OMOYENI ANIKULAPO-KUTI (or simply, Yeni Kuti or YK) is the first child of music Legend and originator of Afrobeat music, Fela Anikulapo-Kuti. She pioneered the idea of Felabration, a yearly music festival since 1998 to celebrate the life and contributions of Fela. Ahead of 2019 edition of Felabration which will hold from 14 to 20 October with the theme, ‘From Lagos With Love’ dubbed from one of Fela’s popular songs titled “Eko Ile”, Yeni in this interview with TAIWO OKANLAWON AND AYODELE EFUNLA spoke about this year’s preparations, Felabration’s achievements and challenges as well as other related national issues
Q: Congratulations on hosting Felabration for over 20 years now…
Thank you very much. Fela died in 1997, so the first one was in 1998 and the second one was in 2000 when we opened the New Africa Shrine. So, it has not been 21 years straight but Fela has been dead for 21 years. But since 2005, it has been straight and we thank God because it is not easy in Nigeria to hold a festival for that long.
This year’s edition is tagged ‘From Lagos with Love’. How did you come about the theme?
We used Fela’s track, ‘Eko Ile’. You know, we are trying to draw people to Nigeria, tourists to Lagos, Abeokuta and that is how the theme came about. All of us that are in the Felabration committee, none of us lives abroad, we all live in Nigeria and nobody really wants to go and live abroad. You know that Fela’s song? Kosibiti mole gborile, kosi oo afeko Ile (There is no where I can put my head but Lagos), That is what inspired the theme.
Tell us more about this year’s preparation. What are the line-up of events?
Well, we have the normal events. We have the Afrobics Dance Competition first on 21 September, then we have the Art Competition which is on 28 September, we have the secondary schools debate on the 9 October, then Felabration proper will start on the 14 October with the symposium. And this year on our line up, we will have Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. We are going to have Akala, he is a London based Black African musician, poet and political activist. We have Bobi Wine, he’s from Uganda and Professor Akin Oyebode. Sefi Atta is another big author, she will be the moderator.
From the night of the 14th, the musical festival starts, we have Dress Like Fela Day which is 19th of October, last year the winner got, N100,000 and we are not the judges, the crowd are the judges.
Who are the artistes coming this year and how many foreign artistes are we expecting?
We are still working on it. We are still approaching them and we have other artistes that are coming in that got grants from their governments to come and what we do here is to house them. So we have Pan African Orchestra coming from Ghana. Though I am not in charge of the artistes’ list, we all have our roles. My own job is to find the money. Felabration is like a big organization with everybody with his/her own role.
What are the achievements you can remember from previous editions of Felabration?
Well, you know we have the school debates, and every year we present each school with gifts apart from winners, first, second and third that we might give Ipad, Laptop and all that. Last year, our gifts were Drum Sets for 10 schools. We are trying to make sure that these schools have all these keyboards, computers. For me, I think that is one of the achievements of Felabration. Another achievement is that Felabration is now known worldwide. At the same time that Felabration is holding in Nigeria, it is going to be holding in Philippines, Singapore, New York, there are so many countries. We give license to all these cities to host Felabration, it is a long list. Even within Nigeria, many people are doing their own Felabration. Somebody from Ogun State has come for license, Ibadan has come for license.
When Felabration is holding at the Shrine, it is going to be holding at Freedom Park simultaneously.
What are the challenges you have encountered and how were you able to pull through?
The challenges are what they are, like you were asking me about a list of artistes but because we cannot afford some of them to come. For instance, we have approached Akon, he has not answered. He may ask for $50,000. If we have that kind of money, will I not know how to use it for our own artistes here? We cannot afford him if he can’t come for what we are offering. This is because Felabration is a non-profit organization. Gate fee as you know is free, even on the Sunday when we charge money, it is N1000, we give free t-shirts, and one t-shirt is about N700. So the challenges really are financial but I don’t want to look at the challenges because in life, you have challenges, I just want to look at the positive sides like you said, it has been 21 years since Fela died and we are still holding Felabration and we have hosted it without a break since 2005 and this is 2019. It is challenging but rewarding because we are managing to overcome the challenges.
Did you seek support from Federal Government?
Federal Government doesn’t know us. They don’t look at our face at all. Hopefully, Lagos State will come on board this year. Former Governor, Akinwunmi Ambode was very supportive and this year, we are hoping Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu will be supportive as Ambode was. We have written to him, apparently he’s going to do something, we just pray that he will be as supportive as Ambode.
What about Ogun, Fela’s own state?
We have not approached Governor Dapo Abiodun because when Amosun was there, he promised and promised but he never delivered but this year he finally opened the Kuti Heritage Museum. In all fairness to the new governor, we have not approached him, we will approach him maybe next year. You know at that time, Amosun had talked about having Felabration the weekend before Lagos’s own but it never came to reality.
What measures are you putting in place to ensure security of lives and properties during the festival?
Let me tell you what we have for our security every year. We have 250 security guards, if you come around during Felabration you will see them in orange t-shirts, green t-shirts and yellow, those are the three colours. The blacks are the ones inside on the stage with artistes. Among those 250 guards, we have OPC members, we have the Police, we have six to eight patrol cars every day, and then we have Civil Defence and so on because we don’t play with the security issues, we know how security can be, so we always have our security intact, we also have ambulance on ground for anybody that faints, we tried because Felabration is a big festival. In fact, let me tell you the truth, when it is coming, my heart will be beating and when it is over I will be relieved.
Do you have any international sponsors?
We do not have international sponsors, we only have Nigerian sponsors and they are like Seven Up that we have been having on board for some times, although it is not coming in with full force like it did last year. But it said it would be coming in full force next year but this year, we should just manage what it has. We have Legend Extra Stout, we have Chelsea Dry Gin, we have BoomPlay, we have Bet9ja, and you know they have money they can come in big but hopefully next year, we also have RedBull on board as well. Those are the ones I can remember for now.
Late Chief Rasheed Gbadamosi was a very good friend of Fela. Do you still have connection with his children?
Yes, we do. In fact, I spoke to his daughter not too long ago.
We want you to weigh in on the xenophobic attacks on Nigerians and other foreign nationals in South Africa…
I think it’s very sad that black people are fighting black people. It pains my heart that black people will fight themselves and be so misinformed and call themselves foreigners.
Africa should be one country with different states where anybody can move from Point A to Point B. I believe that we should be able to walk around as Africans to every nook and cranny of Africa without visas. I don’t believe I should need a visa to South Africa and I don’t believe a South African should need a visa to come to Nigeria. This same way I don’t believe I need a visa to go to Egypt and Egyptians should also not need a visa to come here or wherever. So our leaders are not doing the right thing. It’s Africa’s unity we should be fighting for but now what is happening? This one is saying they are removing their envoy. South Africa today said they have closed their embassy. What is happening? Why is Africa dividing instead of uniting? Oyinbo will just be laughing at us. I said it today, I remembered in 1984 when they did “Ghana Must Go” in Nigeria and they were removing all the Ghanaians. The Ghanaians who had been here for 10 years, they made them leave, and now we are the ones going to Ghana and Ghana is also saying oya you sef get out because there are many Nigerians in Ghana now.
Why can’t our government make our country conducive enough so that we don’t even have to travel anywhere? It will only be by choice. Yes you make the choice to travel but you are making choice to travel because of economic reason because your own country cannot provide for you. They said they’re providing plane if you want to come back. What should they come and do? To come and be a nuisance? Okay when you invite them back, what do you want them to come and do? Nigerians have been killing themselves to get to Europe through Libya and they o through hell when they get to Libya, they rape them, they enslave them because our government, not just Nigerian government but African governments are not making their countries conducive enough for the people to want to stay and not move about.
Second, why are our leaders causing disunity by saying you need visas to go to African countries? If I want to go to Togo now and pass the border, the wahala is too much. I will meet this security, I will meet that security. Why can’t I just walk across? It’s Africa’s disunity that these our leaders are promoting, they need to come together.
I remembered when they interviewed the South African President in Japan on the issue of xenophobia, he seems so lackadaisical about it and because our own President did not jack him up and say, come why are you killing my people? Even it was after people started rioting before our own President reacted, this thing has been happening for over two years now and we didn’t say anything. Now people have decided to take the matter into their own hands; they have started destroying Nigerian businesses and started to destroy the properties which I don’t think is the solution but it got a reaction from the government. If it didn’t happen like that, our government will still be looking.
What do you think is the way out?
I think African governments should come together and work as one. They need to re orientate these people that we are brothers, whether I’m from South Africa or I’m from Nigeria, we are brothers.
Also, I must also say this that every Nigerian should realize that he or she is an ambassador of Nigeria once he/she steps outside the soil, we should always comport ourselves positively. Don’t wait for ambassador to be painted on your chest, as you step outside the soil of Nigeria, you’re an ambassador because they will judge you as an ambassador of your country with whatever you do. If you go to Ghana now and start misbehaving, it will tell on us. So every Nigerian should look at himself as an ambassador of his country and make sure he/she promotes the country in a positive light.
Two, the government cannot sit down or lying down or sleep. South African government is sleeping, Nigerian government is sleeping. The South African President came in about three years ago and he was asked about xenophobia, he said they were working on it-since that time!
I have been getting report that Nigerians do drugs in South Africa, if that is the case, go and catch them, are your police sleeping? It’s not every Nigerian that is doing drugs in South Africa, it’s not all Nigerians that are doing illegal things all over the world. But when they’re doing illegal things, they are the ones you will see, what about the positive ones, there are positive ones too. I know of many doctors that are high achievers there and they are Nigerians.
For instance, FBI said they arrested some people, the EFCC stood up and said they are working on it. You haven’t finished working on the one in your country, FBI didn’t beg you for help, do your own here! Did you help FBI get the ones they got? Go and face your own, go and catch the killer herders, kidnappers, and others.
All Nigerians don’t do fraud. All Nigerians don’t look for easy way out to look for money but because one rotten egg spoils the whole basket, they just say all Nigerians are fraudsters, it’s not true. I don’t do fraud and I’m a Nigerian, I have never done fraud and I’m 58. But then again, I will blame government.
Let me tell you why I will blame the government. It has not made life conducive for Nigerians in Nigeria. In Nigeria, a politician is stealing and people still hail him because he has money. That is the example of ‘Teacher Don’t Teach Me Nonsense’. Teacher is teaching me nonsense!
My politicians have money, my senators have all kinds of money. How did they make this money? They make the money by defrauding the country, that one is fraud. So the small young Nigerians will come and say, that one made money fraudulently, I too will make my own by doing cyber-crime. I am not saying it’s right but I’m saying they are the teachers and the young ones are learning from them so they have to now talk to themselves that look, we have to set the right examples.
As a government official, when they see me struggling, I’m not driving any big car because I’m a government official, they now know that yes I have to work hard to be like that guy but now I’m seeing that the person I’m looking up to is getting money fraudulently. That’s where ‘Teacher Don’t Teach Me Nonsense’ comes in.
What is the status of Kalakuta Republic? We believe it is supposed to be a UN heritage site by now?
It’s a heritage site, we cannot sell it, we can only continue to make it better. We have a lot of tourists that go there and we also have a boutique hotel, just five rooms, if you want to have a Fela experience. In fact, Felabration will be renting some of the rooms.
In terms of international recognition, well we are on tripadvisor and I know that Google has digitalized it. Maybe not United Nations yet but Google is here.
Fans are expecting collaboration between Femi Kuti and Seun Kuti, is that happening anytime soon?
I am sure they will do collaboration soon enough. What we wanted them to do is to collaborate on Fela’s unrecorded numbers. That is what we are currently working on, it is a bit difficult and you know everything is about money.