rom January to December every yearFemi Anikulapo- Kutiand his Positive Force Band are touring Europe, America and other parts of the world, his schedule is usually fully booked.
On Saturday, the three-time Grammy Award nominee marked his 50th birthday anniversary with a star-studded ceremony staged at the New African Shrine, Ikeja, Lagos.
At the event, friends, family members and fans gathered to pay tribute to a man, who has brought so much honour and accolades to his fatherland. As expected, Femi treated the crowd to the best of his hits.
When Femi was asked about how he feels on turning 50? He says, “I’m quite indifferent o! I think I’m full of mixed emotions. Some times, I’m happy, some times, I’m sad. However, I never knew I would live this long definitely,” he said. When asked Why? He adds, “because I was a very reckless boy. If you had told me by 1982 that I would live up to 50 years, I wouldn’t have believed it. I had a bike then; I would go from Ikeja to Surulere in five minutes. If you saw me biking on the road… haaaaaa, I was very rough,” he stressed.
He continues, some people around me are making it (50th Anniversary) such a big deal and I’m forced to accept that it’s a big deal. “Sometimes, when I think of the wahala that comes with it… now, they want to do a big party for me. It’s going to be very stressful; I’m not sure I’m looking forward to it,” he said.
With three Grammy nominations and a flourishing music career, cerebrating a 50th birthday in grand style is not out of place for an artiste of Femi’s calibre. But for him, there’s more to life than counting success.“If you are looking at it from that angle … I don’t look at things from that perspective; I like my peace, my quiet time and I don’t like dwelling on things I’ve achieved. I think they can be derailing; it makes you lose focus. ‘Oh, yes, Grammy Nominee!’ Come, is it Grammy that will take me to heaven, that’s if there is actually heaven,” he retorted.
AT 50, nothing changes for Femi. Like his legendary father, Fela Anikulapo-Kuti, Femi remains the musician activist and social critic, whose voice goes beyond rhymes and rhythms.“Well, I know I’m old o! When I was 20, we used to call 50-year-old people old men. I have a lot of young people in my band and they are already looking at me as an old man,” he said.But when it comes to performance, “I think I’m even better now than when I was younger; then, it was difficult for me to place myself. Along the way, I’ve learnt a lot. I think I’m a better performer and artiste today; my maturity brought all these. So, I don’t think I’ve got to that stage where age is a minus for me,” he insisted.
His playing music was never an accident. Right from his childhood, he has always known that playing music is the way to go. With a musician father, it didn’t take long before that dream came to limelight.“My only problem then was how and when. But when I knew how and I saw how great my father was, I was like, ‘will I be able to live up to this heritage?’ I was a bit frightened.”
Going back to the time when Buhari/Idiagbon regime locked up his father Fela, the leadership of the Egypt 80 Band fell on Femi’s shoulders. That era provided him with opportunity to carve his niche.“I had to lead his (Fela’s) band for two years; I developed so fast. By the time he came out of prison, I had already composed lots of songs on my own. I needed to find my own voice, my own melody and my own rhythm.
This was very traumatic for me but there was never the thought of quitting”.
Today, that Femi’s fast tempo has become a big deal for the younger generation of Nigerians, who seems to have accepted it as a groove.“Bang bang band… became a hit and when I had Wonder Wonder, which was a hit, everybody said Fela wrote that number for me in closed door; they didn’t believe I wrote it. Fela had to come out several times to tell them I wrote the song on my own, but many people didn’t believe because it was so Felaish, it was a massive hit, the kind of music people wanted me to play,” he said.
Till date, Femi still plays with a big band, not minding the high cost of managing such a large group. You begin to wonder how he makes his profits?“In the beginning, it was very stressful; some times, one or two of them would escape on tour. Nigeria has always been problematic; is it the no light, no water, no road, no money… there was a tour we had more than 20 shows; the drummer escaped in the middle of the tour and we had to improvise.”
To salvage the situation, Femi came up with an idea of using the conga and the sneer drum, while the percussionist was playing the drum pattern.“We did it and it became a trend; we didn’t play with a drummer for a long time. However, that changed my composition again; it actually enhanced my creativity. Every time there’s a challenge in my life, I don’t dwell on it on the negative; I try to find how to quickly lift myself. I’ve not made millions touring because of the size of the band; by the time we buy tickets, transportation, feeding, salary… I will be left with just a little,” he said.
Luckily, Femi is not materialistic; so he had little to save.“I don’t wear gold, I don’t have many shoes; I have like six or seven outfits made ofadire. I rather invest on helping people, training my children and taking care of the Shrine than spending money on material things.”
“People think I’m very rich, but I’m not; I’m just okay. However, I’m not poor; I don’ need to go begging or take a bank loan. I think when you start from a very poor situation, you know how to manage money. If not for my mother, I would have died because I had no money; whom do you ask for money? So, it kind of helped me to be a good manager.”
When asked on the effects of being Fela’s child, he says ‘it is both positive and negative, depending on the side of the divide.If you were with the poor people, you are great, but if you were with the snubs, it wasn’t really great. Even my wife, the family rejected me because I’m Fela’s son; the mother said, the leopard would never change its spots.”To marry Femi, Funke had to run away from her parents.
To Femi, the death of Fela was not as heartbreaking as the cause of his death, “it was difficult, but I knew he was loved. To defend him because he died of AIDS, that was really a difficult thing. For me, I didn’t see it as a big deal because I understood death; he could have died of cancer or anything. However, it was a new topic of death and people were talking about it. I had a feeling that probably, the government was trying to use it to blacklist him,” he said.
Even at that, Femi was confident that no matter how the story went, people would appreciate Fela in death; he was confident that millions of people would come for his burial. “Fela’s death didn’t disturb me that much because he had a fulfilling life; sexually, materially, he had achieved everything. He was more than a great man; he was like a demi-god. So, I didn’t feel any kind of dejection. I was even kind of proud because of positive reports about him; journalists loved him. In fact, the Commissioner of Police then came out to say that there was no robbery for three days; he said robbers signed a pact that they won’t rob for three days in honour of Fela.”
When asked about his wife, Femi says“I’m not married,” with a straight face.“I have people that take care of children and they have their mother’s families; my sister is also there for them. I don’t say anything about the mothers of my children because that’s their effort in sustaining the relationship.”
He continued: “As much as I’m doing things for the children and themselves, they too have to put an effort to ensure that they love me enough to care for the children and myself. So, if they want me to live long, they should love me more; if I want them to be in this relationship, I should love them more. The children cannot fend for themselves; we need to give them all the love and protection we can. Nothing comes before my children. I needed my career to sustain my children. If you are a good parent, you would let go a lot of things for the sake of your children.
His happiest moment is “when my kids are happy and laughing; they determine my mood. You know they come from different mothers; so, its difficult to keep them united. You have to teach them to be there for each other now, so that in future, they would be there for themselves. They shouldn’t let their mothers jealousy to come between them”.
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