Everybody Get Agenda! Nor Be So? BANTU: Between the Band & a Burgeoning ‘Brigandage’ -Abiodun Bello

Bantu! Many would almost swear they understood the word.

But, such tempting assurance of an exhaustive knowledge of the word has often revealed to me nothing less than an academic self-assurance which, at best, only scrapes the semantic essence of the word from a periphery.

Beyond its anthropological references as a language family, a contiguity of cultural communes and a 4000-year-old southwards migration on the continent of Africa – though the band symbolically represents all of these dimensions – this BANTU assumes more than a word. It has gone beyond a mere lexical signage to becoming the embodiment of an ideological conversation!

This is a verdict!

The latest release by BANTU (an acronym for Brotherhood of Africa Navigating Towards Unity) is a statement of social and populist rebellion, sure to gain resonance everywhere that oppressive tendencies have held sway for too long.

It passes as an acid test unleashed against the already long-lasting and lofty precipices of dominant forces of approximate politics and obstructive tendencies of colonial-inherited elitism on the African continent.
Having maintained a close proximity with the ‘alter-native’ music band for about a decade on account of my anthropological and cultural studies research, I seemed to have taken a lot for granted about the group due to frequent rapport with its leadership.

I had watched the band evolve from its early days when its first Nigerian-released album did pay some homage to Third World’s ‘Lagos Jump’. I had watched the band through the year of release of ‘No Man Stands Along’ in which the track ‘I’m Waiting’ featuring the artful collaboration with a soul sister, Nneka, had partly constituted the subject of one of my research contributions for an academic journal.

The glimmers of BANTU’s restless radicality became, once again, noticeable when the group decided on a road trip to Mali in 2017, the aftermath of which witnessed the subsequent release of the album Agbero International.

Then, I would later have the opportunity to take on translation works for the then yet-to-be-released album, Everybody Get Agenda, which recently made its debut. This was in the very throes of the coronavirus pandemic and, listening through the tracks of the studio mixes of the album’s songs, it felt as though, while the masses of the Nigerian populace had sat back in their characteristic laidback fashion, BANTU had gone ahead to re-embody the very spirit of resilience needed to confront, at the time of the lockdown, the brazen public announcements, by government officials, of overexaggerated ‘palliative’ packages, evidenced in the display of physical wads of naira notes by public officers and in the numbers that had hit the news headlines in terms of overall expenditures caused by the new coronavirus outbreak.

Residing in the new collection of songs by BANTU is the very spirit of social justice crying through the vocals, the instrumentation, and, indeed, through the composite of the entire 15-piece music ensemble. The album features Ade Odukoya (Ade Bantu) as lead vocal), alongside other band members such as Ayomikun ‘MideTheMusicMan’ Aigbokan (vocal), Abigail Ireoluwa Allen (vocal, adlib), Damilola ‘DharmiWillz’ Williams (vocal), Peter Sadibo (bass), Babajide Okegbenro (keys), Olufemi Sanni (guitar), Olukorede Omirinlewo (guitar), Dede Odede (drums), Tunde ‘Jimmy’ Alabi (drums), Abiodun ‘Wurasamba’ Oke (percussion), Akinkunmi Olagunju (talking drums), Opeyemi Oyewande (trumpet and all horn arrangements), Isaiah Odeyale (trombone), and Akinyanmi Akinhinmola (saxophone). The band also features in the album other names such as Seun Kuti, Ibrahim Oyetunji (ewì), Joyce Olong (vocal), Felicia Ogar-John (vocal), Tosin Alade (guitar solo) and Aman Junaid (vocal).
From both the music and its cinematic interpretation, ‘Animal Carnival’ is a dramatic and pseudo-operatic approximation of the spate of public stealing, misappropriations and the general spirit of larceny that the Nigerian public service system has come to be associated with.

These are often accompanied and perfected with a flurry of alibis of money missing through alleged zoophilous means. Hence, ‘kò ṣeku, kò ṣẹyẹ… àdán ò ṣeku kò ṣẹyẹ’ (neither a rat nor a bird… the bat is neither a rat nor a bird) is a metaphorical imagining of the ambivalence that marks the identity of public office-holders who at once pass as a national contradiction of patriotism and traitorhood. As such, magic and miracle e plenti eh. It is close to ‘magic and miracle’ how politicians and their protégés are able to navigate through these paradoxical and illogical identity contraptions.

As typical of the referenced West African country, like many other counterfeit democracies on the continent, the system counterattacks any forms of public resistance against the perpetuation of these criminal offences through seeming ‘zoonotic’ rather than human agents. ‘Currently, the freedom of expression, right to protest and of peaceful assembly is being threatened in Nigeria’ and ‘We cannot afford to remain silent’ are the graphic markers of the opener to the video version of ‘Disrupt the Programme’. Nothing is as confrontational and rallying as the spirit of this song, which wholly speaks to the centuries-long history of mind control and the prolonged programming of the people’s social psyche by the ruling class, coming either in the form of civilian rulers or as military juntas.

It is a direct and compelling call to the artist’s fellow compatriots to rise up for the fight for their freedom from every form of systemic oppression. The song is, symbolically, an emancipatory voice that consciously mobilises a reorientation of the masses and summons their debriefing from all the years of counterintuitive conditioning which was set in motion both by their colonial and homegrown oppressors.
We must to disrupt di programme
Put san-san for dia gari
Regain our freedom
By every means necessary

We must disrupt the programme
Put a clog in their wheel
Regain our freedom
By every means necessary

Appropriating the artistic agency and ideological resources of Afrobeat, this revolutionary-spirited track takes pride in the potency of the power of rebellion by which means it places a demand on drastic social change. It frowns at, and challenges, the tendentious passivity that often defines the people’s stance in the face of violence, massacres and insurrections that blemishes the national landscape, while condemning the ready-made responses usually presented by governments, which is often tailored towards muting the masses as well as dissuading them from making any well-meaning moves, such as staging public protests to express that rejection of the status quo:

Oga, no tell me say
Make I hol’ my anger
Make I no make-e noise
Make I cool-e temper
Wen herdsmen dey slaughter
Massacre we brother
For Benue, Ekiti, Enugu, Zamfara
Hundreds dey die
Dey kpeme like fly
Blood-e dey flow
Government dey turn eye
Silent indifference…

Hey man, don’t you tell me
To hold back my anger
And make no noise
And to cool my temper
While herdsmen carry on with slaughter
And the massacre of our brothers
In Benue, Ekiti, Enugu and Zamfara
While hundreds die,
Are annihilated like flies
With blood flowing
And government looking the other way
With silent indifference…

This track is effectively complemented by ‘Yeye Theory’, an Afrobeat collaboration with Seun Kuti, which also makes a great impression as a call for resistance – resistance against the long history of false enlightenment, miseducation and sub-westernisation to which the colonial project had disproportionately subjected African people, indeed like their colonies in Asia and the Americas. The colonial agenda never ends as this is manifest in the subtle introduction of an ‘s’ that aims to transform ‘Afrobeat’ into ‘Afrobeats’. In essence, the colonialists continue to find more avenues to appropriate Africa and its resources – in materials and in ideas – for themselves.

Other songs in the album include ‘Big Lie’ which calls on the people to be sceptical and not take to heart, hook line and sinker, every idea that is thrown at them by canny countrymen and political players within the polity. This work combines the message and the music in a most subtle style that blends the bluesy ballad with a call out of the collective conscience of fellow citizens.

Following the same artistic train and motif, tracks such as ‘Killers and Looters’ and ‘Man Know Man’ likewise call out political actors and their likes, while ‘Water Cemetery’ is a critical lamentation on the spate of trans-Mediterranean migration and forced journeys which Africans of the millennium undertake. Youthful Africans – still possessing the vim and vigour much needed by the labour sector of their respective countries – more than ever quest for a migration to Europe but most unfortunately end up not only as victims of trafficking but as dead bodies in the open seas. This is a testament of migrations occasioned and compelled by poor governments and governance in many African countries – an unfortunate legacy from colonial to postcolonial Africa!

Indeed, the three-minutes-plus ‘Jagun-Jagun’ (‘warrior’ or ‘fighter’), rendered purely in the style of Yoruba praise poetry (ewì or orìkì) embodies the very spirit and essence of the album-project – the bravery and fearlessness needed to face oppression in all its ramifications and to bring down all its hitherto enduring structures. The artist seems to make the impression that, without an adoption of the fighting spirit and disposition of a warrior, the repressive norms might have to subsist for a long time.

Altogether, the Everybody Get Agenda vinyl is a lyrical complex of rhythms revenge and an assemblage of thoroughbred postcolonial ideas borne on the wafting wings of a populist idiom. In several instances, the horn and guitar sessions as well as the vocals somewhat recall antecedent folksy traditions of Nigerian music scene in the 1960s and 1970s of Ofege, the Lijadu Sisters and other Afro-sounding bands.

While the album shares deep resonance with the agonistic theme of W.E.B. Du Bois’ The Souls of Black Folk, the soul essence of a people is captured in the luring rhythm of every song, their yearnings are also never lost in the strict and exacting lyrics. The song-personae altogether represent a polyphony of diverse and dehumanised demographics in an average African state. Though discrete in their voices, they are united in the nature of their desires and demands.

BANTUS’s Everybody Get Agenda is a postcolonial testament paying homage to a long history of abortive African dreams and grim human conditions that accrete as the fateful legacies of colonial intrusion and homegrown political tyrannies.

Hence, in the aftermath of political independence in Africa, everybody has got an ‘agenda’, perhaps conflicting agendas which the ruling class and the subaltern class ‘reconcile’ only through perpetual social tensions and caustic dialogue. This is the overarching message in BANTU’s impressive new album release.

Caveat! This review was never intentional. It’s an accident! An accident of thoughts craving to be set free!

Abiodun Bello PhD is a poet, an author, Yoruba translator, cultural researcher and academic scholar.

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