Ade Bantu is back. The ‘NiGerman’ (his father is a Nigerian while his mother is German) singer, rapper and songwriter has finally relocated to Nigeria. He actually returned last year, but has kept a very low profile to enable him complete work on his first Nigeria-made album (he already has four, Fufu, Bantu, Fuji Satisfaction and Lovelite Sessions). The new one, entitled No Man Stands Alone, is now ready.
Prior to his return, he had been based in Germany with his family and other members of the Bantu crew, his brother Abiodun Odukoya, Patrice Williams of Sierra Leone and German parentage and Amechi Okoronkwo.
They had tried to represent their African heritage in their music and have in various cases interpreted the name B.A.N.T.U to mean Brotherhood Allaince Navigating Towards Unity or to be in honour of Steve ‘Bantu’ Biko.
Last week, at his Ogba, Lagos home, he chatted with Notes and Tunes about his music, life and some of the community projects close to his heart…
Do you know that people don’t see you as a Nigerian artist and most people don’t even know who you are?
When I go outside the shores of Nigeria, I am always seen as a Nigerian artist and I think I have represented Nigeria very well in terms of my musical outputs, political views and whenever they write about me outside, I am recognized as a Nigerian.
Tell us a bit about yourself and your background?
I grew up in Nigeria, attended both primary and secondary schools in Nigeria. I have lived in Port Harcourt, Minna and Lagos. My mum is German and my father was studying in Germany. He is late now, but was an automobile engineer. He furthered my education in Europe and Germany where I studied Electronic Engineering, but never for once did I go about the profession.
I stumbled into music in Germany while trying to make friends and socialize. I met some folks that asked me if I could rap and I did some rap lyrics by heart and that won them over. Before I knew it, I was in a band, then I was recording and from there, I just picked up. I recorded with various bands and then we formed Bantu.
My first recording were done in 1997 and I had an album deal with Kennis Music in 1999. We did a track called Fufu. It contained the song Nzogbu, which was quite popular then based on the video and the sound. We had just gone through a military dictatorship and everybody was enthusiastic. From then on, the people took a liking to what I was doing.
I was still based in Germany then, but I would send my videos and some of my songs back home and they would play them on air here. But I have never really sat down to release an album in Nigeria. My new album is going to be the first one that I will be doing in Nigeria and I am very excited about it.
What do you have inside the album?
It is a ten track album entitled, No Man Stands Alone. It is a duet album. Every single track on it is a collabo with a Nigerian artist. I had people like Nneka, Lord of Ajasa, African China, Azadus, Sound Sultan, Fatai Rolling Dollar and my brother, Abiodun.
It wasn’t about trying to get a big artist on my album, I just wanted to get some great incredible voices that I like being in the studio with.
How does the group, Bantu work?
Bantu is a collective around me which means that no matter the album I do, my brother is always featured on at least one track. I write and compose a lot with him, but he is a solo artist and then I have other artists and vocalists that I always bring in. so, its never Ade Bantu solo. Just like the forthcoming album which bears No Man Stands Alone, which already reflects the collective idea.
I also worked with a lot of Nigerian producers. The only time I had worked in a Nigerian studio was when I recorded with Adewale Ayuba at the late Sonny Okosuns’ studio.
What type of music do you do?
I started off as a rapper, but I have experimented with afro beat, highlife, reggae and various other sounds. I think I am a hybrid of different sounds and I am both European and African, which also reflects in my sound. I don’t always sit down and say that I want to do one kind of music. I pick out the best of what is around me and use it. My new album is a variety of sounds. You might call it half-caste music or fusion music or whatever you want to call it.
Which Nigerian musicians influenced you?
The Lijadu Sisters, Sonny Okusuns, Fela, Sunny Ade, Orlando Owoh, Oriental Brothers, Osadebe, Jimmy Solanke and so many others. I grew up with quite a lot of eclectic sounds. I know quite a lot about Nigerian music and that’s why when I do the sounds to see how I can bring them into modern times, I will compare myself because of playfulness to somebody like Wyclef Jean who is always trying out new things.
What do you think about the Nigerian music scene?
The Nigerian music scene has evolved. The standard is pretty much high in Nigerian music video production, but in terms of sound production, there’s still a lot to be done in terms of mixing and audio quality.
The creative energy is very high and the beats and rhythms are incredible, but in terms of lyrical content, I am a bit disappointed considering the fact that there’s a lot of issues at hand that could be addressed. So, I would expect more diversity in terms of content and musical styles. Everyone is focusing on the get rich now now attitude, everyone is sounding alike. When somebody has a formula that is working, be it D’Banj, 2Face or Terry G, everyone just follows. Everyone wants to sound like them and it’s unfortunate, because people are not really digging from their incredible musical heritage.
If I am an Igbo musician, I should have available to me so much incredible Igbo sounds, rhythms and lyrics that I could fuse into hip hop or dancehall. The same applies to everyone of the numerous ethnic groups in the country. I think this is a reflection of shortsightedness and greediness in a society where everyone has a crab in the bucket mentality, get rich quick and the chop today, forget about tomorrow syndrome.
It is also a reflection of our educational standard where a lot of people don’t have musical training. Music has largely been scrapped off the curricular and there’s no way you can know about the music that existed before when you don’t have the opportunity to study them. I am just privilege because I am interested and I go around the world looking for Nigerian music. I sample and collect records. I collect vinyl, that’s why I know about these things.
What are you musical achievements so far?
I have done quite a lot. I have worked with people like Tony Allen, recorded with UB40 and so many Nigerian artists. I have also consulted for the German government as regards African affairs. I just featured on the new book published by the German president called Partnership with Africa. I wrote about Cyberspace and Cyber technology. I travelled with the German minister of External Affairs on his first visit to African. I was with him in Ghana and Nigeria. I have attended meetings with the late President Yar’Adua because apart from the music that I do, I am also politically active. I am just privileged to be at home in two distinctively different countries, Nigeria and Germany and I try to bridge the gap and help both countries communicate with each other.
How many albums do you have?
I have albums with Bantu. But with all my various groups.
You talked about politics, where does it come into all this?
If you are sane, open and a conscious Nigerian, you will become political. You must, because this country forces you to take a stand and you have to do something. I am a radical human being. I believe in the principles of humanity and certain comforts that go with being a human being that I expect from any nation I live in. that’s why I am so passionate about what I do in both Germany and Nigeria.
In Germany, if I see racism, I address it and in Nigeria I see all the problems around and I try to suggest ways to tackle them through my work.
How many are you in the family?
We are seven and I am the first. I have three sisters and three brothers, but only two of us are in Nigeria. Every other person is in Germany or the UK. I also have my own family, but I don’t like exposing them to the limelight. I have a very peaceful and supportive family and nothing extraordinary.
The public has no much of me already and I never define myself on the basis of who I am dating or how many children I have.
- This story was first published in ENCOMIUM Weekly on Tuesday, July 06, 2010