Musician, producer, activist and leader of the 13-piece BANTU Band, Ade Bantu (Adegoke Odukoya), speaks about the COVID-19 pandemic, his new album, 'Everybody Get Agenda' and sundry issues in this interview.
How has the creative process been in this season of COVID-19?
It’s been challenging, but I see challenges as opportunities. What I mean by that is last year, we were all caught by surprise globally, but luckily for me, I had an album ready. So, I released a couple of singles and then released an album. I spent most of my time updating my knowledge about the music industry, learning how to promote better online and stuff like that. I saw it as a learning curve. Being at home, I was forced to spend more time doing online tutorials and updating my knowledge base.
As I said, I released an album with BANTU entitled ‘Everybody Get Agenda’. Very political; just reflecting on the times. And yes, it has done well. It was No 3 on the Transglobal World Music Chart; it was No 5 on the European World Music Chart, so I can’t complain. I’m good. That’s good, but the negative is that I can’t tour. I can’t promote an album in Europe, America or Asia, which is sad because you have this incredible feedback. The critics love it, but you can’t engage your fans.
Some people have resorted to virtual performances; what has it been like for you?
It’s been tough. I have a 13-piece band; we are a big band. Doing a virtual performance is nowhere close to a live experience, and obviously, we have the challenges of the internet. How do you broadcast in real-time, and there’s a certain quality people are used to. So, if I want to create broadcast quality, I need technology. I need the human resources; I need investment, so it’s not something artists are supposed to do. Yes, you can hold your phone for one minute or two and engage people, but beyond that, no.
So, it’s been tough for my band and me. We haven’t performed in over a year, and we rehearse. Even rehearsal is tricky. You have to maintain social distancing; how do you rehearse with the mask? I have horn players; they can’t play horns with the cover. So, it’s been tough.
Can you quantify in monetary terms what you may have lost to the pandemic? I mean not being able to perform?
We have been doing Afropolitan Vibes for almost seven years, so we perform monthly. We rehearse two, three times a month, so how do you quantify that? How do you quantify the fact that we lost a European tour and the possibility of touring Africa as well? You don’t want to qualify it in monetary terms, or else you lose your mind. Once you pull out the calculator and start typing in the numbers, you’ll fall into a depression. So, what I think is more important is to look at the bright side of life and say, ok, we are alive. We lost friends, family during the Covid-19 pandemic, we are still cautious, and ultimately, it’s about the safety of your band and the safety of your audience as well. And you don’t want to take any risk.
In your opinion, are our musicians responding as they ought to in terms of raising awareness about socio-cultural and political issues?
I think they are doing it. We have some artists, I mean, people who came out during the EndSars Movement. They identified with the movement; they went on stage and made statements. Now, in terms of the politics in the music, there’s very little to show. But it’s a reflection of the realities. I won’t lash out at the young ones because, let’s face it, since 2007 officially, history is not being taught in our schools. So, if you don’t have the background knowledge, you’d be very mindful to start criticising things that you don’t fully understand.
But then again, you can say every Nigerian goes through hardship. We know what fuel scarcity feels like. We see what insecurity, kidnappings feel like, so the onus is also ultimately on the creative to respond to the crisis in a creative way. To engage government and stakeholders because 20, 30, 40 years down the line, what will people remember you for? Were you on the side of the oppressed or the oppressor? That’s your choice.
You disclosed that your latest album is political. Were you not worried about its commercial success given the preponderance of love and other flighty themes in our music?
I have enjoyed commercial success. The question now is you want to build a legacy. You want to create a catalogue, a body of work that people can fall back to, say in 2018, 2019, 2020; this is what Nigeria felt like. This was what was happening. When you pick up a book written by [Professor Wole] Soyinka, when you pick up ‘Ake’, ‘Ibadan’ or Chinua Achebe, you time travel and feel the politics of the time. You feel what people at that very moment were feeling. What their angst was, what their hopes and aspirations were.
I think music has to do the same. So, I’m not bothered at all. What I know is that there are people that identify with my music. I’ve never been mainstream; I don’t crave mainstream attention. If I get it, I’m happy, no doubt. But my ego doesn’t need it. I’ve found other ways to survive with music without having to sell my soul.
Lagos is gradually opening up. I mean, event centres can now accommodate up to 500 people. Are you thinking of bringing back Afropolitan Vibes?
Yes, we are thinking of bringing it back. We will test run some Bantu Concerts in the coming months to see how it feels like. What are the safety protocols in real-time, and what kind of safety measures can we offer our audiences because it’s not only about us. God forbid, people come to your concert and get infected. It’s going to be very bad and tragic, so you always have to weigh the odds, and you try to be as responsible as possible because it’s not over. Europe is in its third wave, Latin America. Yes, we are not seeing people dying on the streets, but who knows. If a new variant comes into town, we are in trouble.
Some artists are against the COVID-19 vaccine; what’s your stance?
I mean, that’s stupid. You have the vaccine, it’s been tried, tested, and I’ve taken my shot. That says it all. I’m not somebody that’s into conspiracy theories and all of that; I work with science. If the European Union, United States, WHO say it is safe, hey, I’ll line up and take it because, as I’ve said, I’ve lost friends. This thing is real. It’s not a myth. And I know people that have survived, but I don’t want to go through it. I don’t want to end up in a hospital and depend on a ventilator, especially not in Nigeria, because it’s very tricky. Our health services are shambolic; no need to go into details. We know what’s happening in the country with the health infrastructure.