Jul 17, 2013

Femi Kuti about the musical FELA!

I cried when I saw Fela! On Broadway – Femi Kuti

Just like his father Fela, Femi’s commitment to political and social causes is not in doubt. A towering talent in his own right, the son of the Afrobeat legend has been nominated for a Grammy Award three times in the world music category, in 2003, 2010 and 2012, but has never won. In this exclusive Interview with Sam Umukoro and Kolade Arogundade, Femi talks about his life, career, Fela and of course, you guessed right, political and social issues. 

SUI: One important book in African studies is Walter Rodney’s book, ‘How Europe Underdeveloped Africa’.  Don’t you think it’s high time Africans began to look at how Africans underdeveloped Africa, instead of blaming Europe?

Femi Kuti: No, that is not the point. It is an escapist route. I hate that statement when many Africans say, get over it. Get over what, 500 years of slavery? Can you imagine if slavery did not happen?
Before slavery, Africa had a culture. We had medicine and our cure for malaria. Slavery brought diseases that we were not used to; slavery brought industry and people were criticizing industry way back as 2,000 years ago, that it was going to pollute the air, sea. Industry is not the way. We must deal with nature. It’s taken them 200 years to understand that they were wrong, 500 years to understand that slavery was wrong.

Now we have to understand that slavery would not have ended if it was left to the Africans alone, Now, Europe understood that what they were doing then was unjust, but imagine the propaganda from kings and queens of Europe to convince their people that we were cannibals, idol worshipers, horrible people, bastards, godless monkeys… you cannot imagine the pandemonium that was even going in their minds, because at that time in history, there were no footages to show what had happened, the footages we have are those of the Ku Klux Klan hanging people… But we need to appreciate that history, where is the blame for the African?

 SUI: In essence, Africans need to understand their history?

Femi Kuti: Yes. You want to blame (President Goodluck) Jonathan for not knowing this history, was this history taught in his school? I won’t be surprised if it wasn’t.

I’m sure Jonathan does not appreciate Lumumba, know much about Kwame Nkrumah, or the significance of what Nkrumah did when he formed the Organisation of African Unity (OAU). Let’s look at how he got into power. Did he intend to become president? He was the deputy governor of Bayelsa state until he was chosen as vice president to (late President Umaru) Yar’ Adua.

This is somebody that I’m sure has no understanding of the magnitude of this African history because if he did, he would have been going in that direction. Africans should be asking questions, like why does America and Russia have the right to veto our votes? These countries talk about democracy and yet are not democratic themselves.

Our leaders should start talking as leaders. They talk like puppets. It might take us another 100 years to come out of this phase of corruption and mismanagement. But the good thing is that we are more aware, and more Africans are talking about these things.

Also, Nigerians are freer today, unlike in the 70′s, because a man, my father, sacrificed himself for many years, before the Gani Fawehinmis, Femi Falanas, Dr. Beko Ransome Kutis. We have to appreciate this fact.

Fela stood alone and when he spoke then, many people, even his family, opposed him. When he said, change your name from Ransome to Anikulapo, because he felt it was a colonial and slave name, they could not understand where Fela was coming from. His family rejected it; his brothers carried the name till their death.

For Fela, it was about being yourself, loving one’s culture. But his family didn’t understand this. How long is it going to take us to understand that, for us, (bearing) ‘Chinyere’ is better than ‘Mary’, why should I want to be John instead of Lakunle? Why should I wear a coat and tie in this hot sun? Why can’t we love our own attire?

The deeper you look into this problem, you find people who cannot reason. When you even start this topic with them, they are not ready because of education and their family tradition or what their father told them, that Jesus is coming soon… we are too focused on religion… Do you know how much money churches and mosques make from the distortion of facts and history, just to enslave the human mind? Do you know how much money we put into Saudi Arabia or the Vatican City in the name of religion?

The good thing is that there are many of us who are becoming open minded. Why did Fela revolt? Fela’s father and grandfather were pastors, but Fela went to America, he read all these books and then he said ‘Aha! There’s too much discrepancy in the American life and this is Nigeria…’ He read books and went out of his way to do his own music. Just imagine if Fela had followed the path of his father. He would have been singing ‘O, Oluwa wa jesu ti wa ni’.

SUI: Talking about slavery, one of the arguments put about Africa today by some people is that the continent is not so much better off than it was during the colonial era, especially with the numerous wars, conflicts and bad leadership…

Femi Kuti: Oh, that is an insult. Those people who said so should be slapped. Imagine the crimes that were committed here. We need to consider that.

I have English blood, but I’m not going to say because of my English blood, I’m going to run away from the fact of what happened in Africa. I have a British passport; I don’t need to be here. But we cannot run away from the truth. It will always vindicate one. It’s not my path to escape and find the easy way in life.

First of all, democracy is not a European way of government; it was practiced long ago before Jesus Christ, even in Africa where Africans elected their kings and chiefs to represent the communities. The chiefs were as powerful as the kings because when one committee says ‘no’, there could be war. So it was about unanimity. They all had to come to an agreement about issues.

And that meeting could go on for days, because when they come out in disagreement, war can erupt. So we were already practicing this system of democracy. Let us look at the system of democracy in practice in modern times, where is it really working, in Turkey, Cyprus, England, America? US President Obama wants to close Guantanamo Bay, but the legislators refused. He’s having sleepless nights. What favour have they (the West) done us?

Look at South Africa and the end of apartheid, for me, I think they just used Mandela as a figurehead because Europe and America wanted to do business with South Africa, and they used that as an excuse. They wanted trade because of the diamonds and all the resources they could get from South Africa, but they needed to do it openly. So they ended apartheid, with the belief that they will still have the power eventually. How really democratic are they in South Africa?

They don’t teach history in many schools in Nigeria today, it is a subject that nobody cares about anymore. We need to teach our children history, right from the primary school level, for them to better understand the issues. They don’t teach history in my son’s school.


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