Exclusive: 2 Hours With Femi Kuti – “No Music Industry in Nigeria” (Part One)
In this exclusive interview granted to the duo of Sulaimon Mojeed-Sanni and Damilola Oduolowu, the Scion of Late Afrobeat Legend Fela Anikulapo-Kuti, Femi Kuti, who just turned 51years on earth, bears his mind on what he learnt from his father, what he wants to be remembered for the Nigeria music “industry”, excerpts…
Q: Do you think Hip-hop is having a negative dent on Afro-beat with the collaborations? Won’t it chase it off the airways?
Femi: I don’t think so, moreover, I can’t criticise what the youths are doing with their lives once it’s creative and they are trying to do something different with their lives. Hip-hop doesn’t and can not have a negative effect on Afrobeat and can’t chase it out of airways. Is Afrobeat not before hip-hope, is jazz, funk not still been played? Classical music, blues and so called traditional music are still been played by those who love them. Hip-hop might be a very popular music at this time, but we can’t forget the fact that hiphop came out of Afrobeat. Those who play afrobeat are those who love and cherish this particular genre of music and when you listen to hiphop, you cannot but accept that there are lots of Afrobeat in them. Hiphop can’t deny taking from Afrobeat, so how does Afrobeat die? When you are taking from something to make something, how does such thing die when it is a part of what you have created? We must understand that there are so many Afrobeat bands around the world, in Japan, Australia, Europe just name it, Afrobeat is evergreen.
Q: there is this wide perception that people come to the New African Shrine not for the Music but because it is a “freeland” to smoke marijuana?
Femi: I don’t know anybody in that category. I don’t know anybody that does that either, I believe you know we work with the NDLEA to stop those that deals in the sales of marijuana here. We have been working closely with the NDLEA for years to sustain this trend. Now, if they are doing such outside of the shrine, it is not in our knowledge and we are not dealers ourselves. It is however not easy for us to arrest people not smoking within our premises, so the New Africa Shrine management has made that clear. Although, we do find it difficult, stopping people from smoking, I won’t deny it is a very difficult challenge but it is something we have to keep on fighting. The NDLEA comes here and they know we are not part of the dealers, sellers or smokers, we don’t indulge in such.
On the other hand, I was passing some clubs on the Island and they were smoking marijuana opening in front of Eko Hotel, why is nobody talking about the fact that they smoke marijuana openly in such place? You need to go out in the night to see these things. What surprises me this particular night was that there was a police van stationed right at the corner of the scene, you know if it is the African shrine, the Press would write about it. Nobody smells it if it’s not the shrine, is it only the shrine that is culprit in this weed smoking? Lots of joint out there doing it, but in the shrine we still take measures to curb it. When you have a thousand people gathered and smoking at the same time, how do you arrest a thousand people? But we have help the NDLEA to make arrest here before and we are still working with them.
Q: How has it been sustaining Fela’s legacy of keeping the flame of Afrobeat burning?
Femi: nothing in life is easy, so I don’t expect it to be easy. Having said that, it is our inheritance, we have to do our responsibilities as a family; me, my brothers and sisters. Everybody is doing their part, the legacy is beyond the family. You know there is a play bearing Fela on Broadway, people are playing and hear Fela’s music, so the legacy is bigger than Nigeria, it’s a global institution now, which makes it easier for the family.
Q: You travel a lot, how do you manage your engagements within the African shrine?
Femi: Because I have a great sister, who manages the African Shrine when I am not around. We work together, one of us is always around. She knows that my career is very important and since she has retired from active dancing, she has ample time to do the administrative work at the shrine which I absolutely have no time.
Q: what would you say is Fela’s fatherly lessons and influence on you aside putting you in the Afrobeat lane?
Femi: to be truthful in whatever you are doing. All what I have talked and sang about are part of his teachings as a father. To always stand by justice. Don’t compromise the truth even if you are a lone voice.
Q: What legacy do you wish to leave behind?
Femi: Truly I don’t think along those lines. I just play because I enjoy playing, wherever it takes me, fine. I know I am going to die one day, so am making the best out of every situation I have. What are the important things to me? My children, my music. So one does not need to think about legacy, when I die, some people would still write whatever they like about me but will I care? No, I would be dead. So I don’t need to bother myself about what people would say when I won’t be there to judge them. Even alive, they write sorts because I said I don’t believe in marriage.
The only thing I do about leaving a legacy is playing good music, I must say again, leaving a legacy is not my priority, my priority is to play good music to the best of my abilities. And my family, nothing is more important.
Q: what’s your view on the Nigerian Music industry?
Femi: Please we do not have an industry. You don’t use a word that doesn’t represent what you intend to say. What is an industry? We don’t have a music industry in Nigeria. Music Industry is when you have record companies, song writers, standard studios, you can’t even define it. We used to have an industry before, but all the record companies shutdown. We don’t have recording companies now, we have labels. Though it’s not a Nigerian problem, its a global problem, but the difference between Nigeria and the other world is, there are many things still in place. Over there you can tour the whole of Europe, there are so many clubs from town to town, they are structured in that way and festivals everywhere all over Europe. You can do tour in America, Asia but you can’t do tour in Nigeria.
How many clubs do we have that we can play? Tell clubs, that a band like my own can play in Abeokuta, Lagos, Ibadan, Owerri? Industry means there are standard, policy and procedure in place. Let’s use Nollywood as an example, if you watch American movies, you would be ashamed of what we have. If Americans want to act a crashing plane, you would believe it truly does. But if a Nollywood actor wants to jam(sic) ordinary car, you would see the fakeness from the Actor to the Camera man even the unseen Director. Nobody finds time to say, let’s go and learn how these people are doing it, and so we can make a great move, that if a car jam(sic) somebody, you would believe it does.
You know what they call stuntmen? That is industry. Where you find somebody that looks like the actor. Sometimes, it’s not the actor that does the stunt, very few of them does it, but an industry is so big that there are look alike for every great actor – an industry make provisions. If an industry wants a serious war scene to happen on Ikorodu road, there are provisions to block it and it won’t affect the city because the whole city is the industry. If you go to Los Angeles, a Bar attendant who sells drinks is an actor, he might not be as popular as Bruce Willis, but he is an actor. The industry makes everybody participate, that’s an industry.
When you go to our music, there is absence of lyrics. But in an industry, lyricists are in ten thousands, what type of music, is it hip-hop, jazz name it, you would see them. And they all have to be at their best because the competition is too high, they become experts in their field. You can find ten thousands great players of any music, instrument – that’s an industry. you would be tired of them, what kind do you want, computerised or real drum? You would find them. Industry is where they put everybody in school for five years, they don’t know if you would become a musician, they start with the piano, then the system takes you, and put you in the category they see you have abilities, accountancy, engineering, law, carpentering, plumbing name it. There they don’t discriminate, everybody from the plumber to the mechanic as a role to play. Every job is dignified, because a lawyer can’t make the chair he would sit on but the carpenter can and he does a good job not this shabby things we see. Industry, we don’t have industry here!
Industry is what we have at the Idols, where you have scouts waiting because even the winner does not really have to be the best, the industry understands that and make provisions. The winner is just the person who has won more vote by tweeting, facebooking or get people to like him or her better but that does not mean he/she has the best voice. The industry would now know that the contestant who took tenth has a great voice and can be used for certain songs, so they pick him/her. Though he/she didn’t win there, he/she can come back to win the Grammy with his next album. He might not even know how to write songs, the industry has people that can write songs that would suit your voice. That’s what I call an industry, and I don’t see that here!
To be continued…
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