Yeni Anikulapo – Kuti is the first daughter of Music legend and Afro- Beat progenitor, Fela Anikulapo – Kuti. In this interview on The Discourse With Jimi Disu on Classic FM 97.3 on Sunday, August 6, 2017 , Yeni revealed a lot about her maverick father and how she was excited when he announced he was marrying 27 wives in a day.
She and her partner, Theo Lawson, the Chairman of Felabration Organising Committee who was also at the interview, revealed the plan to mark the 20th remembrance anniversary of the music icon.
Q- Di you miss your father ?
A – Yes, I miss him. It’s been 20 years. It doesn’t seem like 20 years to me. I still talk to Fela in my mind.
Q – Has he appeared to you in dream in any manner?
A – Yes, he has. But then, all my family appear to me. My mum, my father, my sister. I mean, i dream of them. I don’t know if by dreaming of them they appear to me or it is because i miss them.
Q – Do you believe dead people can appear to us in our dream or on the other way we are thinking of them?
A – I think we are thinking of them. It might be appearance, i don’t know. But I know that I dream of them a lot.
Q – Has anybody come to meet you to say that he has a message for you from Fela.
A- I believe if my father has a message, he will come directly to me. He won’t go to someone I don’t know or someone I don’t like. What i tell them is when Fela comes to you again tell him to talk to me directly. I don’t believe you.
Q – Has some people come to you to say that?
A – Yes , but i ignored them. The last one went to meet Femi. She was from Oyakhilome church. Pastor sent her , Fela has sent a message bla bla bla.
Q – Do you think Fela would have gone through a church?
A – Of course , not.
Q – Do you go to church?
A – We go once in a while, weddings.
Q – Are you a christian?
A – I am free thinker.
Q – But you believe in traditional worship?
A – I believe in creation and I tend to lean toward traditional.
Q – Through the influence of your father, i assume?
A – It is not just his influence, it is what I believe in. When you say influence of my father, it is as if Fela indoctrinated it. I believe in it. The argument put forward by Fela were enough to…
Q – (Interrupts) Resonate with you.
A. Yes. Deep inside. We Africans believe in this thing ( traditional worship). Why is that people in government will rather swear by the Bible or Quran and not by Sango, Ogun etc. Because they believe it works.
Q – Theo ( Yeni’s partner) are you a christian?
A – Yes, I still go to church and read the Bible but i don’t follow religion blindly. I pray to God , I pray through Jesus Christ, I pray through Muhammed if necessary wherever I am. Everybody chooses a medium by which he reaches Him ( God) .
Q – In the early days when you are growing up with your dad and mum when living in Idioro, did Fela ever go to church or anything like that?
A – No.
Q – But your mum was a Christian?
A -Yes. She was.
Q – All along he never went to church?
A – I guess when I was a baby. But we were never brought up to go to church on Sundays. But when we used to stay with Tunji Braithwaite, he used to take us to church.
Q- So you stayed with Tunji Braithwaite?
A – On weekends. But Fela will warn us not put his money in church.
Q – Is there anything you are doing this year to mark 20 years anniversary of the death of your father?
A – Yes, we have Fela – The Prophecy. Theo is the chairman of Felebration Organising Committee . I think I should hand over the baton to him.
Theo – This year, 20th anniversary, we are happy to announce that Lagos state is back on board Felabration and hopefully will be sponsoring our appearance at the Nottinghill Carnival this year in London this month. Why Nottinghill Carnival? Because in 1984 when Fela was arrested, there was a movement in Nottinghill and the Jamaicans there. The Free Fela campaign. So taking Fela back to Nottinghill is a way of saying thank you.
Q – Is Egypt 80 and Femi bands going to play at Nottinghill?
A – Femi will be there. Yeni will be there with her dancers.
Q – Yeni, do you still dance?
A – I still dance but not on stage. This my big belle no go gree. I can’t dress sexy now with this my stomach.
Q – You look sexy to me.
A – Thank you.
Q – Back home here, what are going to have?
A – ( Theo still talking )- Professor Lumumba will be here to talk at the colloquium. The colloquium is the intellectual aspect of Felabration .
Q – Yeni, how come you never sang. Your two brothers are singers.
A – No.
Q – How did you and your mom feel in those days when Fela was having skirmishes with the government?
A – It was traumatic. I can remember when he was taking the coffin to Dodan Barracks. I will never forget that day because he sent for me and my sister. My sister and I were staying with our mom while Femi was staying with him. So, he sent to us, make sure you are there tomorrow.
Q – Really? He said you should come?
A -My sister and I wasted time and by the time we got to the house they had left.
Q – So you are happy?
A – For good reason. We didn’t want to go. Because when we got there, they beat stupid and nonsense to their bodies. They had organised road blocks, blocked all roads leading to Lagos Island, Eko bridge and everywhere. Because Fela had announced on the the radio and newspapers that he was taking his mother’s coffin to Dodan barracks . He went and passed through Ebute Metta and all those corners and found himself at Dodan Barracks.
Q – How did he pass through the gate?
A – They were not expecting him at all. (Theo interrupted) They had blocked the main gate. I think he went through the back.( Yeni continued) He went through Obalende gate. The first gate nobody was manning it .They were not expecting him. You know it was three days to handing over. Obasanjo was handing over to Shagari. He got there, dropped the coffin and entered the car before the soldiers saw him and shouted Pela! Pela!! Pela!!! They started shaking the car telling him to come down. Fela got out and they started beating him. As he was being beaten he held on tight to one Major. As they were beating him , they were beating the Major too . The Major shouted don’t beat him again, you are beating me, you are beating me. Anyway they stopped beating him and the Major took Fela into the guardroom where he was locked up.
The rest , Femi and Co, who were inside the car. They beat stupid and nonsense to their bodies. They ( soldiers) formed two lines as they were coming out of the car they were beating them. They later took them to this police station at Awolowo road ( Ikoyi) . Three days later they were released. They didn’t charge them to court. For three days my sister and I will stand at the front of the police station.
Q – How did you feel when your dad married 27 wives. How did you feel having 27 step mothers?
A -I was excited really . I am sure my mother wasn’t but I was. Now that I’m grown up and I am em… I can imagine how my mother felt. But at that age, for me it was ehn , Fela was going to marry 27 wives, we are going to have new brothers and sister, it was exciting for us as kids.
Q – Did you ever live in Kalakuta, in that communal setting?
A – Yes, but for a very short time. Fela was not paying our rent. My mother just parked all of us oya.
Q( interrupt) to go and stay with him.
A – And her, she went with us.
Q – In that commune?
A – Yeah. She was there for about a couple of years I think. It was actually exciting and nice.
Q – How did Fela sort out the sleeping arrangements and all that?
A – My mother had her place
Q – And she didn’t mind what he was doing with himself.
A – No, she didn’t. Even if she knew, what would she do? She loved him almost to a fault.
Q – You wouldn’t take that l am sure?
A – At all. Ask Mr Lawson, he knows.
Q – Do you think you are the only one Mr. Lawson loves?
A – I can’t be, but if I catch him, he is a dead man ( general laughter).
Q – Do you have a funny feeling that you are probably not the only one?
A – He is a man. Men will be men. Sha do it far, don’t do it near.
Q – How did you feel when you saw Fela smoking that big and fat igbo?
A – You know Fela had the knack of surprising everybody including himself. Fela would do one new stunt you are just like ehn. I thought he couldn’t surprise me anymore. I remember one song he was singing Condom Scallywaggy and Scatter. The first I day, I saw him perform that song all my face became red.
Q – You are not the only one.
A – You too. My face was red.
Q – Is it true that Fela would not see a conventional doctor?
A – He didn’t.
Q – I didn’t know that Fela was shortsighted and he refused to wear classes. He had some of his front teeth gone. Did he wear a dentures
A – May be the last six months (of his life).
Q – He allowed himself to be handled by a dentist?
A – His cousin was a dentist now.
Q – Oh, Frances Kuboye. It was about the same time that Frances Kuboye and your sister died? I know that Femi did a song about that time ( 97). Was there this suspicion that Fela was taking some people along with him?
A – Those who are suspecting that kind of thing are evil people. It was just a coincidence. Somebody came to me to say that Fela was taking some people with him. I told him:Please, Fela was not an evil person. Please, don’t say that.
Q – What is going to happen to Fela’s unrecorded music.
A – We are hoping that we can combine them, Femi and Seun going to the studio. It’s just a matter of cash. We actually wanted to release one for the 20th anniversary.
Q- Which are you thinking of?
A – BBC ( Big Blind Country) but like i said, it’s a matter of cash. Fela , like you said, was very unconventional. He made life so difficult. That is why we don’t have so many recordings. He wouldn’t let you record him. He won’t let you film him.
Q – Is it true that Fela was not that financially buoyant as we imagined?
A – He wasn’t. The thing is that you can’t sing his kind of music and be financially buoyant. Because people are not going to sponsor you.
( Theo interrupted) I think he had that communal lifestyle whereby everything he had is shared with so many people around him who he fed and housed daily.
( Yeni) Fela loved to share and I think I took a bit of that part of him.
Q – What about Femi ? Does he like to share?
A – Femi is very frugal. He is not a spendthrift. I am a spendthrift. He is reserved because of past experiences. He had some hard knocks. So he is withdrawn. But he will still help you. Like people are staying at the Shrine.
Q – People actually live there?
A – People live there.
Q – You have living quarters there?
A – They just come in and believe that the shrine is theirs .
Q – I know you run dancing classes. Do you still do?
A – Old age o jare.
Q – How old are you now?
A – 56.
Q – You look good for 56 .
A – Thank you.
Q – You thank him (Theo) for giving you peace.
A – Theo, thank you for giving me peace.
Q – Tell him you love him.
A – I love you.
Q – ( Referring to Theo) Are you not going to tell her you love her back?
A – Thank you very much.
(Yeni) You won’t tell me you love me? (Theo) Thank you very much.
Q – Why is it difficult for a man tell a woman publicly he loves her?
A – Theo you didn’t tell me you love me. Ha, I am going to cry .
Q – Is it true that Fela wanted to test anti-bullet charm on himself but he was convinced to try it on a goat.
A – It is true.