Baba Ani: What I learnt from Fela

Baba Ani: What I learnt from Fela

Monday, August 8, 2016 5:03 pm

Baba Ani

Baba Ani

Chief Olalekan Animasaun, 80, popularly known as Baba Ani, was the late Fela Anikulapo Kuti’s band leader. Baba Ani narrated his times with Fela, kalakuta Republic episode, what Fela taught him about life, music, Pan Africanism and others.

Since you were close to Fela, why did he declare a Kalakuta Republic?

As an artiste, hardly would you do something and everybody would understand it. Sometimes you put the artistic picture in you or what you are doing. To me, he was just playing pranks on the government and telling them they couldn’t just come to his domain and do what they liked. He used barbed wire on his fence and electrified it so that if you weren’t welcomed, he would put electric current on the barbed wire and it would shock the intruder. But even with that, the armed forces came in when they wanted.

But did anybody try to discourage Fela when he was getting so vocal with the government even prior to the Kalakuta invasion?

Oh yes! In fact, I in particular, tried to advise him so many times. I would always discuss with him. But you see, when somebody is on earth for a mission, there is nothing you would say to divert his attention from that mission. To me, Fela was sent here to do certain things and he did all he could before he left the world. Friends advised him and they also deserted him when they couldn’t cope with him.

Can you give us an instance of one piece of advice you gave him?

Oh yes. When he was in his house at Gbemisola Street in Ikeja, there was a day the police came and raided the place with the drug and law enforcement people. They took everybody away. That time, Fela’s women were in the habit of selling drinks, cigarettes, marijuana and some other stuff in the compound. Every one of them had their table which they displayed their wares for sale. After the raid and they were released, I went for a visit to Fela’s house and I saw that those women had set up those wares again. The thing annoyed me so I went up to Fela’s room. I and just few people were usually the only ones allowed into Fela’s bedroom. I went into his room as usual; I had a place I usually sat. He was always on his bed. So I told him what I observed in the house. I asked him why he allowed his women to set up their wares again given the fact that they were just released.

He got annoyed. He got up from his bed and was very furious. He said, ‘Baba Ani, do you want me to fight with you? Do you now want me to be scared of the government?’ He started yabbing me. Eventually, he asked me if I wasn’t going to take my stout drink. I told him I would take. He called his boy on duty and told him to get me a bottle of stout. It wasn’t as if we didn’t advise Fela but he had his own mind and he knew what he wanted. He had his own focus and there was little anybody could do about it.

Is there another example?

When we went to Berlin Jazz Festival in 1979, he had decided to carry placards and also tell his dancers to carry placards at the event. We went with his Ghanaian lawyer, Mr. Gardner. Fela was advised not to carry placard. He agreed. But on the day of the show, suddenly, placards were ready and he distributed them to his women and they raised them up during the performance. But there was no trouble with the law enforcement agencies in Germany about that.

What was written on the placard?

Just slogans about Pan Africanism, slogans condemning colonialism and stuff like that. That was Fela for you. Then again, after the death of his mother, he wanted to carry a mock coffin to Dodan Barracks, the seat of power then. Some friends advised him not to do such. But he refused. He eventually had his way.

Were you with Fela when Kalakuta was invaded by the soldiers many years ago?

Not really; but I was on my way there. I wasn’t there with him at that moment. In fact, it was in the evening that a neighbour, who was Fela’s neighbour at 14A Agege Motor Road came to my house and told me about what was happening at Fela’s house. She was living in a room and parlour next to Fela’s house. So she called out to me shouting, ‘Baba Ani! Baba Ani! They have been burning your house!’ I was confused. Which house? I hadn’t built any house then. I just said ‘really’.

You didn’t believe her?

I did when it occurred to me she could be talking about Fela’s house. I got up and I also told my wife to get up. We dressed up and we took a taxi to Fela’s house. By the time we got to the railway crossing area, we saw people putting their two hands on their heads as they were walking. It was a sign of ‘I surrender’.

Did you still continue the journey?

Yes. By the time we got to a few yards to Fela’s house, I saw a huge flame. The house was burning. The generator outside was burning. People were just passing by quietly but with their hands still on their heads.

So who did you meet when you got there?

By the time I got to the house, they had carried all the occupants of the house away. Some were in the hospital, some were in the police cell. In fact, that had been the pattern. I never ran into any of the raids that were carried out in the house. It was either the raid would have happened after I had come and gone or it would have happened before my arrival. It facilitated my ability to have kept the band going any of those days he was incarcerated.

What was your first reaction when you got to the house and saw it was invaded?

God! I felt very bad. I was very angry. I never thought that a good government would have gone to that extent of doing such to a fellow citizen even with all the civilisation and independence the country had got then. Although Fela was counted an enemy of the government, to us and the masses and even people outside the country, he was an eye-opener. He was a revolutionary. He was just doing a job to open the eyes and minds of the people to watch what was happening around us so we could be up and doing and do something to better our lot. I felt very bad about it but there was nothing I could do. Who I be?



When you got there, did you believe the women who claimed they were also beaten and raped?

The women told me. They actually said they were raped. Some of them actually claimed they were raped.

Talking about his mother, somebody actually said that Fela exaggerated when he said that the soldiers threw his mother down from the balcony during the Kalakuta invasion, do you think the person was right?

I must tell you that the claim is very difficult to dispute. The woman sustained injuries. She was taken to the hospital. One of her legs was in POP when she was in hospital. I believe she was manhandled a lot.

Fela took the Federal Government to court for the Kalakuta invasion and he lost the case, how did he feel when he lost the case?

Naturally, he didn’t feel well about it. How could the court have said the mayhem was caused by ‘unknown soldiers’? Were they not Nigerian soldiers who were in Army uniform? Yet the court came to the conclusion that the damage was done by ‘unknown soldiers.’ But you and I know it was done by Nigerian soldiers. That made him to compose some of his songs including Kalakuta Show and Unknown Soldier.

Would you say that his refusal to participate in FESTAC was the reason he had problems with the leaders in Nigeria?

I would say it may have contributed. He was first of all co-opted into the planning committee and he put his views across on how best the event would roll. The military man in charge as the chairman of the meeting disagreed with him and so Fela left the committee unceremoniously. That was one of the major incidents. But that was not all. The problem was his stand about Pan Africanism, his stand against our rulers’ behaviour. They weren’t leaders, they were rulers. His major problem was that he exposed the ills of the society. He exposed the shortcomings of the rulers in power. He called them vagabonds in power. That was his major problem.

He suffered. He was killed for nothing. He died because he was on the side of the masses. He would have lived a better life than what happened to him. He was treated as a criminal. It is quite unfortunate. That is the country we live in. Fela was not a criminal. He was a very accommodating man. He accommodated people of all ethnic groups and even people who are not Nigerians. I still miss him so much. I learned a lot from him. I have never seen a hardworking musician like Fela. He was courageous. He was disciplined. He abhorred stealing and other vices.

But FESTAC was a huge event, didn’t you people advise him to have a change of mind and be a part of it?

When you see somebody created to do things others cannot do, it is usually difficult to convince such a person when he/she takes a stand. When you know the man you are dealing with, you don’t even bother to appeal to him. Whatever financial benefit he could have got from the event did not appeal to him. Since we had stayed together for a long time, there was no way part of his traits and way of life and ideology would not rub off on us. We also shunned the rosy life. And actually, if you want to be on the side of the people, you cannot expect to live a rosy life. This is the only house I have got. If we had followed the government and collecting contracts from the government, I probably would have owned more than 10 houses. You would have found so many cars in my compound. We shunned such luxury because we wanted to be on the side of the people and damn the consequences of doing that.

We learnt Fela was taken to the hospital after the invasion, how long did he stay there?

He never stayed long. He just spent a few weeks in the hospital.

But did he really sustain injuries?

Oh yes he did! When he was released from the hospital, one leg and one arm were in POP. But it didn’t deter him from coming for shows. He would still come and he would perform, sing and play his sax even with one leg and arm. He was still vocal, still on the side of the masses and attacking those who were against the oppressed.

Would you remember Fela’s boy, Segun Adams? We learnt he was the one that the soldiers was pursuing before they entered Kalakuta…

I used to know him but I have not seen him in a long while. He was Fela’s driver and house help. He was also a body guard.

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