Cover Stories, Music

Femi Kuti explains what it takes to win Grammy + Why he lost again

‘I’m not heart-broken; it is not a love affair where my wife left me’

FOR the fourth time, Afrobeat king, Femi Anikulapo Kuti lost the Grammy Award.  The saxophonist was not even bothered about not winning.  Rather, he insisted his music and making another good album is his priority. 

Femi Kuti spoke with ENCOMIUM Weekly on Thursday, January 30, 2014, inside Afrika Shrine, Agidingbi, Ikeja, Lagos.

 

You just lost another chance to win the Grammy, how do you feel about that?

I don’t know why people feel so bad about it.  I don’t take things like that to heart.  I have seen so many things in my life.  It is just an award. The nomination alone made my year, whether I won or not was secondary.  I know what it takes to get a nomination.  Thousands or entries went into the category and my album made the best four.  It is a big deal.  I cannot dictate to the Grammy where they would vote.  I appreciate the recognition. The nomination proved that I am doing good.  It is a great achievement, so why should I be sad.  Where I am is not by luck, it’s hard work. I still do my six hours practice every day.

tlm-femi-kutiBut your fans are sad about it.

It is understandable because if you listen to the album, No Place For My Dream, you will realize it is worth the award. The album deserved to win but I know what it takes to win.  Grammy is very political, the voting process is complex.  There was an argument last award where it was said some people were robbed.  The person who won the Best World Music Album had to apologise later that, he is not supposed to win.  A lot of voting are involved and if you play the political game very well you would win.  From Lagos here, I don’t have the means to play that political game.  I have no intention to play along.  My record company doesn’t have the financial muscle to play the game, to put your album in every radio station in America, to make sure everybody who wants to vote listens to that album.  It is very complex and if you don’t have what it takes to do all that, you stand no chance of winning.  However, I won’t allow that to make me lose focus on why I started music.  I have to move on. I am not heart-broken.  It is not a love affair like my wife left me. On my Twitter, many people were upset I didn’t win.  The Gipsy King were nominated six times before they won; the band from South Africa, they have been nominated about five times before they won.  They have been winning in the traditional music category before it was abolished and they were moved to World Music category.  None of them turned up for the award.  They too were bitter that anytime they turned up they never won.  It was their management that was at the awards.  My music is political, I attack the government and it’s very difficult to get it across everywhere.  I know what it takes to maintain the band. For 30 years now, we are going strong.  Many people said I didn’t attend, it will cost me $4,000 to get me to the Grammy and imagine if I spent that and I didn’t win, that would have pained me. People were sad but the person involved is calm and refreshed.  My problem now is how to do another album better than No Place For My Dream.  It is a great album that is difficult to beat, and if I get nominated for the fifth time I would open a bottle of champagne and celebrate.

But you sponsored your sister, Yeni to the awards?

She was already going for the opening of a very big documentary in Salt Lake City, USA for my father.  We were supposed to go together but we had an agreement, both of us must never leave the country at the same time. If I am away, she stays and vice versa.  Before the Grammy, we had already delegated her to go and represent the family.  I had no intention of going there.  The duration is too long for me. I won’t be making money.  So, I would rather be here to take care of my family, so it costs me nothing.

What really happened the night of the Grammy?

I played at the Shrine.  The awards was not televised.  The televised segment started around 6 p.m Los Angeles time and that’s 2 a.m Nigerian time.  The World Music Category usually comes up at 10 p.m Nigerian time.  By that time the news had already come to me but I was on stage.  So, when I finished I spoke with my sister.  If you noticed my attitude right from day one, I knew my chance of winning was very slim.  Those in my category are good, they make great albums. I said if it even came to me I would be extremely shocked. I can’t go to the US to promote my album.  America is big.  I can’t leave the Shrine and my tour, I can’t sacrifice what I have for those running around, but I can sacrifice enough strength to be heard on the world stage.

Did you even plan to celebrate before the news came that you didn’t win?

No, I didn’t buy any champagne. If I had won, I would just tell my people to buy drinks, let us celebrate.  I was very indifferent.

What are your plans for the next album?

I will go into the studio this year and another album will come out next year, April.  I release an album every two years. It takes a long time to go into the studio to make a good album.  I am not a studio musician, I am a live performer.  So, I have to play all the time, go on tour.  After I would have left the studio, my engineer will work on the album, edit and then I go back to do corrections.

u1_kutiYour sister, Yeni was also not happy about it.

Most people who love me were sad while those jealous of me were very happy.  They say it serves him right.

In December, ENCOMIUM Weekly gave you an award for being nominated for the Grammy for four times.  How do you feel about that?

I really cherish that award.  ENCOMIUM understands, that is why they celebrated me. I am not boasting, the only person who has been nominated twice for Grammy is King Sunny Ade.  My father was not interested in it, probably he would have won.  I feel very honoured because ENCOMIUM recognizes my hard work.  Unfortunately I couldn’t come to the party in white but when I got back to the Shrine, I changed to white to celebrate and I played my Sunday jump at the Shrine.  So, I did my own party at the Shrine.

What has been the response of your children and their mothers in this development?

They all congratulated me.  They invited me to so many dinners, Made, Rolari, Dotun, Kunle, everybody congratulated me.  They were all happy for me.

Are you expecting another nomination after your next album?

I keep an open mind.  I must do another good album.  I have been having sleepless nights. I have only a quarter of songs I need.  I have a long way to go.  At least, I need 14 songs to complete my album.  Everything is on time. I need to do a very good album and I have to work according to the time table.  If I don’t move fast, I miss the time and I can’t get the album ready in 2015.

Also in December 2013, ENCOMIUM Weekly rated you as the most successful musician in Nigeria in the year?

I really appreciate it.  It’s an assessment in the right direction. I don’t get radio play here in Nigeria but when you talk of international acknowledgement, I am there. I don’t like to blow my trumpet because of the controversy.  Last year alone, I was out of this country four times.  I was in Europe twice and America twice.  I am the first Nigerian to win the Kora Award and the World Music Award.  I don’t think any album has done better than Bang Bang Bang in Nigeria.  It opened doors for Nigerians abroad. From 1999 to 2004, the shows I did outside the country are still unbeatable.

–   FOLUSO SAMUEL

 

THIS STORY WAS FIRST PUBLISHED ON FEBRUARY 9, 2014

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