Many know him as the son of the great Afrobeat pioneer Fela Kuti, but Seun has since made his own name for himself with a career in music and political activism. He talks to the Oshi about his music, his family and his vision for Africa.
Oshi Okomilo: It's a pleasure to be talking to you, a son of an Fela Kuti, Afrobeat pioneer and poster child of the Nigerian people. Are you looking forward to your tour?
Seun Kuti: Yeah, I’m flying out now to India
OO: Anywhere else on your travels this time around?
SK: We're doing Japan, Australia and the UK as well
OO: Yeah you're coming over to London in a little while.
OO: Is London a special place for you?
SK: London is always nice. It's always been a little home away from home for me as well, spent a lot of time going up too when I was in college. London is good, lots of friends and family.
OO: So tell me about your new music. You've got something new coming out?
SK: Yeah well actually, I'm working on my third album now. You have to keep working on the music, you can’t stop , you can’t take a break. You do an album, you tour it and then you start working on the new one.
OO:Right, your last album was a big album. What has been your biggest musical moment so far?
SK: Oh well you know, I think being in the studio recording my first album was really big. I would sit there and dream. Working with recording artists for me was a very big moment.
OO: Nice, you were fourteen when your dad died, how long did it take you before you took up the lead of Egypt 80?
SK: As soon as my dad died. I was actually playing with the band even before my dad died so when my father died I just continued playing. That's all it was. It wasn't about being the leader and taking control, it was for the band to keep playing. Just because my dad died doesn't mean the the music should stop.
OO: So you were playing with the band since you were eight years old. So before you were fourteen, did your dad actually let you come on and perform the shows with him?
SK: Yeah of course
OO: So how many people are in Egypt 80 now Seun?
SK: At home we're about twenty, but when we're on the road we're about fifty.
OO: Wow, that's a big family!
SK: Yeah very big family, that's why it's so easy to go on the road and work. I'm working on the new album now and working on new songs, when I look at how hard we worked on the first one and how much we accomplished, it's amazing.
OO: I can picture you in the studio together, you must have to go to the biggest studios around!
SK: Yeah when we record in Nigeria but the new studios here don't have the capacity so it can be really rough.
OO: can you tell me one thing you learnt from your father?
SK: I learnt the lesson of equality and the lesson of respecting the money. Those are really the two biggest lessons for me, from my pops.
OO: OK, and can you tell me something you have learnt yourself?
SK: People are not always what they seem to be
OO: Moving on to something more serious. Do you believe Nigeria is in a better place because it’s a more educated generation?
SK: Not only Nigeria, Africa is in a better place because this generation is more educated. But I’m not saying western education is the key to freedom, western education is the system and to be able to fight the system, you must understand the system and to understand the system, you must be educated in the system. This is the first time we are getting enough education and with the proper tools to make the right decisions for the future of Africa
OO: Have you seen any positive changes?
SK: My father’s museum opened here to mark his 74th birthday,and I think that is a real positive thing for Africa, so that’s a great thing coming out of Africa
OO: But do you feel that that shrine has become some sort of shrine to the establishment?
SK: I don’t think it’s a shrine for the establishment, I think it’s a shrine for the people. The government got involved but it was the local government not the federal government. In Nigeria, you have to understand government is really different here so the government - the establishment - coming to an agreement to help the business of our country shows that they are accepting the message. They are beginning to understand that we speak for truth and they are seeing the error of their own ways. So it is a big step forward and I think with time people are gonna begin to understand and see the value of Fela Kuti and the youth of Africa.
OO: Does it feel good to be 'fulfilling your destiny' as somebody who’s bringing these messages to the people?
SK: Of course, I’m lucky to have been from the background that I’m from and been given the education and the weapons that I need to make these kind of decisions. So I’m really happy about where I am right now
OO: Do you have any children yet to carry on?
SK: That is what I’m thinking about getting down to next year you know, I’m gonna be 30 next year, so I wanna try and make some babies
OO: You’re Nigerian, you should have lots of babies by now?
SK: Haha! That’s a real misconception, not a lot of Nigerians have a lot a babies. I just want to be ready, I don’t just want to have a kid because I want to have a kid, I want to have a kid to raise right. I think I’m at that point of my life right now where I can work and raise my kid at the same time.
OO: You came from a big family though. Has it been good to have lots of stepmothers though?
SK: Well I lost my real mum, but this is one of the benefits of coming from a polygamist home, you’ve lost one mum, but you don’t lose them all. I still have women that are close to me like my mother, they are mothers to me, they think about me, they talk to me, they give me advice, they give me help, they give me food.
OO: It’s a good life for you. But in Africa, you had 600 billion pounds in aid, you have all this oil, but some of you have not got electricity. If you could do one thing that would make Africa more beneficial for Africans, what would that be?
SK: One thing is knowledge, just handling more information is the big change I want to see in Africa. The money in Nigeria affects the money in Benin, the money in Benin affects in money in Ghana, the money in Ghana is connected with the money in Kenya. even for different ethnicities. What’s going in Kenya affects us in Lagos. Things like that ya know, so I think if I had the power the one thing I would do is provide ample knowledge. Using the internet and such.
OO: Ok so you think the spread of the internet across Africa can only be a good thing
SK: Yeah of course, the internet is not in all of Africa. The internet needs to provide positive knowledge and direct knowledge to the whole population
OO: So maybe it’s a combination of the internet and somebody with the right message whose heart is for the people
SK: Exactly, we need to know these things in Africa. In schools, we are taught western language, what knowledge can you get about yourselves from western language? Western language is promoted and our culture is seen as inferior to alien cultures. So I think information about our own politics and about our own history is important. So information is one thing. But if I could pick two, I’d back it up with a nuclear plant. When you do a nuclear plant in your country nobody gives you trouble. If you have a nuclear plant then they want to know what you eat , they want to know how you sleep. That’s something I would put in my country, that would be a nice, some free energy, keep them guessing.
OO: Then you can save the oil for a rainy day, save the oil for the future.
SK: I can keep my oil and use it when I like and not be influenced by China and others. Because you look at the world and there are so many crazy leaders who are tolerated just because they have nuclear bombs. It is shame in the developing world its not easy to rise to the top. Because we make guns and they block our way. The world is shaped in ‘the ends justify the means’ way, people want to see results, nobody cares about the people and children that get hurt. As long as there are results and it is profitable nobody cares about what happens.
OO: I know that you do big things with your music socially and consciously and you are spreading that knowledge. I know you do some things in politics outside of your music as well. Would you ever get into politics?
SK: In the future I want to be a very strong activist, influential in politics. But politicians can only be as powerful as the activists in opposition. So in terms of me being a politician I can’t see that happening anymore. I was thinking of being president before, but if I’m president I won’t criticise myself. I think the critic is more important than the president, if we have strong critics who have a strong following, who can influence elections with positivity then that’s more powerful than being the president. We all should criticise, but when you are in power you have to compromise. Power is all about compromise, you might lose focus, when you are the critic you are not tied down to that pressure, you can make decisions without losing focus because you know what you stand for. So this is my politics, the politics of the people.
OO: One random question. If you could fill a swimming pool with anything in the world then what would it be?
SK: Well you know, I’ve had a dream of swimming in champagne and just drinking it as you swim in it. How about filling another one with snakes and then send the bad people in Africa to swim with the snakes.
OO: That could work. That’s some interesting answers. Seun it’s been a pleasure talking to you.
SK:Yeah no problem, see me when I come back to London town
Edited by Thomas Rodgers