, you're fortunate to be able to work with quite a few of your dad's old bandmates. Could you see yourself playing with any other band?
Seun Kuti: "In a way I am already, because the line-up of the band has changed quite a lot over the years. I'm playing with an entirely new horn section now and a new drummer, so the only original part of Egypt 80 still remaining is the rhythm section. I think we've arrived at a point now where the band is just as much mine as it was my father's. The big difference being, they're making more money now then back when they were still playing with Fela! (laughs)"
Recently a new music phenomenon has emerged in Africa called afrobeats. This mostly electronic club style music doesn't have anything to do with traditional afrobeat though.
Seun Kuti: "(laughs) I think it's just African pop musicians trying to break into the western music market. The thing is, if they'd branded themselves as just being pop musicians, they probably wouldn't have gotten any notice, so they had to come up with something else and that became afrobeats. I think you can compare it with Jamaican dancehall, which used to be known as ragga, also just one letter difference with reggae, but totally different. To me personal their music is bit too much all over the place, but I feel they will continue to evolve and eventually end up with a real sound of their own. Right now it's just African music trying to be European or American! (laughs)"
In the recent past you've been quite critical about a certain part of the press, and rightfully so I would add. What exactly did you have an issue with?
Seun Kuti: "It's quite simple; I no longer respect media for profit. Most of the people who are making money of journalism are spreading lies in one form or another. That's how we ended up with the whole fake news disaster… You basically can't tell anymore wither some news story you're reading is true or false. In Nigeria for example, they try to black out my career and my music as much as possible, because they don't want young people to know you can resist the system and still be successful. I'm also tired of journalists taking my words and turning them around to suit their own agenda or just put words in my mouth without even having spoken to me! If you want to be a journalist, do your work properly and start worrying more about the content of what you are putting out then about the popularity of your media!"
What would you respond if I asked you one of the most asked questions in Africa: "Seun, do you believe in Jesus?"?
Seun Kuti: "Fuck Jesus and all Abrahamic religions! I don't do Jesus! How can they come up to me and tell me Jesus Christ died for my sins and when I ask: "Well is Jesus Christ dead then?", they reply: "No, no, he's very much alive!"? How can that be? And there's more! He already knew he was going to wake up again, so what kind of a gesture is that? If I know I can die now and wake up again in three days, I'll gladly die for your sins! (laughs) Africans are going to put their faith in this, but ignore people like Kwame Nkrumah, Thomas Sankara or Patrice Lumumba who really gave their lives for their people? They didn't die for you, but Jesus did? Please! I don't have time for Jesus; I don't have time for Muhammad; I don't have time for any of these guys. It's time that we as Africans realize we're not Arabic, nor Jewish or Caucasian, so why should we adopt their religions. Whenever I'm feeling spiritual, I study Ifá philosophy myself (Ifa is a religion and system of divination and refers to the verses of the literary corpus known as the Odu Ifá. It is practiced throughout the Americas, West Africa, and the Canary Islands, and plays a critical role in the traditions of Santeria, Candomblé, Palo, Umbanda, Vodoun, and other Afro-American faiths, as well as in some traditional African religions. There are sixteen major books in the Odu Ifá. When combined there are total of 256 Odu, a collection of sixteen, each of which has sixteen alternatives, believed to reference all situations, circumstances, actions and consequences in life, red.). A lot of people don't even understand what Ifá is about anymore, because traditional African religious beliefs have been demonized as being pagan, fetish, dark, devilish and so on. More than spiritual, African religion is philosophical and if you try to understand it and adhere to it, it's sure to change your life. For example, Westerners tend to look down on the blood rituals, which are traditions of giving back to the ancestors, but we weren't the ones who burnt young women alive at the stake for being so-called witches! But today we are the misogynistic people, the patriarchal oppressors of women… We aren't and we've never been! Every Yoruba king had women in his council. It's like Chris Rock said: "If you're a black Christian, you have a real short memory."! (laughs) To each his own though."
Your new album, 'Black Times', was entirely recorded in Belgium (at Jet Studio in Brussels, red.). May I ask why?
Seun Kuti: "The reason is simple, you guys have the best little studio's at the cheapest rates! Check it, it's true. We already have the first single out, which is the title track of the album and features the legendary Carlos Santana! Check it out!"
'African Dreams', another song from the new album is your comment on the so-called American Dream, and the materialistic bling culture that goes with it, so many Africans still long for.
Seun Kuti: "In my opinion bling culture is a deep pathology among black people in general, not only Africans. When I see a black person all dressed up, wearing fancy jewelry, expensive perfume and so on, to me they exemplify selfishness. With the amount of people in Africa dying while delving for things like gold, diamonds or coltan for the expensive cell phones, I cannot believe people still buy that shit! I refuse to wear jewelry myself. And to make matters worse all of these mines, wither it be in Congo, South-Africa, Liberia or Sierra-Leone, are still controlled by Westerners or Asians! Returning to the American Dream… I think it's already hard enough for Africans to hold onto their identity. I'm Yoruba, but I also have to identify myself as being Nigerian, but there's no unified Nigerian culture. Nigeria was created as a unified nation in 1914 by the British (In 1914, the British formally united the Niger area as the Colony and Protectorate of Nigeria. Administratively, Nigeria remained divided into the Northern and Southern Protectorates and Lagos Colony. Inhabitants of the southern region sustained more interaction, economic and cultural, with the British and other Europeans owing to the coastal economy, red.); there's no unified Nigerian language; there's no unified Nigerian dress, and as I already stated, there's no unified Nigerian culture. To be Nigerian basically still means being British: speak the Queen's English, wear nice western clothes, be part of the commonwealth and so on. Our identity as Yoruba people is subservient to the larger imported identity! The same goes for Ghanaians, Senegalese or Congolese… We've all become the embodiment of the same foreign cultures that have been oppressing us for generations. All our spare money and spare time is used to foster something that makes other people rich. Until we get our African Dream back, the same dream that realized the pyramids, that built the first university in the world, built the first ships and mapped the stars, we'll remain disconnected from our real potential. Westerners try to tell us to put our past behind us all the time, but at the same time you guys put statues up all over the place! Look at Belgium! How can you ask us to forget about the past, when you still have statues of fucking Leopold II everywhere? Come on!"
In conclusion… Over the past decade afrobeat has become a global phenomenon. There isn't a nation on earth anymore that hasn't got its own afrobeat band. What are your thoughts about that evolution?
Seun Kuti: "I think it's a sign of the times! People want to fight the powers that be and afrobeat is the ideal revolutionary soundtrack as the genre was created with exactly that in mind. Afrobeat goes deeper than culture or the individual and once inspired musicians wanting to make a difference discover afrobeat, they can't but embrace it and share the fight and passion that makes up the music. The way scientists are grateful to Einstein for his theory of relativity, conscious musicians should be grateful to Fela for creating this revolutionary musical platform!"