Seun Kuti, photo courtesy of PRI’s Afropop Worldwide
I have not been this excited about a new release since last year’s “Si Para Usted: The Funky Beats of Revolutionary Cuba.” Seun Kuti (pronounced SHAY-oohn KOO-tee), one of Fela Kuti’s talented offspring, now leads his father’s former band the Egypt 80. I interviewed him along with music writer Banning Eyre of PRI’s Afropop Worldwide last year in Spain. PRI’s The World will be featuring the story in the next couple of weeks. In the meantime, with the cost of oil soaring, and Nigeria’s Niger Delta region being a grim hotspot in the production of the commodity, here’s my exchange with Seun about the song titled “Na Oil” on his debut CD (to be released early next month).
M.W.: Let’s talk about the oil track. What’s going on in the Niger Delta? What do you see going on?
S.K: A very vicious cycle. It’s all about money. The government gets money from the companies. They bribe the elders of the land to appease the people. They in turn don’t give the people anything. They keep it in their pocket instead. They leave their people suffering and crying, instead of the government or the multinationals looking into it directly. They are happy, because they have the chance to drain the soil, so they don’t pay attention to where the money is going… The multinationals, first of all, don’t pay attention to where the government is putting the money. And the government now, they don’t pay attention to where the so-called leaders of the community are putting the little change. The little change that the government gives to them. You know, so basically, attitude reflects leadership. So me right now, I feel that violence is not really the answer to it, because even the so-called movement of the Niger Delta, the so-called freedom fighters, are fighting for themselves. They kidnap people and make money, and spread it among themselves. Instead of taking that money and putting it into the community, putting it new schools, these so-called freedom fighters drive around and state-of-the-art SUVs, the best cars, the best clothes. They’re just doing it for themselves basically. Because the government in Africa made Africa into a kind of… I don’t want to say Nigeria alone, or the Niger Delta. The whole of Africa is now in a kind of survival-of-the-fittest mentality. Nobody really wants to think about politics. Nothing. Everyone just wants to make money. Because they’ve made surviving so difficult.
You can give up whatever you’re doing in Europe or America, and say, “I want to be a freedom fighter.” Even if you are not working. You are a volunteer. You are not doing something. Your government gives you some certain kind of welfare that helps you survive as a human being. But in Africa you don’t have that. If you’re not doing something for yourself, nothing is being done for you. So you could either choose to eat, choose to live, or choose to die. It’s like that. Either you choose to live or choose to die. And people definitely want to live, but also I’m trying to say, “If we all want to keep living like this and die like this, then our kids will also live like this and die like this. What we have in Africa will not last forever, and until we start making it work for us, we have a very short time to really appreciate, to really get the benefit of our continent. A very short time left. Time is truly, truly running out. Because when we run out of all these things that are making all these big multinationals and colonialists come to Africa, we are going to lose all importance to the world. They’re going to forget us. The black continent. We will keep suffering and living like this for the rest of our life.
So that’s why I say it’s a vicious cycle what’s going on in the Niger Delta, because still, it’s all about money and oil. And still, people take money and don’t do what they’re supposed to do, or kidnap people, and still don’t do what you’re supposed to do. So what’s the difference between you and your government? If you’re going to try to make change, even if it’s with violence, you decide it, but make change.
That’s why I have a song called “Think, Africa.” Because if we are doing all this fighting, even making our new children, giving them guns, the ideology behind the bloodshed has to be right. If everybody fighting the fight is still thinking for himself. “Ah, let’s win so I can loot some money and be rich.” If that’s what you are fighting, after the whole fight, and even if you win, you are still going to be where you are, because you’re still going to do the same thing you are now rolling over, and they are going to pick up guns against you again, so they’re going to keep on going in that circle until we start to change our ideology.
For the entire interview Banning and I did with Seun Kuti, check out Afropop Worldwide.