Two years after the success of Agberos International, BANTU has a new album titled Everybody Get Agenda. Recorded at Rigmaroll & Blackstar Studio in Lagos, mixed by Manu Schlindwein in Cologne, German (Patrice, Mariama, Angelique Kidjo), and produced by Grammy Award winning producer & engineer Aman Junaid (George Clinton, TLC) it is mastered by Tony Dawsey (Jay Z, GangStarr, Nine Inch Nails, Whitney Huston).
There are bands and there are BANDS. Especially in Africa, home to so many of the greatest and funkiest bands in history – from Fela to Sunny Ade, Miriam Makeba to Youssou Ndor, Ali Fakr to Mulatu; African artists have set the standard for the highest forms of musical unity and togetherness of the last half century.
BANTU is one of those BANDS. But unlike the great bands of old, and even some of the greatest artists of this generation, BANTU is distinguished by the fact that while created and fronted by vocalist Ade Bantu, it is unmistakably a collective, collaborative effort. When you have a band this strong, this tight where everyone gets to shine, magic happens. And once again, perhaps even more than their last superlative release, Agberos International, this new album is pushing the boundaries of funkiness and political prowess for contemporary music, in Africa or globally.
Formed as an acronym of Brotherhood Alliance Navigating Towards Unity (BANTU) by brothers Ade Bantu and Abiodun in Germany in 1996 the group has created a unique and immediately recognizable fusion of Afrobea, Afrofunk & Yoruba music.
From its first release, “No Vernacular in 1996 to the present, BANTU has scored a series of hits across Europe and Africa garnering itself major awards. Indeed, the list of artists who’ve collaborated with BANTU is a testament to the power, originality and talent of the band: an international cornucopia including UB40, Tony Allen, Patrice, Brothers Keepers (which they created), Xavier Naidoo, Gentleman and Burna Boy just to name a few. These collaborations helped the band earn several major Continental awards, including the Kora Awards (the Pan African equivalent of the Grammys) for “Best Group West Africa” and “Best Group Africa” while securing others such as the Channel O Music Video Awards and The Headies.
Driven by a strong desire for social justice the band’s lyrics address issues around corruption, injustice, migration, xenophobia and urban alienation. Asides from recording and composing music BANTU have been credited with the recent revival of the live music scene in Nigeria through Afropolitan Vibes a monthly concert series & music festival that they have been hosting for over 7 years in Lagos. The show has featured over 160 top Nigerian and international acts and was voted as “one of the world’s best music events of the moment” by The Village Voice.
Everybody Get Agenda is the most extensive and international recording effort yet undertaken by the band. As the album is being prepared for release in September, BANTU has been busy releasing singles while working on remixes of some of their tracks. “We’ve learned so much from the acts that are already established fully on the international stage like Seun, Femi, Pat Thomas and the rest. We feel that there’s a specific route that they’ve branched into and we can also be part of that journey as well by touring more and sharing the music on a global scale. With this album and this material, we are very confident, a vision created by all of us and we’re feeding of the energy.”
“Animal Carnival” kicks off the album and from the moment the funky guitar starts, it off your mouth starts to grin. When the drums and then the horns – the horns! – soon follow the grin expands to an wide-open smile and an astonished gasp, followed by a grunty “Yes!” that any true Afrobeat fan will recognize comes when that West African groove hits your musical g-spot. It is simply Afrobeat at its best, cementing Bantu’s place in the funk pantheon. Once the funky fog in your head clears a bit from the music, pay attention to the lyrics. “Animal Carnival” is basically the greatest hits of the Frankfurt School of Kritische Theorie – Critical Theory, which clearly entered Ade’s mindstream during his years in Germany, brought to life in a way even the infamously grumpy Theodor Adorno would have nodded his head along in approval (and maybe even in time with the beat).
With the opening lines of “Magic and miracle plenty eh/Some dey close eye others dey shine eye dey pray,” we know the lyrics are going to match the sophistication of the music. “In this land of confusion, big illusion… Dem go finger we brain lie with no shame. Animal Carnival don start again” points to just manipulatable people are to whatever politics is handed to them, while the chorus, “Kò sẹ ékú kò sẹ ẹyẹ/Àdán ò sẹ ékú kò s’ẹyẹ” (It’s not a rat, It’s not a bird/A bat is not a rat and it is not a bird) uses a familiar Yoruba metaphor to mock the “supernatural” events around the disappearance of millions of Dollars in Nigeria. And that’s just verse 1. But with a sound and a vibe this good and this authentic, Nigerians will have no choice but to listen and, one hopes, take action.
The album’s second track, “Disrupt the Program,” doesn’t let us, musically or politically. With a slamming groove over the sound of a crowd chanting “Freedom!” the lyrics come in on the chorus: “We must disrupt the programme/regain our freedom by any means necessary,” Ade sings as the band moves from the tonic to the minor v7 and then minor iv7 chords, adding a jazzy feel to hard minor funk. And when the verses kick in with lines like “Silent indifference dem go play with our sense” we know once again BANTU is giving us a lesson in contemporary Nigerian – and as important, global – politics that we won’t stop listening too because the sugar of the music makes the medicine go down just right.
“Water Cemetery” begins with a more R&B piano groove into a beautiful lament: “Plenty, Plenty body for open sea/Mediterranean na cemetery. Yeah o Africa future dey die o” – a line you won’t be able to stop singing, or shedding many tears over when you think about all the pictures of desperate and dead migrants in the Mediterranean we’ve seen the past half decade. The song was explicitly written to take a confrontational tone that “calls out the bullshit” of African and global elites, “trying to make it clear that we won’t be fooled by the government or its entertainers. We are pointing our fingers at those who are distorting reality and are in denial – or are denying – the kleptocratic class dominating the political landscape of the nation and forcing them to confront these realities.”
“Man Know Man” is also one of the tracks that scream “single release”. The multipart harmonies and R&B groove are meant to slide us easily into a broad critique of the label of Lagos as megacity trying to build a new Singapore, Dubai by eradicating poor, destroying all means of livelihood for the marginalized. “The people need to be heard; we need to amplify their voices, pain range and that needs to be done through music because everyone is looking away. We’re talking about things that people know, might be aware of but aren’t addressing.”
“Cash and Carry” is an uptempo banger that is sure to be a dance floor hit, so groovy and catchy it’s hard to know if people will take the time to listen to the songs message about the disease of corruption when “Everybody get agenda… with their mercenary enterprise.” But if you get lost in the groove, don’t worry, “Killers & Looters” will bring you back down to earth. It’s gritty groove and expansive horns (featuring a baritone sax that totally gives a new dimension to the typical Afrobeat horn sound) that pointedly declares in English and Yoruba that “Dem go mock our suffering/Laugh at our pain/Killer and looters don start again.”
“Yeye Theory,” another standout track in an album filled with them, features Ade Bantu’s old friend Seun Kuti, with whom Ade finally had the chance to collaborate for the new album. “Seun is blazing trail for those of us that are doing what we do with live music because he’s been grinding massively and getting the international success. We were able to work in a very uncalculated and organic way and the results, on the song “Yeye Theory” are something we’re really proud of.”
Indeed! There is no doubt that with Everybody Get Agenda BANTU has not just charted new musical territory but reached it and planted the flag. It will be fun(ky) to see who has the talent and guts to join him there but it will likely be a pretty lonely place. -Mark Levin-
Disrupt The Programme: https://youtu.be/QeNVVa_pb1Q
Animal Carnival: https://youtu.be/dgz49V9M7bA