Jun 17, 2010
Interview and article - Lekan Animashaun
Baba Ani: "Fela Still Appears To Me In My Dreams"
Lekan Animashaun, aka Baba Ani, baritone sax player and leader of Fela Kuti’s legendary Egypt 80 band, gave a revealing interview last week to Lagos’s The Daily Vanguard newspaper. Baba Ani was one of the original members of Fela’s musical universe, joining him to help form Koola Lobitos in 1965. He remained as a key force in the innovative horn section that powered Fela throughout the musical glory days the 1970s, and was also a leader of the Movement of The People, a political party founded by Fela.
In the extended interview, Baba Ani, who just turned 70, reflects on his three decades of playing music with Fela:
How did you then meet Fela?
I met him at NBC studios at Ikoyi (Nigerian Broadcasting Corporation). At that time when I was with the NBC band, we used to rehearse on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, unless we were having a show, which was the procedure. I was there on one of the rehearsals and decided to go to the canteen during break and met Fela and introduced myself to him. Before then I had heard about him trying to form a highlife band, when he got back from London he was having a small group, a combo with Tony Allen on drums. So I walked up to him and explained what I heard about him concerning his plan to form a highlife band and explained to him the instrument I could play. He asked if I had my instrument with me and my response was in the affirmative. So, he gave me an appointment for four o’clock on Monday at his then Kalakuta Republic, 14A Agege Motor Road.
That same evening, I got home, carried my baritone and headed for Fela’s house. I met him with Benson Idonije who was producer at NBC, January 1965. He gave me a piece of paper on which he had written the baritone part. So, I set up my instrument and I went and read through it with my instrument and he said to Idonije; ‘ah! He has made it.’ That was how we started together...
Baba Ani was a skilled sight reader, but he explains how Fela wrote out horn parts for the musicians in the group, who came from a variety of musical backgrounds:
Did Fela write his music, score the drums?
He did, sometimes he uses his mouth to dictate the rhythm he wants, but initially he was writing. Even he was writing on music manuscript but when it got a stage he was writing on pieces of papers because he had reduced his music writing to tonic solfa instead of writing the note.
Why did he do that?’
Because at that time we were having problems with instrumentalists that couldn’t read music. To make it simpler for those who could not read notation on music manuscript, and were able to understand tonic solfa and that was why he reduced his music reading to tonic solfa on pieces of papers.
Baba Ani also describes the mistrust that some Nigerians had for Fela and his revolutionary message:
How did your family take your association with Fela, the late nights, beating up of the band members (by the police and army)?
It was battle royale because none of my family members supported my playing with Fela, even playing music because I remember when I was playing with Chris Ajilo at the Federal Palace Hotel, when I dressed up in the evening to go to the Federal Palace to play, some of our neighbours then would call my mother to say that I was a cult member and going for a cult meeting. A good number of my family members did not support it. Even the mother of my wife today for about three months before our marriage washed her hands off, saying that her daughter wasn’t going to marry Omonilu, but later she saw that the whole thing was becoming a reality so, she had no choice but to accept me and the ceremonies were held because I stood my ground like I still do today.
Two prominent members of the Egypt 80 band, led by the late Afrobeat king- Fela Anikulapo-Kuti were honoured recently in Lagos. It was at the monthly elders’ forum jointly organised by the Committee for Relevant Art (CORA) and O’Jez Entertainment, located at Surulere, Lagos.
The two Afrobeat legends; Lekan Animashaun (a.k.a Baba Ani), and Duro Ikujenyo, were honoured at the 60th edition of the Great Highlife Party, otherwise known as Elders’ Forum. Interestingly, the duo were Fela Anikulapo Kuti’s side-men. Animashaun, now 70, was Egypt 80’s band leader while Ikujenyo, was the band’s keyboardist.
Friends and admirers honoured both men as they beamed with smiles. And perhaps more significantly, the duo’s birthday feast coincided with Nigeria’s Independence Day Anniversary in addition to marking the fifth anniversary of O’Jez Entertainment. Anchored by veteran broadcaster, Benson Idonije, the party drew a large number of elder artistes, thereby making a major statement on the flourishing highlife scene. In his remarks, CORA’s Secretary General, Toyin Akinoso recounted how Baba Ani was snatched away from Pa Chris Ajilo’s Kubanos Band by the late Abami Eda.
“He was recruited in the 60s,1964 precisely into the Egypt 80 Band and he was one of the frontline members of Movement of the People (MOP), a political party founded by Fela during the Second Republic” However, the claim that Baba Ani was ‘snatched’ from Chris Ajilo band was however faulted when Ajilo himself mounted the stage. He told the all-attentive audience that there was a particular journey, which Animashaun was supposed to go with the group but could not make it. His words “he (Baba Ani) was then working with the Lagos Town Council.
Of course, he could not go on tour with us. That was why we had to let him go. He was not snatched by the late Fela Anikulapo. He has always been a very close friend. Now, I am very proud of him because when he left Kubanos, the next band he joined in 1965 was Fela’s band.”
Duro Ikujenyo who is presently the leader of Age of Aquarius was lauded for his managerial acumen. He was said to have produced some of Fela’s songs and that of Fatai Rolling Dollars. Fela’s Unknown Soldier and Fatai’s Won Kere si Number wa particularly were two popular songs credited to the keyboardist. Akinoso noted further, “I know that there are some other people here who know so much about the two, adding, however, that their scholarly position was deliberate and it was to create a platform for collaboration with O’Jez.
Also, Seyi Solagbade, highlife singer and leader of Blackface said Ikujenyo was a legend whose efforts cannot be pushed aside. He said:“ He (Ikujenyo) has been there for so long doing things that are creative. He is a veteran of a kind. I think these are the kinds of legends Nigerians should celebrate.”
On the highlife party, Solagbade said that the initiative has come of age and should begin to attract corporate sponsorship. “CORA has been there for almost 20 years now. It has been a self sponsored programme but big companies should now show interest in things like these rather than fund programmes that will pollute the minds of the youths.”
Shortly before guests took to the floor, Elder Steve Rhodes, Fatai Rolling Dollars and Chief Femi Asekun inducted the celebrants into the Elders’ Forum. Soon after, Chris Ajilo relived the Eko o gba gbere oldies while Baba Ani performed Oni Dodo Oni Moinmoin.