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‘Fela did not teach me music, I taught myself’ – Femi Anikulapo – Kuti

Femi Anikulapo Kuti, the Afrobeat king and the first son of late Fela Anikulapo- Kuti, Afrobeat legend in interview on the Discourse with Jimi Disu on Classic FM 97.3 on Sunday, October 8, 2017, in commemoration of Felaberation 2017 said so many things about his late father who died 20 years and who would have been 79 on October 15.

Among the things Femi said in the interview is the fact that his late father did not teach him music and did allow him to attend music like he attended in London. 

Read more about the music icon and equally legendary son…

 

Did it bother you at all, that, so many people lay claim to Fela being their father when he was alive?

Not at all. Initially, as children, we were just having fun. But  later on, when we  began to understand the love people had for him we were not bothered at all. We had to adjust ourselves to the situation. It was at his death that it really dawned how much the people really love him.

Right now, on twitter, I can’t say my father. I have to say our father. Because if I say my father, you will see people saying it is not only your father o, baba wa ni ( he is our father).

What is your take on his two bands – African 70 and Egypt 80. Which one……

(Interrupt) Don’t forget that there was  Koola Lobito as well. If the Koola Lobito era was not solid, the Afrobeat era wouldn’t have been solid.

It was the Koola Lobito that transformed to Africa 70?

Yes, most of them.

But Egypt 80 was completely a different band except for Baba Ani?

Yes, Egypt 80 was completely a different band. It was Egypt 80 that I joined. Egypt 80 was basically a new generation of people. We were all between the ages of 19 and 23. We were all very young in the band.

But did you follow from Africa 70?

Of course, I followed from Koola Lobito as well. I really enjoyed the Koola Lobito time. This was the time of Onidodo, oni MoinMoi . Jeun koku was completely a different ball game. With Jeun koku, he (Fela) too understood that he had found the dynamics of his music. It was Jeun Koku that launched him to limelight and stardom. We just woke up one day and discovered that every record store was playing Jeun koku. He ( Fela) did not prepare for the kind of stardom that Jeun koku brought him.

You were living with him then? 

Yes. Nobody was ready for that kind of stardom. Everybody was caught unaware. Everywhere you went it was always about Fela. Everybody wanted Fela.

When fame came, Fela’s love for bend, bend sleep (sex) was unimaginable. Only two Egba men had that kind of appetite. I won’t mention their names.

I know you will want to say Abiola and Obasanjo.

Which of the two bands would you say was tighter – Africa 70 or Egypt 80?

Waoh! They were very different in the sense that Egypt 80 had more youngsters. Mr. Tony Allen, Baba Ani, Igochukwu and all others were of the same age with Fela. They could talk to him one on one. It wasn’t master, servant relationship. It was more of paddy-paddy (buddies). All of them started smoking weed almost at the time then. There was so much camaraderie among that band members (Africa 70). I remember as kids, we (Fela’s immediate family) used to visit all of them in their various homes. They also paid us visits. Despite their popularity then, there was this family bond among them.

But in Egypt 80, there was so much discipline. It was a military kind of command structure. It was Fela said this and you cannot go against it. We were learners on the job.

I will say Africa 70 members were better musicians before joining the band?

I wouldn’t say that. When my father came back from London, he taught most of them how to read and write music. He was more of a teacher in Koola Lobito which evolved into Africa 70. He was passing a lot of knowledge from his university days to the band.

Because of the tutorial my father gave to Africa 70, they probably were better soloists. But if you see what all of us from Egypt 80 has turned out to be from just sitting down and watching and learning from my father.

What do you think is Fela’s greatest strength? Is it in composition, arrangement or in the instrument? I personally believe Fela wasn’t a great saxophonist as you are.

I will agree with you. Because he said this many times with my mother, he was very lazy. He was a lazy instrumentalist. Fela was a jayejaye (pleasure loving) man. He loved the night life. He preferred to party all night. If you want to be a great instrumentalist, you can’t afford to be doing all that. Because you need to practice for a minimum of three to four every day.

Do you do that?

Yes. I got this from my maternal grandmother. When I started my music career too, I was also following the footsteps of my father in terms of enjoying life. Because, I thought, it was just about composition. When my father was jailed by Buhari administration (1983 – 1985), I moved to my mother’s place. My grandmother abused me. She said, what kind of musician are you? You have been here for two weeks, you have not played your horn once. I cried all night. That statement was what changed my life. I was so ashamed the next morning because, I knew she would have told my mother, ‘ I gave him a piece of my mind’. That brought the discipline in me to always pick my horn (saxophone).

Fela made some feeble attempt at practising.

Yes, he did. Don’t forget he had that Trinity (College, London) training. But it can be boring when you are doing, do re me fa so la ti do, everyday. Now you need to go the extra mile. It is like an engine, you need to be warming your engine every day. So that when you go on stage you don’t squeak.

Yes, Fela squeaked. We all thought there was something wrong with his horn.

The muscles on your neck and mouth if you don’t keep them in motion they will become weakened. My father preferred to be having sex every time. I wonder why he had to put his body through so much rigour (having sex all the time).

How did your mother cope with Fela? 

She loved him. You know she had this kind of English mentality. This fantasy of Cinderella. I think my father was lucky to have had her. Because she kept his children for him. She wasn’t socializing so, nobody really knew much about my mother. She protected his (Fela) interest. She kept her pain to herself. She accepted his ways of life because she understood stardom to an extent. Because by the time he married 27 wives she could have sued him for bigamy. Many people came to advise her that, ‘look you can take this man to court’. She knew they were coming to say this because they were jealous of him and envious of his stardom. She knew they were not saying it because of her but for their own personal interest.
He (Fela) didn’t treat we his children well as well. Fela was a conventional father. He didn’t want us to go was aool. Fela didn’t teach me music for instance.

Who taught you then? 

I taught myself. Baba Ani taught me for two weeks and my mother got angry and withdrew me from the teaching because she wanted me to go to Trinity College (London) like my father. Fela said he did not want me to go to England. He said I should go to Ghana. They had this fight between themselves and I ended up going nowhere. I had to buy this saxophone tutor to teach myself. So, I can’t read music very fast. I know the notes but I can’t read it properly. I knew that was a handicap in my life and I decided to be practicing my instrument for many hours every day to compensate for that handicap.

I understand that he (Fela) gave you a wife at one time?

Yes.

Where is the wife now?

My mother was so angry. My life in Kalakuta was a very big experience. It will be very difficult to gist people about my rapport with Fela. I will sit down with Fela, we will smoke a joint (Indian hemp). We were so close that time because he will light his jumbo (big wrapped of Indian hemp), I will light my jumbo. People will now gather around us wanting to hear the conversation between me and him. It was as if they wanted to tap from the knowledge he was passing on to me. Really, it should have been a secluded discussion between a father and his son somewhere in a room.

May he was too busy.

The house was usually like a big party then. Imagine I was driving a car at 12 and police were chasing me around the town.

That must have been the Range Rover?

The Range Rover, the Land Rover, his Ford.

You know he has a Range Rover with the siren? 

Yes. I still remember the horn of that Range Rover till today (he played with mouth). I got into so many trouble playing or blasting that horn on the road.

Is it true that Fela’s lawyer Kanmi Ishola Osobu took advantage of him?

No Nigerian artist has ever been famous and popular before Fela. It was like everybody wanted to be part of his fame. Everybody wanted to have a piece of his actions. When his house was burned he was a multi-millionaire.

Again, you will see that he didn’t have good friends around him. He bought his land at Gbemisola (street, Ikeja) for N100,000. As at the time his house was burnt everybody believed he was going to win the case with the government. Nobody thought about the other way round that he could lose the case. Nobody advised him to use the money he had then to build another house. Fela as at that time could buy the whole of Allen Avenue. None of his friends advised him on such investment that time. He could have had many estates that time. He was that rich. He bought five Volvos, gave his mother one, his brother one, his sister one, gave his friend, Mr. J K Buraimoh one.
Can you imagine again that after his house was burnt he lodged 150 people in a hotel?

Yes, at Cross Road.
Not just Cross Road. There was a hotel somewhere in Igbobi. There was one by the National stadium. He was paying hotel bills of everybody.

When he moved to Ghana, he was staying at Presidential Hotel with everybody and paying their bills too.
While this was going on, his two cousins who were in Union bank were also syphoning his money.
When he discovered, he couldn’t do anything because those involved were his cousins. Then he became dead broke.
He now moved to J K Buraimoh’s house where he lodged all of us including his wives (27) into two bedroom apartment. When other tenants in the building realized Fela people were around, they all packed out of the building. He took over the house.

Why did Fela go to Berlin with 70 people? His band members didn’t like this?

He did it to compensate the people for sticking with him in the whole palaver he was having with the government. Many of them were caught and beaten by police and soldiers during the palaver with the government. None of the band members was arrested or beaten by the security agents. He felt he owed them that opportunity to travel abroad because of what they had gone through with him. But the musicians were unhappy about this. They claimed they too suffered with him.
How did they suffer with him? Was anyone of them ever arrested or beaten? No.
The only suffering they went through was the salaries they were not paid for some months. But they were playing with some other bands and making money.
Fela produced three albums for Tony Allen. He produced two albums for Tunde Williams and one for Baba Ani.
It was later that Baba Ani came to tell Fela that there was a coup that Tony Allen was planning against him. That was why Fela disbanded Africa 70 and started the Egypt 80. And that was how Baba Ani too became the band leader of Egypt 80.

What is your relationship with Baba Ani now? 

I respect Baba Ani because of his age. Do you know what he did to me? They rejected me because my mother is white. They said they cannot support me because my mother was white.

Who are they? 

Baba Ani and Egypt 80. They said that is the reason they supported Seun to take over Egypt 80. But I made them realized that I don’t want anything to do with Egypt 80 because I have my own band already Positive Force at time, my second album – Bang! Bang!! Bang!!! was about to be released. They said I cannot play my father’s numbers (recorded tapes and records). I said what! My father’s numbers? Do you know that Baba Ani and my father did not even see eye to eye before his death?
He now came out to the public to say that we didn’t treat him well. It was because of his behaviour.
We, Fela children that were born before Seun made it very clear that we don’t want anything to do with Egypt 80 but Baba Ani should not tell us how to conduct our family affairs.
There are so many things that we have done as Fela’s children. I believe we have handled his legacy very well.
He took Seun himself many years to realize that we are his elders. I remember Seun granted an interview one day and practically calling me a bastard because of the people that surrounded him.
I had to use wisdom as an elder to draw him near despite all these.
What is the duty of Baba Ani as an elder in this matter? Is it to put fire in our family matters or to bring the family together?

I am a bit worried about the way Egypt 80 plays Fela’s music. Do you share the same worry?

No comment. This is not my problem. First of all, I don’t criticize work of art. I don’t have anything against what anybody is doing afrobeat or whatever. I am more concerned with what I am doing.
I will be more worried about how my children are dressed or addressed. Apart from that, it is it MYOB (Mind Your Own Business).

One would have thought that Felabration would be about celebration of Afro beat and not other genres of music.
This is because most genres of music have been influenced by Afrobeat. Because of this, Afrobeat is international. We can embody all these genres of music into this festival because at one point in time they have been influenced by Afrobeat.

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