Seun Anikulapo Kuti is one of the most dynamic young musicians in the world. Youngest son of Fela Anikulapo Kuti, founder of afrobeat and African musical icon, Seun released his second full-length album, From Africa With Fury: Rise, yesterday on Knitting Factory Records. He's currently touring Europe and is about to cross the Atlantic for a string of dates all over North America, including the Grassroots Festival the third week in July. I had the honor of speaking with Seun on music, politics, working with Brian Eno, and more:
Seun Kuti - You can run by djdemonangel4
Marc Gabriel Amigone: I read you set out to do something different with your new album, a departure from your first. When I listen to the new album I feel like the horn lines are more complex and aggressive. The album as a whole is a lot more aggressive. What did you focus on to achieve your goal of doing something different?
Seun Kuti: Well, when I set out to do something different I wanted to improve on the last album. I had in the back of my mind when I was working on the album, without leaving afrobeat I have to make my music as different from the last album as possible. While still making an improvement without leaving the genre, that was difficult, you know, staying in the genre while still improving it. But I guess I was able to do that, I was able to complete that.
MGA: So did you focus on anything specific like the horn lines or the rhythms or something?
SK: Yea, from the horn lines to the music, to the rhythm section, I was more confident. With my first album, I didn't want to be too brash or too soft, you know, a lot of things go through your mind when it's the first time. It's just like having sex the first time, you don't know how to do it, you really don't know what's up. About the second time , you're more confident than the first time.
MGA: Right, right you have experience from which you can draw the second time around.
SK: Exactly, so that's how it went with the new album.
MGA: How did your relationship with Brian Eno come about? Who contacted who?
SK: For this album I contacted him. I told him about it. For me I like him because he invited me to come with the band to play a show, I was actually surprised he knew my music, that was two years ago.
MGA: What was it like working with him?
SK: Brian is one of those people who will teach you about you. He'll show you things you didn't even know, and if you're really honest with yourself he's telling you the truth, you'll be like yea man you're right.
MGA: To me the song Rise captures the essence of what you're trying to say with this album. When you talk about companies like Haliburton and Monsanto and you're asking people to rise up agains their power. Who are you targeting specifically with that message? Is that for Nigerians, Americans, everyone in the world?
SK: No, no this is Nigeria! I'm talking about Africa, Haliburton and Monsanto in Africa, not Haliburton and Monsanto in America, no, this is in Africa. Dick Cheney has been indicted in my country like three months ago for everything, for a deal he tried to run under the table, it was an 18 million dollar scandal. Haliburton bribed people, they paid our officials to take bribes. Contracts, real things you know?
MGA: So do you think many people in Nigeria are aware of the role Multi-National companies play in their lives as well as the global economy?
SK: Yea they know, but they are led to believe that without these international companies, they cannot have jobs, we cannot do anything on our own. We are made to believe without these countries Africa cannot develop. This is what is ruining Africa.
MGA: Who do you think is brainwashing them to think that? Is the government playing a role along with the companies?
SK: Of course, they give them all these kickbacks, they come to Africa and they donate four hundred million dollars to Nigeria. They're not giving this money to the people, the government officials take this money and steal it. They don't want Africa to develop. In Africa, Nigeria, wherever they will never create an operating system for a computer that we can use in Africa and buy and make money for Africa, whichever way Microsoft believes, Africa needs to develop as a manufacturer. Do you understand what I mean?
MGA: Yes I do.
SK: This is what is happening, it's not just Haliburton and Monsanto. All the multinationals are in Africa.
MGA: Right, it's a bigger problem than just those two companies.
SK: You don't come and make all kinds of donations in Africa never to the people, always to the government officials to help the people, but they never give the money to the people, they put it in their pocket.
MGA: Right. Which is something that's been going on for decades in Nigeria.
SK: That's right, yea.
MGA: What did you think about the way the most recent elections were carried out in Nigeria?
SK: All these politicians have dragged the ruling politicians into court. The elections were not free and fair.
MGA: Would you ever consider running for political office in Nigeria?
SK: Yes of course, it's one of my big plans for the future. When we get to that I will call you again.
MGA: Ok, cool. What are your thoughts on the way the West is choosing to intervene or not intervene in the uprisings across the middle east and North Africa?
SK: I do not support any intervention in Africa by Europe and America, political, economical, social, any kind of intervention. We should be able to manage all of our own situations ourselves. What the West is doing in Libya today is a big shame. What's going on in Libya is wrong.
MGA: Well, what about the situation in the Ivory Coast? The final resolution to that came after the French troops extricated the president from his palace, right?
SK: What they are teaching Africans is that only through force can you achieve any kind of progress. When a big country like France brings their military to commit a coup, because what happened in the Ivory Coast was a coup. When the military goes and kicks out the president, that's a coup. Whether they call it a good coup, it's still a coup. This is what they teach us. They come here, and the only way they get anything is by power. We will come and remove this guy. Why? So whenever anyone else wants to kick this new guy out, they will use force because that's the only option we've been taught here in Africa to use.
MGA: Right so that's the model that Africans now use for their own power struggles in the future, and that's dangerous.
SK: Well in Africa using force is easy. Why aren't they going to bomb North Korea, man? If they're worried about Gaddafi killing his own people, why don't they bomb North Korea? The people of North Korea are not protected. How about Syria, Yemen, Bahrain? They're killing their own people there too. Why isn't anyone doing anything there? Because the governments there are submitting to the West, you know?
MGA: So do you think the West should intervene in Bahrain and Syria and all of those other countries?
SK: No, they shouldn't because it's none of their business. That is none of their business as well.
MGA: So what do you propose should happen?
SK: If they intervene in Libya, they should be in Syria, Bahrain and Yemen as well. Do you understand what I mean?
MGA: I don't really. It seems like you're advocating they don't intervene but if they are going to intervene, they should intervene everywhere.
SK: Exactly, the only way they can justify their intervention is to be everywhere. So if they're not everywhere and only in Libya, that makes me ask, why Libya? Do the people of Libya deserve freedom more than the people of Syria? Do the people of Libya deserve democracy more than the people of Bahrain? I don't understand that. They are in Libya for the oil. Nobody should tell you otherwise because I know the west, France, US, Britain, they were all in the United Nations discussing human rights in Africa. They were all in their pocket. They all went in to negotiate how BP can get in there to get some oil. Tony Blair went to Libya to do business. They released the Pan-Am bomber, The Lockerbie they released him so that they can get their oil.
MGA: I agree. Well let's get back to music for a little while. Are there any other musicians or bands playing afrobeat today that you listen to?
SK: Right now, I listen to a lot of reggae right now. I listen to a lot of reggae, I'm not a hip-hop fan anymore, so reggae is my thing right now. Hip-hop is boring.
MGA: Are there any African hip-hop artists you find inspiring?
SK: Just the way I don't think Americans can play afrobeat, I don't think Africans can play hip-hop. If you want to make hip-hop music, go out and make hip-hop music the way it's supposed to be made. If you want to make African music, make African music the way it's supposed to be made.
MGA: That's interesting. What did you think of the FELA! play on broadway and its effect on afrobeat's popularity globally?
SK: It was great for afrobeat. Everyone in the world loves something successful. I think it was successful. It increased the popularity of afrobeat in the US.
MGA: Is it true that you were offered the role of Fela in the play?
SK: Yes I was.
MGA: And you didn't want to do it.
SK: No I didn't want to do it because of my music career, you know? I would have to move to New York to rehearse, to tour with the group, and be there with them. I'd have to put my music on the side.
MGA: People are constantly comparing you to your father and other members of your family. What are some of the ways you feel you're different from your father the most?
SK: I was wondering when this question was going to come up. Well for me I don't try to be different from my dad because that's not my aim. I'm a musician of afrobeat music. I never try to enter into a competition with my dad. I only try to be a good afrobeat musician. We have a different personality too. I feel like your personality plays a big role in your music, it gives it that feeling of my identity which is different from my father's. My father's music has its own personality. I'm looking forward to a world where there are lots of afrobeat bands playing the music correctly with their own personality in the music.
MGA: Does it bother you that every interview you do someone asks you about Fela?
SK: No it doesn't bother me. I get used to it. He's my father, you know. I expect that. Actually, I look forward to it, I think when is this question going to come?