Adé Bantu (Adegoke Odukoya), multiple award-winning Nigerian-German born musician, producer and activist, obviously wears many hats.
However, one thing that stands him out is his passion for positive change and a better society. This resonates in his music, lifestyle, activism and personal initiatives like the BornTroWay Creative Arts Project, which offers talented youths in marginalized areas across Nigeria the platform and artistic tools to express their voices and skills. “I like researching, learning new things and helping people,” said Ade Bantu, who is also a judge in the MTN Project Fame Reality Television show. His over two decades of making music has seen him produce a string of hits, border-breaking albums and heavyweight musical collaborations – including the single “Rudie (Hold It Down)” together with his brother Don Abi (Abiodun Odukoya), German reggae singer Gentleman and UB40.
He is also the founder of the Afro-German musical collective and NGO Brothers Keepers, and the frontman of the 12 piece Afrofunk/Afrohiphop collective ‘Bantu’. He was awarded the Nordrhein Westphalia Cultural Prize in 1997 for the Hip-Hop musical “Coloured Children” a piece he wrote and co-directed with Anita Berger.
In this exclusive interview, Ade Bantu (Brotherhood Alliance Navigating Towards Unity), spoke candidly about different issues, including how a personal tragedy shaped his life and career.
SU: What influenced your decision to move back to Nigeria, despite the insecurity and the personal tragedy that led to your family returning to Germany?
ADE BANTU: It was a spontaneous decision. I felt I needed a change of environment. After spending close to 20 years in Germany I wanted out. I wanted to challenge myself, step out of my comfort zone and try something new.
SU: How did your mum react to this relocation to a country where your dad was murdered in the 80s?
ADE BANTU: Initially, my mum wasn’t happy with my decision to relocate. You have to remember we left Nigeria broken hearted; we were forced into exile after my dad’s death. It took some time for her to come to terms with the fact that I had decided to return “home”. I think it was all part of a healing process for my family and me. I took the lead because I knew we had to find peace and let go of our pain. I have forgiven, but not forgotten. The tragedy I experienced as a teenager has shaped me and the decisions I’ve made.
SU: What expectations did you have then?
ABE BANTU:On hindsight, the relocation itself was a project I’d been working on ever since I released my first single “Nzogbu” in 2000. The feedback I got from Nigeria influenced my decision to come home regularly either to perform or engage my audience with new material. So for the past 13 years, I’ve been toying with the idea of returning to Nigeria – making it home.
SU: What do you like about Lagos?
ADE BANTU: Lagos is highly addictive. I spent my formative years in this city and got hooked. While in Germany, I had serious withdrawal syndromes, (so) I needed the noise, traffic and madness fix. Lagos is in your face. Finding your voice or yourself in this city is one of the most daunting tasks you can imagine, but it is extremely rewarding. Lagos forces you to evaluate what you stand for and how much you are willing to compromise.
SU: How are you handling the transition from Cologne, Germany, to Lagos, Nigeria?
ADE BANTU: So far so good. I haven’t lost my sanity (but sometimes I feel I’m close to it). I don’t compare both cities. They are two separate and unique places. Once I land in Lagos, I leave Ade the guy from Cologne at the airport, (and) Ade Lagos steps in. That’s the best way to be open to the experience called Lagos or else you’ll end up frustrated, angry and exhausted.
SU: Would you advice others in diaspora to move back?
ADE BANTU: I would certainly advice others to come back, but they need to take their time; it’s a gradual process. Visit as often as you can, make new friends, find out where you fit best, what you can bring to the table. It took me 10 years to finally say I was ready. Although my move was impulsive, it was calculated.
SU: You performed in the 2012 concert to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the “Get Off Your Ass! Speak Up” anti-racism manifesto in Cologne. How was your experience?
ADE BANTU: Performing at “Get Off Your Ass! Speak Up” was one of the highlights of my musical career. It’s not every day that you get to perform in front of a crowd of 100,000 – in winter for that matter. I was touched by the determination and commitment of the citizens of Cologne who rallied for this outdoor concert to say, “We refuse to condone racism and fascism in our city, we will stand up and raise our voices.”
SU: Who would you like to be on tour with?
ADE BANTU: I would love to tour with some of Nigeria’s musical legends. I feel we need to bridge the gap that music television and programmed radio pop formats have created. This wonderful elders need to be celebrated and honoured.
SU: Which music legends in particular?
ADE BANTU: Fatai Rolling Dollar, Paulson Kalu, Oriental Brothers, Orlando Julius.
SU: Celebrities often complain that fame comes with a ‘special’ burden? Do you feel that is also your experience?
ADE BANTU: I don’t feel any burden at all. I never take myself too seriously. I am only human, flesh and blood. I don’t believe all the hype. I try to be polite and humble because that’s how my parents raised me.
SU: How does it feel being one of the most desirable musicians around? Do you see yourself as a sex symbol?
ADE BANTU: Desirable at my age??? You are killing me! Well, on a serious note, I never went into music to get girls or drive fancy cars. My greatest teachers have been women. I adore them, but in a respectful way. I respect them.
SU: If you could meet anyone in the world dead or alive, who would that be and what would you say to them?
ADE BANTU: I would like to meet Muhammad Ali. I’d like to shake his hand and thank him for standing up against injustice, for never compromising his beliefs.
SU: If you didn’t become a musician, what other occupation would you have liked?
ADE BANTU: I would have liked to be a lawyer. I like researching and learning new things, helping people.
SU: Where do you see Nigerian music in the next five years, especially with the growing popularity on the continent?
ADE BANTU: These are great times for Nigerian music. I’m proud of the new creed of musicians/artistes and the way they are holding their own. My only major concern is that everyone’s sounding alike. There is no sincerity, no one is willing to take creative risks. It’s formularised music. The big question is, “can it stand the test of time?”
SU: How can we curb piracy, a major problem in the Nigerian music industry?
ADE BANTU: Piracy can never be stopped. Not as long as Nigerian artists are paying for Alaba marketers to pirate their works, not as long as the Nigerian government is only paying lip service and not implementing existing anti-piracy laws, not as long as we don’t have a proper distribution network.
SU: What advice would you give to people who want to get into music?
ADE BANTU: Get an education, get a life. Learn an instrument, stay grounded, find your voice, take risks and be open to life.