WHAT MANY DON’T KNOW ABOUT MY LATE FATHER, FELA – YENI KUTIChris Adelugba
This story was originally published by CityPeople Mag in 2017. We are sharing it in the spirit of Felabration 2019
•20 Years After His Death, Daughter, YENI KUTI Tells City People
Its 20 years since late Afrobeat king, Fela Anikulapo Kuti died. And he is currently being celebrated by the music world. That is why FELABRATION, an annual event set up to celebrate Fela, is celebrating the man called Baba 70 in a big way this year with the event tagged “FELA, 20 YEARS AFTER”.
Last week, City People Publisher, SEYE KEHINDE, and reporter, ADEOLA FABIYE, spent quality time with YENI KUTI, the eldest daughter of Fela. She went back memory lane about the man who dominated the music world like a colossus in his life time, and still does till now, 20 years after.
Below are excerpts of the interview.
What are plans for Felabration this year, since its been 20 years Fela passed on?
We were just at the NottingHill Carnival which was sponsored by the Lagos State government, which for me was a really big deal because I’ve never met the Governor, I’ve only seen him on TV and sent him a mail and he said oh! You’re committed; he made sure that we got the money to go for the Nottinghill Carnival and to sponsor Felabration this year. So, Lagos State is very much involved in Felabration this year which for me is a good thing because I think he appreciates us and
So, Lagos State is very much involved in Felabration this year which for me is a good thing because I think he appreciates us and hopefully he’ll be coming for one or two of the events; I’m hoping, (fingers crossed). I’ll send him another e-mail maybe he’ll answer.
So, we have Professor Nomunba coming for the symposium (make sure you come o!…laughs), it’s on the 9th of October and thats the opening of the festival, its titled “Wither The Pan-African Dream” and Professor Nomumba is our keynote Speaker.
We also have other panelists, dance, music, comedy, throughout the week. We have Sauti Soul coming from Kenya, that’s our International band we are bringing and apparently they are very famous in Kenya. So, they’ve committed themselves to coming and we’re still hoping we can get Sunny Ade. I’m talking to Pasuma. Hopefully, a fantastic Jamboree for the week of October.
How do you feel 20 years after Fela’s death and whenever you think about it?
Its amazing that time has flown by and you get used to it and you be like Felabration is 20 years, wow! Fela has been dead for 20 years, then it shows you your own mortality because then I was 37 when Fela died and now I’m almost 57 and its like time has flown. I was a “young chick” (laughs). I’m getting older. I was laughing with the ladies of “Your view” the other day and they said when we do so, “so, so thing”, in some years time and I said by that time I’ll
I was a “young chick” (laughs). I’m getting older. I was laughing with the ladies of “Your view” the other day and they said when we do so, “so, so thing”, in some years time and I said by that time I’ll becoming to “Your View” with walking stick (laughs). So, you realise your own mortality and you see that its already 20 years even though it seems like yesterday. It doesn’t seem like 20 years. It’s been 20 years since I lost my sister. I still miss her.
What do you miss about him the most?
When people ask me that question it’s very difficult for me to answer but to answer, I guess gisting because we used to talk a lot.
The way my mind is shaped now was from sitting with Fela; talking to him, being educated in his ideology shaped the way. I think today. That’s why I believe I have a very African Outlook to life.
What do you think would have shaped Fela’s outlook about life and his knowledge about things?
Well, I guess his meeting a lady called Sandra, who exposed him the African History. And its not the African history that they teach us in school that Mungo Park discovered River Niger; it’s not all those African History that portrays Africa in a Negative light. She introduced him to history that exposed Africans, every positive light and made him know.
I remember that I used to follow Fela to many universities where he lectured. He went to Ife, Ibadan, Jos and many other schools and it wasn’t to play music but to lecture. Donald Duke, Femi Falana and a lot of other people were exposed to Fela’s lectures and many other people that think like him were exposed to his lectures. You know, to be an African and hear African history like that unless you are not a true African, you’ll want to look at yourself in a positive light. He helped me, taught me, shaped me and helped me look at Africa in a positive light and not just the negative force in Africa.
When you were young, was Fela already into music?
From when I remember, Fela was playing music. Yeah! I don’t think I can remember a time when he wasn’t playing music. He was playing music from a very long time. From the time I remember my father and mother, he was playing music in those days he was playing the trumpet not the saxophone and there’s a big difference between the saxophone and the trumpet. Femi plays the trumpet now and he’ll tell you how difficult it is because he
Femi plays the trumpet now and he’ll tell you how difficult it is because he learnt with the Sax and to make that transition is quite difficult because playing the trumpet requires constant practice and that’s why trumpeters usually look down on those who play other wind instruments.
How did you develop your own character and was it a case that all of you lived with your father?
Yeah! We lived together, it was my father, mother, brother, sister and I, we lived together. My maternal grandmother came back from England and moved in with us in 1964 and was looking after us when my mother had to go to work and when my mum fell sick because she had an ulcer and was always in and out of the hospital whenever my mum had to go to England my grandma looked after us. My parents, siblings, and grandmother who was like a mother to us because I think my mother was always sick then. My father was having affairs outside marriage. My father was already a playboy. So I think my mother had
My parents, siblings, and grandmother who was like a mother to us because I think my mother was always sick then. My father was having affairs outside marriage. My father was already a playboy. So I think my mother had ulcer because of that and I just realised that now I’m older. We lived in kalakuta (the house that got burnt) that was my earliest recollection of a home at Idi-Oro but before it became Kalakuta Republic, we lived there as a family, the house was two flats and we stayed downstairs and my aunt, aunty Dolu stayed upstairs. It was a family house and the uncle Beko had a clinic in-front.
How do you feel calling your dad Fela instead of dad and did you call him any other name before Fela?
No. It was always Fela. He never let us call him any other name and when we used to go to our friends place and they were all calling daddy, we also wanted to call our father daddy but he always threatened not to give us pocket money if we called him daddy. So when we hear that and think of our pocket money, we revert to Fela immediately and that’s how we stopped calling him daddy.
How did you see his lifestyle while growing up and now that you’ve grown?
His lifestyle was unconventional. The thing is, as kids its fun. If I had been maybe 20 and he started that kind of lifestyle maybe it would have been strange but as a kid, it was easy to accept. And whenever we ask our mom, “mom can we go to Fela’s house, she would agree and it was fun all the way, children we there, there was the swimming pool, we could swim whenever we wanted to; it was just fun all the way and I guess it was a bit too much fun but going back home after spending the weekend at Fela’s house always brought us back to reality.
So, I think it was a good balance, we spent most of the time with my mum and when we wanted enjoyment, we go to Fela’s house for one or two weekends. It wasn’t a regular thing which was a good thing because we would have been in the house when they burnt it. We already moved out when they burnt it. We were living with my mum. She had moved out because of my
She had moved out because of my fathers lifestyle and sickness and her doctor also advised her to move out of the house. So, Fela rented an apartment for my mum at Surulere. So, he would visit us, and once my mum moved out of Fela’s house he went on with the girls and all but he had always been playing music.
How do you explain the fact that Fela is still relevant till today?
Because he was a force to be reckoned with. Two, he was a genius. Three, he had a serious message to pass on to his people and that message is still relevant and he would always be relevant, unless African government change their ways, and that does not look like its happening soon. I haven’t seen any sign that they want to change their ways. They are part of the problems. There is no way Fela will not continue to be relevant. And some days ago someone sent me a text saying that what is happening in the United Nations today Fela sang about it. “Disunited United Nations” and
I haven’t seen any sign that they want to change their ways. They are part of the problems. There is no way Fela will not continue to be relevant. And some days ago someone sent me a text saying that what is happening in the United Nations today Fela sang about it. “Disunited United Nations” and its true.
Do you think the fact that he studied music influenced his kind of music?
I wouldn’t know but I think it was. It was a mixture of both because some people would have the formal training and they wouldn’t still hear anything because they had turned deaf but Fela was very astute and his ears were always tuned. He was a real musician. He wasn’t a fly-by-night musician. He knew his music, he knew his instrument.
He composed, produced, sang unlike some people who specialise in just once area but Fela was all combined. We cannot take it away from him, he actually invented a kind of music. Afrobeat as we know it today was invented by Fela. Bob Marley was a great musician but he didn’t invent Reggae, he just made it better and many other musicians also did the same. Even if you read Miles Davis autobiography, he
Even if you read Miles Davis autobiography, he said “Afro-beat was the music of the future” and this was like 20 something years ago. So, Fela actually invented the style of music. So, you can never take that from him. He would go down in history as someone who invented a style of music. Unless you can name me someone who did. If anyone comes up to say that they were the ones who did this and that but they couldn’t say it when Fela was alive and when I hear it I just tell people to ignore him.
How come when Fela was alive not much was said about your mom?
She was quiet. Very quiet. You could hardly get her to do an interview. You had to beg her very well before she grants an interview. But she wrote a book which I pray that God gives me the strength to publish, someone told me to publish the book with her and I think that would be my new year’s resolution for 2018. I’ll release that book because she actually wrote a book about her life with Fela.
Do you look like her?
Do I? Maybe. I wouldn’t know; people would have to tell me if I look like her. I love my mother. I guess she must have thought I was a bit too much like my father. But we got along. All her children loved her. Femi was her pet. We used to say it then and she’ll respond in denial saying “No, I love all of you” and we’ll say it was a lie. We used to call him “Mummy’s
We used to say it then and she’ll respond in denial saying “No, I love all of you” and we’ll say it was a lie. We used to call him “Mummy’s favourite”, I guess it’s because he was the only boy but my mum loved all her children and we loved her too.
We lived together in this house and Femi bought the land in 1994 and we built it gradually and the way we designed it was that there we going to be 6 bungalows but then Dele left, it turned to 5, then in 1997 my sister died then it turned to 4. So we had almost finished building it before my mother died and we were going to move into the house. On May 31st, 2002 my mum died in January 2002 and when my mother died, my aunt came to take my grand mother.
How did you develop your love for fashion?
I don’t know really. One of my brothers would say I should sell my shoes whenever I complain about being broke. I actually took that from my father; he was always passionate about shoes. He liked when his clothes matched. I don’t know if I was born like that or imbibed it but what I know is that, I took it from my father.
How did he come about his fashion style?
I don’t know (laugh) because I remember him talking about Femi’s bell bottom trousers and he’ll always say all of you will come and meet me with this my tight trousers, you’ll soon join me. So, when the trends changed, he said “I told you, you’ll still join me. I’ve always known him with tight clothes. I guess he wanted to show his body but I liked his fashion sense. I loved to watch him choose outfits. He could dress well, there was no sagging pants for him.
Do you have plans to release some of his unreleased songs?
We actually planned to release some this year but we are not financially buoyant. Hopefully, we’ll do it for Fela at 80. He would have been 80 by next year. Felabration next year would be Fela at 80.
So, hopefully next year but we had wanted Femi and Seun to work on some of his unreleased numbers, with his voice because we have some of his voice tapes but they would do the instrumentals but unfortunately it didn’t work out and the publishing company is working on an album with Femi and Seun on it, and it would be out by October, with different artistes playing some of Fela’s numbers. But it’s difficult to get some record companies to do it because his songs are always long. He used to say he wasn’t different from those that did classical music. So he always said, he did African Classical Music, one record, one number. Fela was a phenomenon.