"I Am Yoruba-Prussian"
The elderly lady in the tram prefers to stand rather than take the vacant seat next to him, the cashier drops change into his outstretched hand from a secure distance, the shop detective trails him, the king, along every aisle right up to the till.
The musician Adé Bantu sits in his small living room in Cologne. He is thirty-six years old, and his real name is Adegoke Odukoya. "As soon as I step out into the public realm, I am reminded of my otherness," he says.
He has made himself comfortable on the couch. He is wearing jeans and a white sweater, his long dreadlocks fastened back with a hair elastic. There's a television, a stereo and a record player. There are plants on the window sill, and a few family snaps on the shelf. The bookshelf covers an entire wall, there are volumes of poetry, an illustrated history of the world, Picasso, art from Africa, Malcolm X, pioneers for peace, the history of slavery, Nelson Mandela, Muhammad Ali …
Talk about himself? He wonders where to begin. With his birth, perhaps that's the best place to start. London. His parents met in Berlin. His eyes reveal yearning, and pride. "My father came here for his engineering studies, and successfully completed his course," says Adé. Then they moved to England, where he was born. "And then we went on to Nigeria."
Adé was 15 years old when he moved to Germany, to sleepy Leverkusen, with his mother and his three siblings. He only knew the country from visits during the school holidays, but he couldn't speak any German.
"My father was murdered during a robbery in Lagos and my mother then decided to take us back." To a country where people continually asked him how long he was planning to stay. His mother was continually asked if she had adopted the children.
The homeland Issue as a question of loyalty
Growing up with rappers like KRS-One, Public Enemy and Grandmaster Flash, "when rap still had a message and primarily spoke out for equal rights for Afro-Americans," as he says, in the early 1990s Adé discovered the medium that accepted him for what he was: music.
"I went to hip-hop jams all over the place, started rapping and was soon in there at the beginnings of German hip-hop," he says. His music seized upon the spirit of a "New Black Movement" in Germany, which formed and defined itself in the 1980s, as "Afro-German", or "Black German".
Back in 1994, with the song "Afro German", Adé was rapping about the Afro-German identity as a member of the hip-hop group "Weep not Child", and taking part in demonstrations against right-wing radicalism.
He's always having to define himself, he says. He sits upright. "Why?" He thinks people can't understand that someone can be loyal to two countries. "To pin my home to one place is difficult for me, because there are just too many places where I feel at home – Cologne, Berlin, London, Lagos, Accra…"
He won't restrict himself to one location. "I'm German-Nigerian, I'm Afro-German, I'm Afreuropean, I'm Afro-Prussian and yes, I'm a citizen of the world," with that he ends his list of identities. "My father was descended from the Yoruba people, my mother was descended from the Prussian people."
More than an artist – an activist
"We are black and German" – this self-image is close to his heart. Adé takes the floor for the Afro-German population. "For the majority of society these are problems that we Afro-Germans are confronted with, they know very little about our daily lives."
Music is a unifying force and can change things, he says. "It's the task of hip-hop above all to give society a good shake down." His voice sounds determined. "This is the moment when an artist has a mission to fulfil."
And he is pursuing his particular mission. In 1997, he composed his second hip-hop musical, titled "Coloured Children". As part of the project he got youngsters to tell their personal stories, two key words in the narrative were "strange" and "isolated", rap was their language. The work was awarded the "Youth Culture Prize" of the State of North Rhine-Westphalia.
The identity question continues to pursue Adé. When Neo Nazis in Dessau murdered 39-year-old Alberto Adriano from Mozambique in June 2000, Adé called all Afro-German artists in Cologne together "to finally break the silence."
His words sounded like a political manifesto: "We must stand up, defend our rights and fight for them if need be," he said. He later added: "I demand creative resistance from all those who are not prepared to accept the current conditions. We are writing our own history."
Taking responsibility: Brothers Keepers
The Brothers Keepers were born: a merger of mainly Afro-German soul, hip-hop and reggae artists, who fight against racism and right-wing extremism – with their music. Adé says being a Brothers Keeper means standing up for your brother and taking responsibility for him.
The Brothers Keepers is not just a musical project, but also a charitable association to which more than 90 artists now belong, among them numerous well-known musicians such as Samy Deluxe, Afrob, D-Flame, Toni L., Torch, Tyron Ricketts, Don Abi, Patrice, Xavier Naidoo ...
"We have succeeded in staging an elaborate coming-out for Afro-Germans, in questioning German identity, and at the same time, expressing our loyalty to this country," Adé explains.
A woman who does not love him
"Whenever Germany rejected me, or gave me the feeling I don't belong, and Germany's done that more than once, then I've said – phhhhfff," Adé tries to find the right words.
"You know, it's like being with a woman who you love, but who doesn't give you any attention. Then you say to yourself – hey, I'm not ugly, I'm not stupid and my heart's in the right place. That means there must be someone else out there who loves me. And I had that someone: Nigeria."
Adé says this in a documentary film titled "Yes I Am" (2007). In the film, director Sven Halfar profiles him and two other Afro-German musicians D-Flame and Mamadee.
And Adé dedicates many songs to the woman who loves him, in English, Yoruba and Pidgin. And he visits her regularly. But she's not perfect either. And that's why she doesn't get just love songs – he criticizes her dishonesty and wishes she would change.
From rap comes "The Sound of Fufu"
Early on, Adé begins experimenting with European and African musical styles, rhythms and melodies. His own musical style takes shape, increasingly unites the cultural influences that surround him.
Adé calls the sounds produced by his current band "Bantu" (Brotherhood Alliance Navigating Towards Unity) the "Sound of Fufu". He laughs. "I'm laughing at myself wanting to pigeon-hole music. I've got everything in my music, reggae, funk, afro-beat, hip-hop, soul, jazz – and a record company asks me what kind of music I make? So let's call it Fufu." He laughs again.
The word is not without meaning. "The Sound of Fufu also represents my desire to see a united Africa," says Adé.
"Fufu is a kind of dish with dumplings that you find everywhere in Africa." And Fufu appears to be going down a treat – primarily in Africa, where Bantu's songs blare out from radios everywhere. For its last album "Fuji Satisfaction", the band received the Kora Award, Africa's answer to the Grammy, in the categories "Best West African Group" and "Best African Group".
Adé leans his head on his hand. His is one of those faces that captivates, that is full of life and expression even when he is not talking.
He has to go, he says, and pick up his son from school. Maybe the kids are playing "Who's afraid of the black man?" again – a game in which his son always gets the lead role. He boards the train, and the seat next to him remains vacant. This woman doesn't love him – yes, she's breaking his heart yet again.
Naima El Moussaoui
© Qantara.de 2009
Transdlated from the German by Nina Coon