Seun Kuti looks every inch like his late dad, the Afrobeat icon, Fela. He sings like him. He dances like him. He wears tight-fistted shirts and trousers made of the same fabric just like him. When you discuss with Seun you will get to know that he is deep. And like his father he has strong views on so many things including marriage and religion. And he is also deeply philosophical like his father. Seun is Fela’s look-alike. Once you see him, you don’t need to be told that he is Fela’s son. Perhaps the only striking difference is that Fela is fairer in complexion than him.
But Seun will not agree with you that he is like his dad. He will always tell you that he can’t match Fela’s standards. He will tell you that his Dad is way ahead of him and that his dad is even more stylish than he is. He will tell you how his dad had a wardrobe full of customized outfits with matching shoes.
Last week Thursday, City People Magazine team made up of Publisher SEYE KEHINDE, BIODUN ALAO, PRECIOUS POMAA and NURUDEEN AKOREDE spoke to him and he talked about his closeness to his dad whilst he was alive and how Fela influenced him. Below are excerpts of the interview.
Channels TV recently showed a video clip of you performing with your dad on stage as a little kid. How did you feel at that time?
It was funny, you know. My dad used to take us on tour with him. He used to take us everywhere playing shows. So, I used to watch him closely. Thats how I got inspired to also join the band and sing. After one of his shows in America, we were touring the US then, it was in 1990 I think. I went to him. I said haa! FELA I want to sing too. He said can you sing? I said yes. He said ok, sing one song. I sang a song. He said good. When we all get to Lagos you should start rehearsing with the band and that was how I started. For me as a kid it was just a fun thing to do as well. That was the reason for you to stay up all night and go to the club, go to Fela’s Shrine and stay up all night and enjoy night life, things most kids my age then were not able to do. I used to tell my friends about it the next day. So yeah, music has always been part of me. Music has always been my calling. It’s not because my dad was famous. I guess that is why I have been able to do it forever, and for so long.
Tell us about your relationship with your dad. How come you called him Fela as a kid?
Everybody calls my dad Fela, both young people and old. Not only me. Anybody that actually knew him then called him Fela. You couldn’t have called him no other name. He won’t answer you. You can’t call him anything else. Nobody calls him anything else. It is not allowed. So everybody calls him Fela. And that is part of his own personae as well. He likes people to call him his name, nothing more, nothing else.
A lot of people call him different nick names to be honest. Some call him Pressy, coined from the word President, Black President, Chief Priest, Omo Iya Aje, Abami Eda. He had a lot of nick names. But mostly, people just call him Fela.
Tell us about your growing up years. Whilst growing up did you ever call Fela dad?
Not for one day. No. Not at all. Not one time. I think that was stamped out very early in our childhood Fela was Fela. The penalty for not calling him Fela was very steep as well.
You will lose your pocket money and nobody was ready to joke with that as well.
Which schools did you attend?
I went to Tunwase Nursery & Primary School at Adeniji Jones right here in Ikeja, Lagos I went to Adebayo Mokunolu College, I went to Liverpool Institute of Performing Arts, for my higher education. That’s my school years in short. Me, I have always done one thing in all my life and that is music.
I have been in the band since I was 8. It was always rehearsals, schools, shows, practice, school. For the past 28 years that has been my life. Now, I have removed the school. So its now rehearsal, show, work, practice, rehearsal, interview.
Was the decision to go to school abroad your decision or Fela’s decision?
Its because I had spent all the JAMB Form money they gave me. So there was no way to escape it than to say I want to study in England. You don’t really need JAMB to study in England. Really, it was because my JAMB money was spent. I had collected JAMB money from about 5 to 6 members of the family. It was a big scandal then. But now, I can say it, nobody can say anything.
How did your course in Liverpool help your music career?
What was most important for me was the fact that I was able to spend quality time with young musicians about my age. Before that time I had always been with the band made up of old people, advanced musicians. I went when I was 20 or say 21. I had never played music with my peers before. That was the 1st time I met my peers and actually have confidence in my skills and abilities to create music. In our dormitory, we related with ourselves as young musicians and we exchanged musical ideas. I wrote my first song when I was in school there, in our living room. The 1st song in my 1st album. Many Things, I wrote it there that was in 2004 about 15 years ago. My 1st album didn’t come out till 2008. But that song made it to the record.
How did you cope with growing up with your father’s band boys, many of whom are older than you?
My band is also like my family. Most of the time, I spend more time with my band than I do with my family. So, I also take my band as family. I have known many of them since I was a kid.
How easy was it inheriting your dad’s band?
I didn’t inherit my dad’s band. That’s another wrong thing most people keep saying. My dad did not not say when I die, Seun should take over the band. No. He didn’t. I have been in the band already since I was 8. So, it was just the option of keeping the band alive or allowing the band to be disbanded. I have always known that the band was important to my dad. Fela had said it to us very many times in the house that his band was the most important thing to him.
Also for me and for African music, the Egypt 80 band is an African Music Institution. It’s not just a band. Do you know they are the most recorded band in the world? They have more records than any other band ever. They did 49 records with my dad and now 4 with me, from my dad’s bands like Koola Lobito, Africa 70, Egypt 80. No band in the world has more records. For me, it was important that such a band continues to exist for African music.