The Ade Bantu conversation

A brief look at the life of one of Nigerian-German musician and activist, based upon an exclusive interview granted Music in Africa, on the celebration of the 25th anniversary of his musical career.

Ade Bantu at Freedom Park in Lagos, (c) Aderemi Adegbite
Ade Bantu at Freedom Park in Lagos, (c) Aderemi Adegbite

On May 16 2014, Music in Africa caught up with the legend Ade Bantu, for a conversation, essentially celebrating the 25th anniversary of his musical career. This was a journey into the mind of a genuinely conscious musician and social activist. No layers, no facades. The completely honest and heart-felt account of an incredible life of pain, joy, true sacrifice and dedication to his art, heritage and community.

Born of Nigerian and German parents, he grew up in a loving, tightly knit-family, sadly interrupted by the murder of his father in Lagos in 1986. He relocated to Germany and in reaction to his struggle to assimilate into a new - and sometimes unwelcoming environment, as well as dealing with the tragic loss of a strong and loving father figure, he turned to Hip-hop and the teachings of the Black power movement for answers.

From the nascent beginnings of Rap lines at home and on the streets of Cologne, with his brother Abiodun and fellow "outsiders" (Turkish and Italian Immigrant friends), he grew his raw talents into a fine art. He formed the underground Rap crew- ‘Exponential Enjoyment’ in 1989, which launched Ade (then known as "Duke T") into a career that went beyond the narrow dreams of musical stardom he had assumed would be the end-game. E-E's first single "Think for a moment/Style Introduction" was one of the first German Hip-hop singles- and more was to come. The group recorded the first multi-lingual German Hip-hop album- ‘Chop or quench’ in 1993 and more collaborations followed (Peter Kowald, Advanced Chemistry, Fonk Free + DJ Andre - Weep not child etc) whilst studying for, and eventually obtaining a degree in Engineering.

The band Bantu (Brotherhood Alliance Navigating towards Unity) was formed in 1998 and its first album - the wonderfully titled- ‘Fufu’, featuring the mega-hit ‘Nzogbu’, became his breakthrough into the Nigerian music scene, enjoying serious air-play on radio stations in Lagos and beyond. A side-note to this being that Ade had a year before, been active in the anti-Shell campaigns, [protesting the killing of Ken Saro-Wiwa. Ade was also an active member of the pro-democracy coalition NADECO, with his home at Cologne, serving as a hub for fellow-travellers Lawyer and Human rights activist Ogaga Ifowodo and other activists in exile,

However the most significant project of his career was yet to come. A spate of racist violence had spread through Germany in the late 90's and early noughties, which reached tipping point with the killing of an African Immigrant - Alberto Adriano in 2000. Ade Bantu formed a collective called ‘Brother’s keeper’, which released a single ‘Adriano (die letzte Warnung)’ translation- "Adriano- the last warning", which was a simple message to perpetrators of the racist violence, that Immigrants would no longer endure any more oppression and violence. The single sold over 220,000 copies and became the vocal expression of the frustration and pain of a generation of Immigrants, not just in Germany, but beyond in mainland Europe. The single got to number 5 in the German charts and spawned several collaborations, including a single with legends- UB40 in 2003.

The year 2005 was to be hugely successful year for Ade- he released his eponymously named album- "Bantu", featuring Sly Dunbar etc. As well as a collaborative album "Fuji Satisfaction" with Fuji mega-star, Adewale Ayuba, which won in two categories at the Kora Music awards of the same year. Also the second Brother’s keeper single – ‘Am I my brothers keeper?’ was released to even greater commercial success and critical acclaim than the first. In the same year, he featured on the BBC Africa connection musical project- featuring Thandiswa Mazwai (SA), Cheikh Lo (Senegal) and Kora Master Sekou Kouyate (Guinea).In the following year, his band Afrobeat Academy, performed at the World Cup in Germany and further collaborations and tours continued, with Nigerian artistes like Seun Anikulapo-Kuti, Tony Allen, Siji Awoyinka and many others. Significantly- Awoyinka, Ade and Aby Ogunsanya are in the final stages of production of a major musical legacy project- "Elders Corner", a documentary chronicling Nigeria's (and in one instance Ghana's) musical heritage.

His most defining moment being when he received a telephone call from Harry Belafonte, who requested permission to re-record one of his band's tracks, for use in his bio-pic. A gesture that deeply humbled Ade, the symbolism being that all his sacrifice over the years had finally gained recognition.

As he celebrates his 25th year as an artiste, Ade quotes the strongest influences on his life to be his parents, in his own words:

"My mother taught us to let go of hatred, she lived it. She had suffered hatred, but never bore any grudges. She saw I was an angry young man and taught me to let go and show love to those who showed me hatred"

"My father insisted that I be named Adegoke that defined my destiny..."

A summation of Ade's philosophy:

"It’s about being true to yourself, the fame drug comes and goes, its about a legacy and being conscious of your voice, that you are somebody and in that position you have to be extremely aware of the power of the word, the power of the sound that comes from within you, when you speak and when you perform. I want my children to feel that their father stood for something and that he stood by what he believed in. That has always been top priority, it has never been about the money or the fame....”

Strong words from a genuine neo-African musical hero, may the next 25 years be as fruitful for one of our finest.

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