Afrobeat artiste, Seun Kuti, opens up on fatherhood, his forthcoming album and the state of the Nigerian music industry, in this interview with Jayne Augoye
It is less than a month to the release of his third studio album titled Long Way to the Beginning and Seun Kuti already has a lot on his plate. When he ushers E-Punch into his Allen, Ikeja, Lagos home, the fiery artiste who recently welcomed his first child, a daughter, with his partner, Yetunde, in December, cuts a picture different from the masculine type you see when he is performing.
The love birds who seem to have eyes only for each other occasionally engage in public display of affection, before he settles down for the interview. Not minding the presence of the poke-nosing journalist, they kiss and touch each other at delicate places.
An obviously thrilled Seun says the exhilarating experience of fatherhood has seen him make quite a number of sacrifices lately.
“Training your first child is a life experience. It is a lesson in selfless service. You know, babies are strong but they are also quite dependent. You know you have to sacrifice your time, and now I am the one who sacrifices my time all night.
“My partner works all day, I work all night. I am in the studio anyway, so I can stay awake all night. Well, it is interesting and my baby is quite peaceful,’’ he notes.
With anticipation towards the release of his album heating up by the day, the Afro-beat artiste says it will be preceded by a satirical single – International Mother Fucker. He says the video for the single, which has a lot of computer-generated images, was shot in Paris, France, for obvious reasons.
“It is my record company’s choice, and the CGI was my director’s idea. The plot and the sequence he brought made sense and we decided to go with that. When I make my music I tend to have 100 per cent artistic control. When I do my records, I want other people to do their jobs too – leave the job of hiring people to the record company,’’ Seun notes.
The very engaging album, as he describes it, also features collaborations with Ghanaian-American hip-hop artist, Blitz the Ambassador, and German-Nigerian artiste, Nneka.
Despite recording the work overseas, the 31-year-old star is not oblivious of the trend in the Nigerian music scene. He takes out time to explain why he thinks most Nigerians think he doesn’t have a record yet.
“It is because I don’t put my songs on the major sources. Every album I make is for the world, including Nigerians. I try to make music people can relate with.
“If my music was completely Nigerian, our band might not have been so successful. Afro beat is difficult and entertainment in Nigeria is tied to the corporate world. More so, Afro beat is not party music,” he notes.
Over time, music critics continue to bemoan the absence of a structured industry in Nigeria. He also admits that though there has been a lot of advancement in the music sector, there is still plenty room for improvement, in terms of artistes’ welfare.
“We really don’t have record labels in Nigeria, we only have marketers. All they give you is upfront payments and sometimes they buy the rights to sell the music. If you as an artiste deal with only marketers in Nigeria, it is difficult to keep your career and have a good livelihood. There is no royalty for artistes and these are meant to be like an artiste’s pension. In this regard, we have a long way to go.”
Longevity and relevance are often an issue for most artistes as they grow older, no matter how talented they are. But Seun, who is fully grounded in the rudiments of the craft, having studied popular music and sound technology at the Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts, in the UK, remains determined.
“You might not be relevant, in terms of making money every week like when you were in your prime; but it doesn’t mean you would stop playing music. I am not making music as if I am making money. Music is a lifetime thing, that’s why I really like the profession. You can play till you are 90 – like the late Fatai Rolling Dollars.”
If you have ever longed to see him collaborate with a ‘home-based’ musician, he says it is feasible. “I have worked with some already. On this album, I had Nneka already; she is a German-Nigerian. I have done some works with my brother, Femi and Shank. Before I work with someone, I have to consider the message. Message means a lot to me in music. But if I want to do a project, perhaps a joint album, then it may be with Don Jazzy.”
Asked to give reasons for this, he simply says he loves his (Jazzy’s) sound. And Seun would not want to speak more on this as he does not want to sound as if he is promoting a wrong sentiment in the industry.
With the endorsement fever gripping artistes left right and centre, Seun is afraid that certain principles may be lost in the process.
“I know the telecommunications do a lot of that. But I don’t think I have anything that they can sell. Nobody sells honesty, they only sell flamboyance. I think people should focus on the grassroots, on the poor.”
A chip of the old block, the youngest son of the legendary Afrobeat pioneer, Fela, spares a thought for his colleagues in the business.
“I feel we should also have empathy for the needs of the people rather than showing off on social media. I don’t care when people show off, after all, my father was the biggest show-off in his own simple way. So, this is what I think Nigerians artistes lack: they need to reciprocate the love and acceptance fans have shown them.”