Outspoken and uncensored, Seun Kuti has no fear.
In a time of timid musicians who've been trained to keep their mouths shut and tow the PR line, the Nigerian sax man and heir to his father Fela's Afrobeat throne is perfectly willing to tell the raw, real truth, whether talking power, politics, national anthems, Africa, or American intervention in Libya.
See the cut for Crossfade's conversation with Seun Kuti.
Crossfade: Your music is deeply engaged on a political and social level. Why is it important to address current events and international issues?
Seun Kuti: I think the main function of art is to inspire society. So the fact that music is no longer as political as it used to be, say in '60s and '70s, is one of the problems we have with youth education and development today. Because most youths don't even care about anything. Everyone just cares about swagger and being fly. This is what the majority of art teaches.
But for me, it's important that people use music, poetry, and any form of art as a way to inspire people toward positivity. And I feel that this is the primary purpose of art, even before making money.
So do you believe songs can actually shift power and start revolutions?
Of course. Every country has a national anthem. We all identify with music. There's no escaping it. And music can definitely inspire change. It can be the fuel for revolution. If you go back to the Soweto riots, the people sang every time they marched, because music brings solidarity. It brings you together. Everyone is singing the same words. There's a spirit of unity that can be created with music. So there's no separating the music from the movement.
This is why the commercial industry, big business, and international corporations have come into music and bought out music companies. Today, I think music is selling more Dolce & Gabbana bags than it is inspiring people toward positivity.
What's your position on revolution? Do you support armed uprisings when necessary? Or do you believe in a more peaceful brand of rebellion?
Well, the thing about any kind of freedom is that it's shaped to the orientation and mentality of its people. Sometimes revolution can be peaceful. Sometimes it just has to be violent. But whether peaceful or violent, sacrifices are made. Blood must be spilled. This is what revolution is all about. And it is the blood that makes it sacred. It's the pain that the people went through to achieve this freedom that makes it sacred or almost holy. And then it is revered and respected so that the children will grow up to protect it with integrity.
You know, when people don't feel connected to things, that's when you have people with no national interest, like in Africa. Our independence was handed over to us by the West. But they thought: Well, we cannot afford to do this indirectly anymore. Let's look for a system to make them feel free while we still control most of their resources and business. We will put in our own people who support Western interest and power.
This is what we have in Africa today. There are people who don't have national interest at heart, because they do not understand this so-called nation. They do not feel that national instinct or pride that would make anybody feel, "I have to do something for my country. I have to be my country." Because, first of all, the countries in Africa are not, per se, African countries. Nigeria, for example, is not even an African word. How many countries are African words?
Speaking of Western intersts ... How do you feel about the United States' involvement in Libya? Was it necessary to become involved? Or did America make a mistake?
Well, it was not only America that made the mistake. France is out there making the same mistake. Personally, I don't believe that America or France or any Western nation gives a fuck about any African country or any African person anywhere. Nobody should tell me that they are in Libya bombing Gaddafi because they want the people to be free. If you want people to be free, bombs don't protect anybody. Bombs are made to destroy. You can't use bombs as a weapon of protection.
So the no-fly zone in Libya is not for African people. I do not support it. First of all, Libya does not even have international construction companies that can rebuild Tripoli. And once the West finishes destroying one of the best and most beautiful African capitals, they're going to bring their multinational construction companies there and they'll collect billions of dollars from the people of Libya to rebuild it.
For another thing, this is a country where the West never had any influence because Gaddafi was the only African leader who nationalized all his industries. This is the only African country I know of that's giving people social security. And now the West wants influence there. So all this Benghazi movement or whatever ... I don't even believe in it anymore. It has lost its purpose.
I don't believe that Gaddafi is more powerful than the people of Libya. If the people truly wanted Gaddafi to leave, he would leave because the majority would be against him. Like we are seeing in Syria today, the people want al-Assad to leave. But it is America and Europe that's keeping that guy in power because they believe he is a leader who buffers them from Iran. They don't want him to go and the country to fall into the hands of Iran. So they are watching people die every day in Syria.
Are the people of Lybia more important than the people in Syria? People are dying every day in Syria. And what has been done? Absolutely nothing.
Obviously, you're a man of very firm, forceful political opinions. And you've even said that you would start a political party. Is that something that you're truly committed to?
Oh, yes. Politics for me is very important. Because music can only inspire. It can't really enforce change. Power is politics, because politics is what controls our lives.
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But politics is practiced by people who never use the airport or commercial jets. And yet they're making rules for air travel every day. They don't go through the stress that we go through. They don't feel what we feel. They're just making it hell while they go and take private planes. They also make decisions on housing. But they live in big villas. They've never been to any ghetto. They've never seen how people are living.
That is power and it is affecting our lives. So to be able to change things, we have to be a part of that politics. Even if it is not a ruling party, I feel that a government is only as powerful as its opposition. Either way, it is perfect for me. If my party is the ruling party, we will do a great job. And if my party is the opposition, we will do a great job.
Seun Kuti. Friday, July 29. Manuel Artime Theater, 900 SW First St., Miami. The concert begins at 8 p.m. and tickets costs $35 plus fees via fla.vor.us. Call 305-672-5202 or visit rhythmfoundation.com.