In conversation with Edaoto Agbeniyi: On spirituality and music

Music as a tool for self-expression, education and a way to engage with the past. Its presence draws attention to one way that elements of the past have transcended through generations, providing an opportunity to connect to ancestry. Edaoto & the Afrogenius Band are a nine-piece collective that play Afrobeat music, which they describe as a blend of intellectual engagement and connection to heritage. The band have performed in a number of festivals across Africa, in addition to Europe and the United States.  I had the pleasure to speak with Edaoto Agbeniyi earlier this month where we covered topics in relation to spirituality, music and ways to foster change in society.

In what ways do you engage with your ancestry?

I practice the spirituality of my ancestors, which gives me a huge insight into knowing my ancestry and paying homage to it. It includes Egungun, Ifa and Orisha, I look to the spirituality of my ancestors to give myself a sense of peace. Ifa is a body of knowledge that has answers to almost all the questions that one can ask as a human being, and it offers the chance for you to become a spiritual being if you adamantly practice it. This is how I fully engage with my ancestry, from this point of view.

Has this engagement always been present or is it something that emerged later in life?

In fairness, I would say that I was lucky enough to have a grandfather who was actually an Ifa priest, even though my parents were practising Christians. I was exposed to spirituality, not at a tender age but early enough in my life. At the time that I started practicing my spirituality, I read so much about it which encouraged me and made me feel proud. Growing up, it was not very easy for me to practice. When I became an adult, I had what I will call my own personal freedom, which allowed me to practice my spirituality freely. I find it interesting that Africans in the diaspora have more freedom to engage with the spirituality of their ancestors compared to within the continent. They are free to practice it, I am not sure if in the US people will frown at you for practicing Ifa, but here people will call us pagans or describe us as bad people. I would say that Africans in Africa are plagued with massive neo-colonialism, this appears in spirituality where it is considered as sacrilege for you to practise the spirituality of your forebears. It is almost seen as an abomination. I think that a lot of Africans here (in the continent) practice western religions because they are ashamed or afraid of what people will say.

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Would you say that your connections to your spirituality has influenced your music?

Definitely. Fortunately, I play a genre of music that is called Afrobeats and the founder of this genre practiced African spirituality. The music itself allows me to stay on this lane. In the context of Yoruba tradition, my spiritual connections also influenced my music in such a way that it gives a broad insight to the concept of Omoluwabi.  It is a concept that does not permit or allow corruption in anyway. You will see that most of the problems that are associated with my people, my continent, my race is discussed in the music. From issues like slavery to mental enslavement these are topics that I touch on in my music.

In your song, Had I, there is a line where you say “Africans remember your past” – Why do you think that this is important?

If we do not look at our past, we cannot understand our present. If we do not understand our present, then we cannot forge a proper progressive future. When we look into our past we can see the height of technology that we had and see that we were not just dancers, like how the west wrote about us. Of course, we were merry people because we achieved a lot. If we look into our past, we will see our glory as well as our shortcomings in order to correct the mistakes made from the past to forge an extremely progressive future.

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In your opinion, in what ways can we facilitate a meaningful connection to ancestry for young people?

We need first and foremost to realise that there is a problem. Some people say that we should stop talking about the problem and focus on the solution. No. You can’t start using drugs when you do not know that you have an ailment. The first thing we must do is to say that there is a problem, see the problem and get to know it. What is the problem? The problem is that we have self-hate, we do not believe in ourselves or that we could have done anything great. We don’t believe now that we were even humans. So, we need to tell people first that there is a problem of self-hate and an inferiority complex. When we make this loud, and everybody talks about it then we can start discussing ways to solve this problem. I also think that we can be docile at times. Some people that practice African spirituality will say “there is no need because people in the diaspora are doing it”. No. We need to engage with people on all fronts; social media, literature, events etc. We need to educate our children and ourselves in the sciences of today. For example, tele-transportation and artificial intelligence, which are becoming a norm, these exists in other forms within IFA tradition. Its important that we bring these forms from our spirituality to engage with topics of the present day.

In your appearance in the CNN show ‘Parts Unknown: Lagos’, during your discussion with Anthony Bourdain about Makoko you are quoted in saying “everybody needs everybody” – can you elaborate on what you mean by this phrase?

We have turned our society to be an extremely capitalistic society which is against what we used to be, a society where communalism was upheld. We are so far away from the societies we had where everybody looked after everybody. I think that there is a place for all religions and spiritual practices. I will give the example of the guitar which has six strings. If you continue to play one string it would be so boring, the six strings bring out a beautiful sound. Everybody is important in their own right, but it is wrong for us to eat into the space of other people. We should understand our space and stay in our lane.

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All images published with permission.

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