Bantu plays Berlin

Friday nights in Lagos can be heady. In 2013 those nights got even headier when Ade Bantu, singer and songwriter, took to Freedom Park, starting a concert with friend Abby Ogunsanya. Named Afropolitan Vibes and held third Friday every month, the concert became a melting pot of peoples, drawn in part by artists living in the city who received the memo early.

The Bantu band
The Bantu band

Two years later, the concert has paid the price for success: it attracts a larger audience than may care for the live music Afropolitan Vibes routinely supplies and featured guests include more and more pop stars. Yet Ade Bantu and his Bantu band have made pop royalty and their subjects bend to the concert’s rules—the artists play live, a novelty for Nigeria’s mainstream players and instead of champagne, the crowd drinks the homebrewed palmwine. You can say the art scene is nothing without compromise.

In mid-September the band moves its blend of afrobeat, hip-hop, highlife and afrofunk to Berlin, Germany’s capital and a city with a long association with varied strains of music. As guests of Siemens Stiftung (the Siemens Foundation, independent from the Siemens company) the man and his band will play at the European city’s Buergerfest (Citizen’s Festival) hosted by German President Joachim Gauck.

It is not a strange gig: Ade Bantu has been associated with Germany since birth—he is part German. He has lived there and in 2001 was part of the Brothers Keepers movement, a group of musicians speaking (or in this case, rapping) about European racism and xenophobia. In that regard the Buegerfest and Bantu were made for each other since the festival historically honours social engagement as important part of civil society.

Some of that social engagement shows up Friday nights in Lagos. At the most recent edition of Afropolitan Vibes the gangly musician urged his audience to ask the Buhari-led government to ‘bring back our girls’, referring to the Chibok girls kidnapped well over a year ago. A year is a lifetime but Ade Bantu hasn’t forgotten.

Going from Nigeria to Europe means he may need to speak about such matters. And already he has answered related questions. ‘The situation in Nigeria is difficult,’ he said recently. ‘The Boko Haram terror attacks in the northeastern part of the country are ever-present. We couldn’t just put up with that.’

Ade Bantu also spoke about a need for structure in Nigeria’s music industry, giving credit to Music in Africa’s online platform. ‘The new platform “Music in Africa” is certainly an important step in the right direction,’ he said.

‘For the first time, everything is on one platform, available for everyone. I know some of the authors. They come straight from the scene that they are writing about. That gives the content authenticity that their peers are looking for. It strengthens the individual artists, but also the music sector as a whole.’

Moreover, his knowledge of the German language means Ade Bantu stands in a position to take the idea of Music in Africa, a platform he has been involved with since inception, to the people of Germany. To that end, besides his life and work, Bantu will discuss the platform. He will be joined onstage by Nathalie von Siemens, managing director at the Siemens Stiftung.

Bantu carries Lagos’s energy, long a massive, mythic component of the city, to Berlin’s Bellevue Palace via music. And the band will be back from Europe to the Nigerian city in time for the September edition of Afropolitan Vibes. Perhaps together with music and activism, he’ll bring back Berlin stories to the concert’s growing audience in Lagos.

As the man himself has said, ‘Berlin will be an adventure…we are looking forward to it!’

The Bantu band performs 12 September at the Bellevue Palace in Berlin. Free entry.


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