JUST back from the 2010 South Africa World Cup, where he performed at the opening ceremony, afrobeat king, Femi Kuti spoke to ENCOMIUM Weekly on Wednesday, June 16, 2010, at the Afrika Shrine, on his experience at the mundial. Interestingly, that day coincided with his 48th birthday and friends and associates of the two-time Grammy Awards nominee trooped out to celebrate. The party which started around 6 p.m rolled on till the next day.
Happy birthday to you, how does it feel to clock 48?
It feels good. I am okay as you can see. I just came back from South Africa and I am in the studio preparing for my world tour this week.
At 48, what are the important things to you now?
The most important things to me right now is my family, my music, my good friends, the struggle, my career. I have a lot of good people around me, so I am a happy man. Considering all the problems in the world today, I can’t complain too much.
What’s the greatest lessons life has taught you at 48?
I will not say life has taught me anything, but I have garnered experience because many of the things I know are from experience. I know you can’t trust people. Even when I was betrayed, I wasn’t surprised. But even if you know you can’t trust people, when somebody close to you betrays you, you still have to go through the pain. So, I have been a very lucky person at 48, to have been able to overcome many obstacles and I am still standing. I am confident about what the future holds for me.
Will you say you are a fulfilled man at 48?
Until Nigerians can walk freely on the streets, until we have good roads, electricity, until we can afford good schools for our children, where parents will not pay N200,000 per term, until the driver, carpenter, plumber can afford good education for their children, that is when I would be totally fulfilled.
Tell us about your experience at the South Africa 2010 World Cup.
Words alone cannot describe how I feel; all the emotions. We had about 90,000 people in the stadium. That’s the biggest crowd anybody can play for. We had at least a billion people watching all over the world. My career, my music, the struggle, so many things…To just be on stage for two minutes and it was so successful connotes the positive side of not just Nigeria, but Africa. I am saying to the world that given the opportunity, Africa can excel. The future is so bright now, not just for me, but for Africa. I know about the task. It’s about getting ready, being prepared mentally because if you miss a step just one second, that’s the end of your career, that’s the end of everything. To be called upon is as a result of years of being dedicated, committed, years of being truthful to yourself. For the organizers to say they want Femi Anikulapo Kuti to come to represent Nigeria at the opening ceremony was an honour. I knew many Nigerians would be shocked. Those that love me would be so happy. Many people told me they were crying. All what had happened to me are still a beautiful dream. That’s the joy of that big event, to be shown all over the world in just two minutes.
Why did you choose Bang, Bang, Bang…
(Cuts in) I didn’t choose anything, they chose everything. The organizers dictated everything and to be honest, they called me to come and play, I said I was not going because I didn’t understand what I would be doing at a football event. I wanted to sit at home and watch football and enjoy the opening ceremony. So, I didn’t want to participate and they kept telling me, ‘Femi, we need you there, we want you there’ and I said, what would I be doing? They said, Bang, Bang, Bang. I said it’s over 12 years but fortunately the song is still very popular in Africa and the world. I did not know I was still very popular in South Africa until I got to the stadium. It brought so much delight to my life. I cannot tell you how I feel. There are so many emotions running through me, now. It’s my birthday, I just finished recording in the studio, I am travelling tomorrow for the world tour. What is important now is the future of Africa, how do we get ourselves out of all this mess? South Africa is so beautiful. Even in Soweto, I didn’t see one bad road. I drove round Soweto, I didn’t see pot holes. They had electricity and I said to myself, can Nigeria host this kind of World Cup? Because our leaders are so corrupt. What are the senators doing, they are fighting, they earn N30 million a month when some people are earning N10,000 a month in this country. People voted for them to go and fight for a better life for Nigerians, not for themselves. They have embarrassed the nation. We want them to give us electricity, good schools, roads, hospitals, these are what the senators, House of Reps, president should be doing. It’s 11 years of democratic rule and we cannot point to any achievement of governance. They have spoilt the democratic values people sacrificed their lives for.
Was there any financial compensation for your performance?
I have never done anything because of money. The money they gave me, I will not tell you. It was good, I won’t tell you it’s bad. I don’t want to criticize what they gave me. I agreed to do it for the reasons I told you, to be part of history that Africa can successfully host the World Cup. So, if this can make Nigerian government give us electricity, if this can put pressure on world leaders to arrest those who starch our money abroad, then it’s not about the money they paid me at the World Cup. What is important is the statement I have made at the World Cup. That aside, for the records, I saw Danladi Bako in South Africa, the man who banned my song, Bang, Bang, Bang. He was standing by my side. You can see how he frustrated my life and banned my song and how he called me 12 years later. He said, ‘My brother, see how God works.’ The song that he banned is what the World Cup organizers wanted me to sing for the world.
- This story was first published in ENCOMIUM Weekly on June 22, 2010