Photo by Eric R. Greiner.
Over two weeks ago, instead of taking a day off to enjoy their return to Zucotti Park, Occupy Wall Street protesters took to the Nigerian Consulate in Manhattan to protest the recent death of 23-year-old Occupy Nigeria activist, Mustafa Obopiyi. The story may have fallen from the headlines but for many American and native Nigerians, his death serves a reminder that the trials and strife of their homeland can never wander far out of mind.
This week, BreakThru Radio had the chance to interview native Nigerian and afrobeat artist Baoku Moses about a life spent in social activism through music and how recent episodes of authoritarian violence in his home country have impacted his muses.
BreakThru Radio: When did you first hear about the Occupy movement’s presence in your homeland of Nigeria?
Baoku Moses: Tuesday January 3rd, a day after the protest began. Despite the fact that I am in the U.S., Nigeria and her children are dearly close to my heart, and of course, I still have my family and friends there.
BTR: What was your first interaction with the Occupy movement?
BM: Well my first reaction to the situation was to contact my family and close friends in Nigeria to make sure they were OK. Now, my first interaction was talking briefly with Seun Kuti, wishing him good luck as he was mobilizing people and encouraging the masses, just like Fela did, to join the struggle against the inconsiderate, corrupt government. I left him a note to wish him well as he was heading to the protest.
BTR: What is the political climate of Nigeria like at this time?
BM: Just like I expected, everything is back to normal — that is as far as the protest goes and people going back to work — after they are about to slightly reduce prices. Yeah, the government throws in a little bone and the dogs are back to laying down and obeying. What remains, though, is the fact that during the extreme spike in price, first, we all know tons of money were made by those that are in charge. Secondly, everything that the common man [and] the masses need to be able to live their day-to-day life went up in price. Third, the people have to live with the high prices of things because they are never coming back down. Sad, right? But the thing is, I have seen it happen over, and over, and over again. Nigerians, we need to wake up!
BTR: By rising prices, I take it you mean basic commodities like oil and food?
BM: Yes, since 1993 until now some of the commodities that are necessary for day-to-day living of Nigerians have risen over 300%, leaving the sons and daughters of the richest country in Africa living in extreme poverty — 95% 0f them.
BTR: Do you normally worry for the well-being of your family at all even when you’re not hearing stories like this?
BM: Even when there’s no uprising, I am always worrying about my family. Nigeria is not a very easy place to live. Life there is suppose to be better than it is, the people deserve way more than they get by with. And the saddest part of it is that my country, Nigeria, has more than enough to be among the greatest, wealthiest, peaceful, and most comfortable countries in the world — in the form of people, land, minerals, climate, forest, knowledge, history, background, arts, culture, rich traditions, oil, and many, many other resources. But we are suffering because we have never been fortunate to have a good head. As my people’s proverb says, “When the head is sick, the entire body will not be at peace.”
BTR: Is authoritarian violence like in the case of Mustapha Opobiyi a frequent occurrence in Nigeria? Were you surprised at all to hear the news?
BM: It is relevant, and the answer is yes, many have died like that. It happens everyday in every level of our democracy. That is why Fela Kuti pronounced democracy “Demoncrazy” and described it as a “Demonstration of craze.” It happens during campaign, during election and after they are in the office. Anyone who stands up for their rights is killed just like Mustapha. That is what makes Nigeria a teenager when it comes to government, civilization, and politics. You know what I’m saying? Our politicians throw temper tantrums if they don’t get their way. The only difference is that they have power, money, and authority to make very bad things happen, unlike teenagers.
BTR: As a musician, do you have any plans demonstrate support for Occupy Nigeria in the near future?
BM: It is the focus and center of my entire career. I have written over 2000 Afro-beat songs and 75% of it is about unnecessary extreme poverty, suffering, and struggle, which I was born and raised in. I listen and watch millions of my brothers and sisters go through it everyday. They don’t have any vacation or break from it. They wake up in it everyday, live it, feel it, sleep in it, wake up the following day and continue again, and it’s like that for 95% of Nigerians, 365 days a year. So, because of that I’ve never stopped thinking, seeing, feeling, hearing, writing, and singing about it, never. Not when I was home and definitely not while I am here in the U.S. Every time that I pick up my pen or pencil and paper to write, I am demonstrating and protesting, and I have occupied Nigeria’s mind ever since I found Afro-beat in 1997 [check out DJ Meredith’s interview with Baoku on the Afrobeat Show here], and I am still doing so today. The only difference between now that I am in the U.S. and when I was home is that I am opened up to to see that everything is the same everywhere in the world. Humans’ struggle and suffering is just the same everywhere you go in the world because we are in one world and we are one people. What did that realization do to me? It gave me more responsibility to bring people together to see that we are the ones that can bring the change that we all need, no one can do it for us. So, I never stopped contributing to the betterment of Nigeria. Listen to my song, “Free Nigeria”. I look forward to the day that my voice will be heard by many. Well, as for plans? I am working on my next album, and I am looking forward to get my big break, which will enable me to reach many people, occupy their hearts, and hopefully able to contribute to making the world a better and peaceful place to live.
BTR: What, in your opinion, is the best thing that everyday Americans can do for the Nigerian people?
BM: I am too radical in my thoughts to be able to give you an honest answer to that question. It is an old, long, and complicated conversation, which we can have on phone, only if you insist. Oh by the way, I am not afraid to discuss anything.
BTR: Lastly, are there any projects or upcoming events you’re working on right now you’d like the world to know about?
BM: Yes, I am currently working on my second album with a world class producer E.l. Copland, I am touring with my band, The Image Afro-beat Band, playing concerts and festivals around the States. I am available for more concerts, festivals, and other performances anywhere in the world. I am interested in collaboration with artists and musicians of all styles of music. I am very involved in sharing my arts and cultural heritage in my community, as I teach African drum and dance at schools and public arts centers five days a week.
Photo by Baoku Moses, a sculpture in a Nigerian street corner depicts a nation falling apart. As Baoku noted on sending the photo, “The colors represent Nigerian flag, and most importantly, when I saw the sculpture the first time, what came to my mind was a Nigerian map that is falling apart.”
For more on Baoku Moses and updates about his upcoming album you can check out his website here.