October 2009 marked the 12th anniversary of the death of Afrobeat King, Fela Anikulapo-Kuti. As has been the custom since his death in 1997, his children, once again, organized a week-long musical festival in his honour. Held at the New Afrika Shrine, in Agidingbi, Ikeja, Lagos, last year's event once again witnessed a variety of spectacular performances from the likes of King Sunny Ade, Fatai Rolling Dollar, Sir Shina Peters and even Femi Kuti himself. There were also imputs from acts like Seun Kuti, Wande Coal, Timaya, Terry G, Bigiano, Star Quest winners, The Pulse and Diamonds, among others. This interview was conducted just before Femi's performance at The New Afrika Shrine, Lagos, during Felabration in October 2009.
What does Felabration at 12 stand for?
It stands for the fact that our leaders cannot get away with what they are doing -destroying the country. People support Felabration because it stands for what is right and assures the leaders that they will never get away with what they are doing, and that people remember Fela Anikulapo-Kuti. He will never be forgotten, and there's no greater joy for me than knowing that.
What does Fela mean to you that other people do not know?
That's a very hard question, because he is my father. He means a lot of things as my father and there were times he annoyed me as well. What I miss most is his presence. I know that if he were alive now, he would have been able see my son, play with him and teach him things. I know I am giving my son the best, but he still does not have a grandfather. He met my son, Made, but now I would have loved to see Made disturb him. I would have loved to see him send Made on errands and advise Made. I think they would have bonded very well together.
How do you feel when you see the large turn-out at Felabration every year?
It shows that he was a great man and that people appreciate the work he did while he was alive. Most of the young people performing at Felabration today were not even there when Fela was fighting, but they have heard of him and seen his impact on the world. Fela was fighting in the 1970s when Fanta and Coke were just 5 kobo. It was N1,500 to buy a car; it was N200 to travel to America or England. Now, things are more than a thousand times worse and we are still surviving. We keep complaining about these things while some people steal all the money and keep it to themselves.
We have Felabration so that young people can understand what is happening. We have Fela as a strong base with which to launch our anger and the government cannot ease that. When you say you have no light and you are angry and you know a man lived and fought against these things many years before you were born, you have authentic proof on CDs, TV and everywhere that Fela stood and was incarcerated many times while fighting for the truth.
Do we still have such heroes?
Yes, we do. We have them in music. All the artistes coming out now are like Fela's children. Fela's music spans the whole world. Producers of Hip Hop are all Fela boys. People who produce Jay Z, Common and Alicia Keys are all Fela boys. There is one of Jay Z's tracks now that has a mixture of Afrobeat. I have met with most of these artists and they all love Fela. In the current hip hop scene, you will hear a lot of Afrobeat undertones.
What should people expect from your performances?
I used to do a thousand press-up and sit-up everyday. I am getting old now and I am very experienced. I have just come back from touring about 40 different locations in the world and I did Africa proud. The Shrine is my home and I am the same old Femi Kuti and everyone will have the time of their lives when I play. I always use the world 'Africans' instead of Nigeria because in Africa, we are virtually fighting the same fight and I am not restricted to Nigeria.
How did Felabration 2009 go?
It was great. King Sunny Ade was here. What more can you ask for? He was honoured to be here and was very happy to be on the stage in The Shrine. Pasuma, Sir Shina Peters, Fatai Rolling Dollar and a lot of the young musicians were here and they enjoyed performing here.
What's your opinion of Nigerian music at the moment?
I like a lot of what I am seeing. I like the hip hop movement going on among the youths. It is a very great development and I am happy about it because if not because of it, most of the youths who are stars today could have ended up in the wrong direction.
The people in government have so confused us and made it look like if you are not corrupt, you will not be successful. But the youths have been able to overthrow that by going into the arts, music and films. They are so successful in these areas and all hope is not lost for us in this country. Felabration supports the youths and everyone is welcome here.
How do you view Nigeria today?
I know that in Nigeria that we are number one in Africa. We have the energy, the manpower and mineral resources to be the best. If we want three national teams, we can have them. It is an insult when our boys cannot do well in football; we can't swim, even when we have Rivers State here. The government has no proper developmental policies in place. They cannot just pick some people and train them up to do the country proud in sports or any other area for that matter. They don't pay the doctors well, so who is going to treat us? Go to all the ministries, all you will find are people only interested in embezzling funds while the areas under their watch suffer neglect.
We want good education, we want good schools. We want our teachers to be well paid; we want equal education for everyone; we are tired of the situation where if you don't have money, your child will not get a good education. We want equal opportunities for everyone, we want a situation whereby the oil money goes round to every Nigerian.
How much do you think you have achieved with 12 years of Felabration?
With the condition of Nigeria and considering our situation we have achieved everything. Felabration is international; people are aware, there is a large followership. The youths are improving and people are using the stage to enhance their craft. What more can you ask for? We have no light in Nigeria and people are suffering. Yet we can still party. Felabration held without any serious cases of violence and people are happy. That a concert of this magnitude can hold without people being violent shows that we have made progress. It shows that we are law abiding and that there are still good people in Nigeria. Felabration has proven many of my beliefs right. It has shown me that Nigeria can be the greatest country in the world.
Sometime ago the Shrine was shut by the government and since then, we haven't been able to talk to you about it, what were their actual reasons for shutting down The Shrine?
They didn't have a reason, that's why they re-opened it.