Adegoke Odukoya, popularly known as Ade Bantu, is a Nigerian-German musician, producer and social activist. He is the front man of the 13-piece band, BANTU and the creator of the monthly concert series and music Festival Afropolitan Vibes. Ade Bantu is also the founder of the Afro-German musical collective Brothers Keepers. In this interview with TONY OKUYEME, he bares his mind on sundry issues including his band, music and COVID-19 pandemic
How has the COVID-19 pandemic affected you since last year?
I was forced to spend more time doing online and stuff like that. I saw it as a learning curve, so, being at home I was forced to spend more time doing online tutorials and updating my knowledge base. And as I said I released an album with Bantu last year, titled ‘Everybody Get Agenda’. It is very political, just reflecting on the times. And, yes, it’s done well; it was number three on the Transglobal World Music chat. It was number five on the European World Music chat. So, I can’t complain. I’m good. It’s good but the negative is that I cannot tour, so I cannot go and promote an album in Europe or in America or in Asia, which is really sad because you have this incredible feedback, the critics are loving it, but you can’t you can’t engage fans on your music.
You talked about live performances, which is an area a lot of people are talking about. But beyond the album, how has it been?
It’s been tough. I have a 13-piece band, we are a big band, and doing a virtual performance is nowhere close to a live experience. And then, obviously, we have the challenges of internet, so, how do broadcast in real time. And there is a certain quality people are used to, so if I want to create broadcast quality, I need the technology, I need the manpower, I need the investment. So, it is not something that I think artistes are supposed to do. Yes, you can hold your phone for one minute or two minutes and engage people but beyond that, nothing. So it’s really tough for me and my band. We haven’t performed in over a year. And even rehearsals, it is tricky because you have to maintain social distance. How do you rehearse with mask on? I have horn players; they can’t play horn with the mask on. So it’s really tough.
Can you quantify what you may have lost in terms of money or financial values due to the COVID- 19 pandemic?
We are a band that actually we’ve been doing Afropolitan Vibes almost seven years. We perform on monthly bases; we rehearse two, three times a month. So, how do you quantify that? How do quantify the fact that we lost a European tour and the possibility of touring Africa as well. So, you don’t want to quantify it in monetary terms or else you lose your mind, because once you pull out the calculator and you start typing in the numbers you will fall into a depression. So, what I think is more important is just to look at the bright side of life and say, ok, well, we’ve lost friends, family members during the COVID-19 pandemic, we are still being very careful. And ultimately it is about the safety of your bands and the safety of your audience as well. And you don’t want to take any risk.
A great number of our musicians, especially the older ones, use their music to also address sociopolitical issues. Do you think our musicians also doing this, in terms of addressing issues beyond love, romance relationship and so on?
Some are doing it. For instance, people came out during the #EndSARS movement; they identified with the movement, they went on stage, they made statements. In terms of the politics in the music, there is very to show. But it’s a reflection of the realities, I mean, I won’t lash out at the young ones,because, let’s face it, since 2007, officially, history is not being thought in our schools. So, if you don’t have the background knowledge, you will be very mindful to start trying to criticize things that you don’t fully understand. But then again, you can say every Nigerian goes through hardship, and we know what fuel scarcity feels like; we know what insecurity and kidnapping feels like. So, the onus is ultimately also on the creative to respond to the crisis in a creative way and to engage government and stakeholders, because ultimately in 20, 30 or 40 years down the line, what will people remember you for? Were you on the side of the oppressed or on the side of the oppressor? That is your choice.
Your latest album, like you said, is political, were your not afraid that it will not be a commercial success, since it is political and not love and other flashy things?
To be honest with you, the question is, do you want to build a legacy? Do you want to build a catalogue or body of work that people respect or that people can fall back to and say: ‘Ok, in 2018, 2019 or 2020, this is what Nigeria felt like, this was what was happening. It is like when you pick up a book written by Wole Soyinka, or a book written by Chinua Achebe, you time travel and you feel the politics of the time, you feel what people at that very given moment were feeling, what their angst were, what their hopes and aspirations were. And I think music has to do the same. So, I am not bothered at all. What I know is that there are people that identify with my music. I don’t crave for mainstream attention, if I get it I am happy, no doubt, but my ego doesn’t need it. I have found other ways to survive with music without having to sell my soul.
The restriction is gradually opening up, at least they have the event centres to start open, with about 500 people. Any plan bring back Afropolitan Vibes on stage?
We are definitely thinking of bringing it back; we are going to test-run some Bantu concerts in the coming months, just to see how it feels like; what are the safety protocols in real time? And what kind of safety measures can we actually offer or audiences as well, because it is not only about us. God forbid, people come to your concert and they all get infected, it is going to be very bad and tragic as well. So, you always have to weigh the odds and try to be as responsible as possible because it is not over. Europe is in its third way, Latin America and so on, here, we are not seeing people dying on the streets. But who knows, if there is a new variant that comes into town, we are in trouble.
A lot people have raised doubt and concern about the COVID-19 vaccine. What is your take about this?
I think that is stupid. The vaccine has been tried, it has been tested, and I have taken my shot. That says a lot. I’m not somebody that is into conspiracy theories and all of that. I work with science. And if the European Union, the United States, and the World Health Organisation (WHO) say it is safe to be taking, I will line up and take it because, as I have said, I lost friends. This thing is real; it is not a myth. And here, I know people that have survived, but I don’t want to go through it. I don’t want to end up in the hospital and depend on a ventilator, especially not in Nigeria because it is very tricky. Our health services are just in shambles.