22nd Memorial: How Fela Composed His Music-Yeni

22nd Memorial: How Fela Composed His Music-Yeni

Saturday, August 3, 2019 1:05 pm


Fela

Ademola Adegbamigbe

Fela Anikulapo Kuti,  a Nigerian multi-instrumentalist, musician, composer, pioneer of the Afrobeat music genre and human rights activist, died on 2 August 1997. In preparation for one of his past memorials, his daughter, Yemi, granted TheNEWS an interview, revealing some more personal details about her late father, especially how he composed his music. He may either go into a trance-like posture, looking at a landscape visible to himself alone or he may ask for contributions from people around to enrich an idea he was playing with in his mind.

Yeni told TheNEWS: “There was one thing about Fela. When one new song was coming into his brain, you couldn’t talk to him. I mean, he would just sit down, staring into space, just looking. The only thing that would be moving was his mouth, his teeth would be knocking, and at that time you knew he was composing and if you talked to him, he would not answer you. He might be looking at you but he did not see you. His eyes would be open but he was not seeing you, he was just in his own world. He would just sit down.”

She revealed how she first encountered Fela in that mood when she was young. In her words: “My grandmother, Olufunmilayo Ransome-Kuti, took us to Abeokuta and she didn’t bring us home. She kept us there. They put us in school in Abeokuta. I stepped on a nail and I started getting a temperature. So she had to bring me back to Lagos for treatment in a hospital. When I got to the house the house was empty. I got to the corridor and I saw Fela sitting down and I said Fela and he didn’t answer, Fela, Fela. He didn’t see me, he didn’t hear me, so I went to my mother’s room, that is my father and mother’s room, she wasn’t there. Then I went back to Fela and called him, Fela, Fela, Fela. It took me about five minutes and I said if Fela didn’t hear me, I would go hide under the kiosk so that they wouldn’t take me back to Abeokuta. Then suddenly he just woke up but all the while his eyes were wild open and he saw me and shouted and hugged me. So it had taken him almost 5 to 10 minutes to realize that I was there, so he was always in his own world . Fela would actually go into his own world when he was composing.”

However, Fela would some times ask for ideas to enrich what he had formed when he went into his “trance” as was the case when he was composing Trouble Dey Sleep Yanga Go Wake Am.

According to Yeni: “Fela just came out of his room and he asked that people should give him ideas on many things that could cause trouble. I remember people gave him contributions for that number because he asked for their contributions. To make himself clear about what he wanted he gave them the example of a cat sleeping and the rat come and bite him so the rat will not rest … I remember that day very clearly. When I was much younger I could hear sounds, maybe a bird chirping, a tune will come to my head. Like my brother, Femi, when he is sleeping, the music will just wake him up.”

She argued that people sometimes think music is easy, it is not. “Music is a science. People don’t take music and musicians seriously in Nigeria and that pains me. Music is actually a science, the only form of art that you cannot touch, you can only hear, so it is a gift.”

Below is the full interview, published on 20 September 2016, entitled,

It’s an honour honoring Fela

Fela

Fela

Artistes in Nigeria and outside the country are getting ready for Felabration, a yearly festival put together to honour the late Afrobeat legend, Fela Anikulapo Kuti. This year’s event, the 19th in the series, will hold between 10 and 16 October 2016. In this interview with ADEMOLA ADEGBAMIGBE, Yeni Kuti, Fela’s daughter, speaks on the coming festival, preparation for it, support given the yearly event by Nigerian and world artistes and others issues


How far have you gone with preparation for this year’s Felabration?

This is Felabration 2016. Fela has been dead 19 years. Next year, it is going to be 20 years, and we are hoping that it is going to be big because 20 is a landmark number. Because of the current economic recession in Nigeria,Felabration is going to be staged just for one week. We were not where we were a year before, so we might just have to take things easy. The international artistes who are coming are people who have just bought their tickets.. Normally we would buy tickets, like last year we bought tickets, but I don’t think we can afford anything like that this year—- it’s a bit more difficult. Nigerian artistes have been wonderful, they have supported us. Blood children of Fela—- Femi and Seun have supported Felabration. Artistes who are not blood children of Fela like Tuface have really been amazing. . If you call Tuface and he is in town, he doesn’t hesitate. Last year, I didn’t call him up because he was performing in London ,yet he called me on a Sunday that he returned and told me he was just coming from the airport to the shrine. So it was a wonderful surprise to have that kind of support from the artistes. Wizkid, Olamide, D’banj and others have been great. Kwam One—Wasiu Ayinde— will not even ask me for a dime, because he said it was an honour for him to honour Fela and when you hear things like that from top artistes like Kwam One, you just feel very humbled. In other words Kwam One has humbled me enough because if I call him up and he is in town, he will be there, he won’t even ask questions, he just would tell you the dates he will be coming; he is just a wonderful person the way he supports Felabration. KSA too —King Sunny Ade— has been of great support. We are hoping he will come next year, for the 20th anniversary. That is why we have not invited him this year. He won’t take money to perform at Felabration. I’m deeply appreciative and humbled by all this affection. Even though it is difficult to get sponsors but the way people rally around Felabration and the memory of Fela is very touching and very spiritually uplifting for me.

What is the level of collaboration with the Lagos State Government?

I was at the Ministry of Culture and Tourism two weeks ago and I spoke to the Permanent Secretary who was just waiting for the approval from the Governor Akinwunmi Ambode who is also very interested like former Governor Babatunde Raji Fashola in Felabration.  Sometimes the money they gave was big, sometimes it was small,but big or small, they were always involved. The Ministry of Tourism has taken the event as a tourism affair, so Felabration is a major event in the calendar of Lagos state.

 

Fela was a national and world figure. Is there anything the Federal Ministry of Information and Culture is doing to support Felabration?

No. No.

Yeni Kuti

Yeni Kuti

Have you made any contact; have you approached the Minister in charge?

No. We wrote to the last government several times but we didn’t get anything. So maybe that has discouraged us. Just let’s stay with Lagos State.

How did you come about the theme of this year’s felabration: Everybody Say YE- YE?

I was not the one that chose the theme—- it was the chairman of Felabration, he chose the theme. The one I chose two years back was: Who no know, go know.

Last year’s Felabration was celebrated in over 50 countries, how many countries are celebrating this year?

Right now, what we are doing is Felabration under one umbrella. Lagos Nigeria been the mother show of Felabration, so if you want to do Felabration, we give you a license, so we have been granting licenses, it is not for money, it is just for us to be under one umbrella, you must put the logo of Felabration Nigeria unto your poster  or whatever you do, so Everybody say Ye-Ye is the theme for all Felabration worldwide. I know we have licenses for Japan, Argentina, America (many states in America), England, Austria, Germany, many countries…

How do you feel about that? About the globalization of Felabration?

I think when I came up with this festival, I had wanted it to be a big festival, but I never imagined that all over the world, people will key into it the way they have. We get so many requests from artistes around the world. I got one last night from Morocco. Felabration is going beyond my dream, very good for me because my dream was to make it a big festival but the size is beyond what I have imagined and I am very happy.

What are those things that sponsors of Felabration stand to gain?

I can give you an example like 7up for instance, at the shrine, we have never sold any other soft drink other than 7up for the past five years because we are very loyal to our sponsors. Yamaha came to meet us because they want to be associated with the brand. I think any brand that has sense come to Felabration. It is true.

Are you planning in the nearest future to sponsor another movie on the life of Fela?

Felabration cannot afford to sponsor a movie. Millions of dollars are needed. Where can we millions of naira or dollars? We are not politicians who are stealing people’s money. Felabration is a non- profit organization, but there are offers from filmmakers who want to do a feature film on Fela. There have been so many offers.We are taking our time. We are waiting patiently.

How do you also feel about the acceptance all over the world of Afro beat? It is even being played now by people who have never met Fela?

A lot of them, that’s the evidence of a great man. Many artistes want to emulate Fela. It is a sign of his greatness. I mean you have these great bands all over the world that are doing Afrobeat. There is this band trying to raise money, they even made a video of Fela, asking people to donate for them to come to Nigeria. The band is from Argentina. The group plays like Fela. Then another band in Chicago has approached us, so many afro beat bands have approached us that they want to come to Felabration, with their own money not our money. I am honoured to be Fela’s daughter, to be a Nigerian and to be an African under Fela.

Who coined the word Felabration by the way?

There was a friend I had in New York who knew about the festival. We used to call it Fela’s festival. We had only done one or two. We had done 2002 and 2003. That 2003 I think it was UNICEF that sponsored it when they brought Hugh Masekela, so I used to talk to him about this and he said why not call it Felabration? So I thought ok ok but I never used it but then 2005 when I called 2face to come and help me get sponsors for this festival and he said ok, so when we were trying and trying, I now gave him the name and it just caught up like wildfire. When I go to New York and I see that my friend, he will always say remember I gave you the name ooo. I intend to honour him one day publicly.

You just spoke about people playing afro beat all over the world, how many of these groups are also willing imbibe Fela’s ideas and politics?

I think many of them are very politically inclined. They are trying to imbibe Felas’ teachings. Many of them come from countries that there are under one oppression or the other. Fela is helping them through his music to help them out.

Fela’s music is played all over the world. How do you keeping track of his royalties?

Definitely, we have publishers in France, a record label in America, so they don’t want to lose their investments, even if we don’t mind here, they don’t. Fela’s former manager has google alert, so if you just play any of Fela’s music, it will just show and you are asked to pay.

Yeni Kuti

Yeni Kuti

While growing up, did you experience Fela composing his music, what are those things that inspired him? Were you at such sessions?

There was one thing about Fela. When one new song was coming into his brain, you couldn’t talk to him. I mean, he would just sit down, staring into space, just looking. The only thing that would be moving was his mouth, his teeth would be knocking, and at that time you knew he was composing and if you talked to him, he would not answer you. He might be looking at you but he did not see you. Do you understand? His eyes would be open but he was not seeing you, he was just in his own world. He would just sit down. I mean it happened to me when I was young. My grandmother, Olufunmilayo Ransome-Kuti, took us to Abeokuta and she didn’t bring us home. She kept us there. They put us in school in Abeokuta. I stepped on a nail and I started getting a temperature. So she had to bring me back to Lagos for treatment in a hospital. When I got to the house the house was empty. I got to the corridor and I saw Fela sitting down and I said Fela and he didn’t answer, Fela, Fela. He didn’t see me, he didn’t hear me, so I went to my mother’s room, that is my father and mother’s room, she wasn’t there. Then I went back to Fela and called him, Fela, Fela, Fela. It took me about five minutes and I said if Fela didn’t hear me, I would go hide under the kiosk so that they wouldn’t take me back to Abeokuta.  Then suddenly he just woke up but all the while his eyes were wild open and he saw me and shouted and hugged me. So it had taken him almost 5 to 10 minutes to realize that I was there, so he was always in his own world . Felawould actually go into his own world when he was composing. For instance, when he was composing Trouble Dey Sleep Yanga Go Wake Am he just came out of his room and he  asked that people should give him ideas on many things that can cause trouble. I remember people gave him contributions for that number because he asked for their contributions. To make himself clear about what he wanted he gave them the example of a cat sleeping and the rat come and bite him so the rat will not rest … I remember that day very clearly. When I was much younger I could hear sounds, maybe a bird chirping, a tune will come to my head. Like my brother, Femi, when he is sleeping, the music will just wake him up.

You know people sometimes think music is easy, it is not. Music is a science. People don’t take music and musicians seriously in Nigeria and that pains me. Music is actually a science, the only form of art that you cannot touch, you can only hear, so it is a gift.

You kept referring to him as Fela as  if he was your brother…

He never let us call him daddy.

Why?

I don’t know. Because when we tried he would say if you call me daddy I will not give you pocket money. They didn’t have to tell you two times before you reverted to Fela!

How has it been running the new African Shrine?

Femi is the artiste, without him, we wont have the shrine because who will be playing there, so he is important. Music is a full time job, you can’t say you want to run the shrine and play music. You have to settle for one and that is why it is good that it is like a partnership. I can do the business but it is not easy. Today before we left the Shrine I was asking: where are we going to get money for a new generator. We need a new one. The one we are using is old now, it is tired. We are not making millions. You count your kobo kobo. And start saving. Then recession will be announced. Inflation will overtake recession. Everyting don pafuka again. I dontire for this country o.

You are echoing a Fela’s song about a poor man who wants to buy a fan, so he starts saving, saving. The poor man saves and saves but each time inflation wipes out his saving so much that he can’t buy the fan….

Exactly. So it is not easy. When PHCN brings bills you will first be very sick. That’s minus the diesel that you are buying. The last time I shouted. It is not easy but it is fulfilling because we are continuing a legacy. That, for us, is important. Everything is not all about money.  It is about the legacy. A legacy that our children will take on but even if our own blood children won’t take it over, there is someone in Nigeria that will take it over from us. That is our prayer.

When is the Fela Museum going to be open?

The museum is partially open. During Felabration, there will be band playing there. We have not opened the hotel yet. Lagos State, our sponsor, gave us half of the money and told us to go and look for the other half but the honest truth is that am not a marketer and so I have not been able to find sponsors. I have been looking, and when we go for the Felabration matter, I would say help us with the museum and they will say ok, ok, ok but they don’t come back. So we are looking for a major sponsor who will help us finish the museum which is very important to us. A lot of people want to stay in the hotel. They just want to have that Fela’s experience. So the museum is open but not completed.

 

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