Headline: Afrobeat star Seun Kuti talks politics, the Super Eagles, Arsenal and the 2010 World Cup
Location: Accra, Ghana
Article Synopsis: Afrobeat star Seun Kuti talks politics, the Super Eagles, Arsenal and the 2010 World Cup
By Ololade Adewuyi
Nigerian Afrobeat music is known for its forthright nature when it comes to social issues, so when its star Seun Kuti talks about Nigerian football on the verge of Nigeria’s qualification for the World Cup, it’s no-holds-barred, sparing no one including administrators, coaches and players. He also talks about his love for Arsenal football club, his dislike of Emmanuel Adebayor and his hopes for the Spanish national team to win the World Cup.
Opening Paragraph: Nigerian Afrobeat music star Seun Kuti holds as many interesting views about football as he does about political satire and protest which his music is best known for.
Keywords: Super Eagles, Arsenal, Cesc Fabregas, Nwankwo Kanu, Obafemi Martins, Manchester City, Yakubu Aiyegbeni, Emmanuel Adebayor, Robin van Persie, World Cup 2010, Kenya, Nigeria, Shaibu Amodu, Afrobeat
Text: Nigerian Afrobeat music star Seun Kuti holds as many interesting views about football as he does about political satire and protest which his music is best known for. First off, he makes no bones about wanting Nigerian national team coach Shaibu Amodu sacked even after successfully seeing the Super Eagles through qualification to the 2010 World Cup in South Africa. And he does not hide the fact that he will be supporting the Spanish national team rather than the Nigerians when the tournament eventually kicks off next June.
Furthermore, he says he was glad to see Emmanuel Adebayor leave the Emirates Stadium, home of his favourite English Premier League club Arsenal, in the summer. Having been quoted in the past berating Adebayor’s goal scoring abilities, he says “I still don’t like him” even now that the Togolese striker has made the switch to Manchester City.
With a slightly bigger build than his famous father, 27 year-old musician Seun Kuti has in recent years become the new face of the protest music left as a legacy by his iconoclast father Fela.
Taking great strides at promoting his maiden album Many Things done alongside the Egypt 80 Band which he inherited from his father, Seun has come into his own. He has been widely quoted on various topics ranging from home turf political protest to the most important topic on the lips of many Africans at the moment, football.
So when we met recently in Accra, Ghana, during his trip to perform as the star act at the four-day High Vibes Music Festival, our major talking point was the final World Cup qualification match between Nigeria and Kenya in Nairobi.
Just emerging from an interview session with Radio France International dressed in a white t-shirt and jeans with white beads around his neck, we head into his suite at the Wangara Hotel where he quickly tunes TV channels and finds that the game is already into its 8th minute. Sounding rather calm, he makes it known from the start that he really does not care so much if the Nigerians qualify for the World Cup.
“I do support them but not like before” he says. “I don’t appreciate the way Nigerian football is being run these days”. He delves into a mini speech about corruption, both in politics and in football administration. You can feel a sense of frustration as he lays all the blame of the country’s poor performances in international sports on the doorstep of administrators who chose to steal funds meant for development.
“Football is an art that brings happiness to a lot of Nigerians, they should do better for their countrymen” he says berating the pitiful allocation that is given to football and predicting that it will end in doom like other sports including track and field.
You can sense he is in a comfortable place as he rails at Nigerian politicians. It is a field in which his family has made a name. His father Fela spent most of his life fighting against injustice in Nigeria through his music, spending several nights in jail for being outspoken. Likewise, his uncle Beko who was a civil rights activist and his grandmother Olufunmilayo who once famously led a group of Abeokuta women in naked protest against a famous king which resulted in the fellow absconding into exile. His elder brother Femi, also an award winning Afrobeat musician, continues to sing about the ills of the Nigerian society.
Our attention reverts to the screen when Kenya takes a lead in the 15th minute through striker Dennis Oliech. Seun shakes his head seeming not to care again and becoming rather sarcastic. “Nigerians were praying that Mozambique should defeat Tunisia (in the other game of the group) but they forgot to pray for Nigeria to at least get a win against Kenya” he says mockingly. He has said several times that he does not believe in any form of religion.
Then he goes on about the football player’s duty to his fatherland as a Nigerian attempt at scoring is fired wide. “The Nigerian player owes the people more than they give” he says questioning their patriotism.
As the first half peters out, the talk moves into the coaching department where he says that the team needs a more capable coach that can make it work better. He admits that he doubts the ability of Shaibu Amodu who has lost only one competitive match since taking over the reins of the Super Eagles after the infamous exit of the German Berti Vogts last year. Amodu won 9 and drew 3 matches in the World Cup qualifying, as well as beat France 1-0 in an international friendly in Paris. When I suggest that a coach’s job is as good as the quality of his players, he disagrees.
“Coaching is very important, look at Real Madrid with all of their stars, shouldn’t they be winning everything? You cannot discount the role of the coach” he declares showing some interesting football knowledge.
He says he plays football as a means of releasing pent up emotions at least twice a week with a five-a-side team in his Lagos neighbourhood when not on tour.
Coming from a musically inclined family cost him the opportunity to pursue football professionally as a left winger. Whilst claiming that it is easier to play football than to do music, he is glad that his family was able to give him the “proper” music knowledge he needed to be grounded in his field having studied at the prestigious Liverpool Institute of the Performing Arts in England.
Seun delves back into discussing Arsenal Football Club and their ambition of winning silverware this season for the first time since 2005. Interestingly, the last time he saw the Gunners play was during their last Premiership win when they had an unbeaten run of 49 games. He had been a guest of former Arsenal forward Nwankwo Kanu while still a student in England, but has not seen them play since.
He feels the club can end their trophy drought this season with the incredible form of his favourite player Cesc Fabregas, the Arsenal captain, and other stars like Robin van Persie hitting great form at the moment. He tells me that the Spanish national team is his favourite international team because of Fabregas and that he would surely be rooting for them to win the World Cup next year.
The second half of the Nigeria/Kenya game resumes and he is quiet for a while. Substitute striker Obafemi Martins scores an all important equalizer in the 62nd minute and there is a sigh of relief all around. Five minutes later Yakubu Ayegbeni puts the Nigerians in the lead and there is jumping and hugging among Seun and his hangers on. He gives me a high-five betraying his concern for the fortunes of the Nigerian team. The interview ends on a high note afterwards as he takes his leave to go for a sound check before his performance later in the evening at the National Theatre.
Eventually, the Kenyans make it even as the match nears its end with a 79th minute header from substitute Allan Wanga. Just as the Nigerians were beginning to count their loss, Martins steps up again to score in the 83rd minute handing the Super Eagles a precious 3-2 victory and a ticket to Africa’s first world cup.
Kuti is dressed in trademark tight black Woodin fabric shirt and trousers with shoes to match, made popular by his father, when we meet in the evening inside his dressing room backstage at the National Theatre. I ask how he feels about Nigeria’s eventual victory and qualification for the World Cup.
“Indifferent” he says, tuning his saxophone as he takes short paces around the room doing last minute practice. When I inform him that Arsenal’s Robin van Persie has been ruled out with an injury for two months after clashing with an Italian defender during a friendly match between the Dutch and the Italians, he stops with disbelief and sits back down on his chair. I hand over my mobile phone so he can read the news via mobile web. He shakes his head and looks on, quiet.
Moments later he takes to the stage under the floodlights amidst drumming and dancing from his fifteen-man band. His voice grows, his eyes widen and he looks like a different person as the spirit of the performance takes over him.
The crowds cheer loudly and follow his every gyrating move screaming “yeah, yeah”. At one point he yanks off his sweat-soaked shirt and the transformation from a football fan into a music star is complete as the sound of his saxophone wafts into the night air. It seems that the last thing on his mind at this moment would be football, but who knows?