Lekan Animashaun, better known as Baba Ani, is a study in loyalty and perseverance. He was not just Afrobeat legend Fela Anikulapo Kuti’s baritone saxophonist and trumpeter, he was his band leader and worked with him for 32 years. He was also the band leader of Seun Kuti’s Egypt 80 for 19 years. The legendary baritone saxophonist who was with Fela through thick and thin celebrated his 85th birthday recently. In this interview with NEHRU ODEH, he speaks about his life, how he met the Afrobeat legend and what working with him was like. He also speaks about why he stuck with Fela for 32 years, the controversy about who created Afrobeat and other issues.
How does it feel being 85?
I’m very, very happy. One, the fact that that I’m still alive. I’m very happy I’m healthy, fine and sound and the same thing applies to my wives, my children, my grandchildren. It’s been a long time. I thank my creator for making it possible for me to get to this stage in life and be in good health too. I’m happy. I’m very happy.
You’ve lived life to the full. Did you envisage, while you were young, that you would live up to 85?
Everybody is thinking of getting to old age before leaving this world. So I was also hoping to live this long. Though I wasn’t sure, I was praying for it.
What was growing up like?
I had a rough background growing up because my parents were not all that rich. I come from a poor family, so to say. But thank God, not so poor as to be begging around to eat and clothe. My father, Abdulrahaman Isola Animashaun died before I even entered primary school. So the responsibility of my schooling shifted to my aunt. We called her Iya Olobi Alhaja Azanat Aduke Yusuf and my late mother too, Alhaja Muniratu Abike Animashaun. It was not easy. I started schooling at Epe Primary School. We called it at the time National Primary School, Epe. And then Ansar ud Deen Primary School Alakoro, Lagos Island. And after some time, I had to go and stay with my uncle, the immediate junior brother of my mother. They are all late now. And he was a civil servant in the Western region then. He was staying at Osogbo. So I went to stay with him at Osogbo. And I was schooling at All Saints Primary School Osogbo. That was in the 1950s. Later, I came back to Lagos and attended Bethel Primary School, right behind the headquarters of the Central Bank of Nigeria at Madam Tinubu Square on the Lagos Island too. And after there I went to the defunct National High School Ebute- Meta West at Ebute-Meta. That was where I finished my secondary school education in 1959.
What is the secret to your longevity?
(Laughs). You see, the first secret is no secret because we all know that the creator preserves those He wants to preserve. So, first of all, It is the handiwork of my creator. And secondly, my education that took me round, from Epe, back to Lagos, Lagos to Osogbo, back to Lagos, I went through certain experiences and so I limited myself to whatever I was doing. What I mean is that I have been doing things in moderation. Is it food? Even ordinary water, women, sex, alcoholic drinks, drugs. Actually, I don’t even take oyibo drugs (orthodox medicines). I always prefer native medicines. Even up till now, I always prefer native medicines because, one, the Bible says everything that God created is something good, for the good of human beings. So I prefer natural things. The same thing with food. I prefer natural foods. I don’t like eating snacks and things like that. Then, thirdly, the nature of my job kept me exercising throughout the years. I started learning music in 1959. And you know music is a source of good exercise for the body because, one, you want to train to be perfect. Two, once you are in a band, particularly a band that performs all over the place, when you are on stage, you are going through a lot of exercises – singing and jumping and dancing and things like that. I don’t hold a grudge for a long time. I may get annoyed over some issues, but I quickly, in no time, put such things behind me. I can say for the whole 85 years that I have lived in this world I can count the number of times people intervened in any quarrel or squabble with a fellow human being, be it at school, work, in my neighbourhood or within the family. So my policy is: Please stop treating people as bad as they are, but keep treating people as good as you are. So that has been my philosophy about life. It is not that people have not been offending me one way or the other; but in no time I put those things behind me and face the future. I don’t bother myself too much about things. I don’t drag any matter with people. If they gree do, I do. If they no gree do, I stay my side jeje. And I do things in moderation.
How did you develop an interest in music and how did your foray into music start?
I was in my last year in secondary school at Ebute-Meta when I wanted to go into music, . I had a brother (now late), Waheed Williams. He was a musician and spent between 25 and 28 years in England. He happened to be a friend of my teacher, late Pa Chris Ajilo. They were friends in England. But Chris Ajilo came back to Nigeria before my brother. So when I wanted to do music, I wrote a letter to my brother, telling him about my intention. And he told me a story that he knew all along, when I was very young, that I was going to do music. Why? Because sometimes I would hold his hand and he would be following me like a sheep and when we got to a place, I would sit him down and be singing for him. He said so since then he knew I was going to do music in life. So when I wrote him, he sent two musical instruments to me – the baritone saxophone and a trumpet. And he accompanied the instruments with a letter of introduction to his friend, Pa Chris Ajilo. Chris Ajilo was living at Loko, in Yaba area at the time. I took the instruments and the letter and went to Pa Ajilo. He went through the letter and took me in as his student. He was the one that taught me the theory and practice of music. And when he saw that I was proficient enough to play in a band, he, first of all, admitted me into his own band called Chris Ajilo and the Cubanos. Actually, his band, Chris Ajilo and the Cubanos was then the resident band at the Federal Palace Hotel on Victoria Island. So he took me into his band as a saxophonist. He didn’t stop there. After some time, he ensured my admission into the defunct NBC Dance Orchestra under the directorship of late Pa Fela Sowande. That was how I started playing music before meeting Fela.
How did you meet Fela?
Well, as a member of the defunct NBC Dance Orchestra, we used to have rehearsals at the Nigerian Broadcasting Corporation, NBC, studios at Ikoyi, on Lagos Island. It was on one of those days of rehearsals that I met Fela at that NBC studio. We were rehearsing and I had to go to the restroom. On my way to the restroom, at the NBC studio, Ikoyi, I saw Fela standing in front of the receptionist. I just went up to him and introduced myself. At that time he was a jazz music producer at the NBC. And he asked if I had my equipment. I told him “yes.” Incidentally, that day was the day he was putting his new band together. When he newly came to Nigeria from the UK, he was just jamming with some other bands all around the place and he had a quartet or something (small group playing jazz). A few days before our meeting, I read in one of the Nigerian newspapers that he wanted to form a highlife band. In fact, that information made me approach him at the studio. He gave me an appointment to meet him at his vandalized and burnt house, 14 Agege Motor Road, that same evening. When I got home I went to his house. I met some other guys already recruited – people like Tony Allen on the drums. Ojo Okedi on the bass guitar. Isaac Olasugba who became the first leader of the band, was there. Benson Idonije, who was also a producer and engineer at the NBC and he happened to be Fela’s friend, was also there. He was in Fela’s house that evening. When I got there, he had already written the music on a music paper. And so he gave me my part and I set up my instruments. I went through the music. Then he just tapped Benson Idonije and said, “I will take him.” That was how he took me in February 1965. We started rehearsing and the band came out in March 1965. That was Koola Lobitos before it metamorphosed into Nigeria 70, Africa 70 and then the present name, Egypt 80.
Could you speak about how Fela was able to metamorphose in terms of style of music from Koola Lobitos to Nigeria 70, Africa 70 and later Egypt 80?
You know when we started Koola Lobitos in 1965, we were playing highlife sound all in major notes, major keys, major scores etc. And Fela was at that time playing socializing music. I say socializing because we were singing social songs – Ayawa ni, Eselofe oluka gboka, Shakara Oloje, Lady and things like that. That was what we were doing. But somewhere along the line, Fela started becoming a revolutionary. And so he wanted to give the band a broad name connected with the name of this country. Then he renamed the band Nigeria 70. Then after some time, we went to the US on our first American tour. That was in June 1969. We stayed in America for nine months. While there, Fela had a girlfriend, Sandra Smith who later became Sandra Izsadore after she traced her roots to Africa. That his girlfriend took Fela to many places, showed him many things, exposed him to certain books, certain historical books that were not at that time readily available in this country. She took Fela to meet some staunch members of the Black Panther Movement because she was a member. Fela was staying in her parent’s home, while we members of the band were given a house by the owner of the club where we were performing. The name of that man was Bonnie Hamilton, a brother of Chico Hamilton, a renowned drummer at the time. By the time we were coming back to Nigeria early 1970, just after the cessation of hostilities in Nigeria – in March 1970 – Fela had become a full revolutionary. It was after that tour that he gave the name Egypt 80 to the band. And when he was asked by journalists how he came about that name, his reason was that he believed that we black people came from Egypt. And so he renamed the band Egypt 80. And that name has stuck till today.
When you met Sandra Izsadore at that time, what impression did you have of her?
Well, I just thought she was one of those girls that loved music, like a nightcrawler, so to say. But she was very educated, very intelligent. Even now she has her own band and she’s been having her own band for quite some time now. Because I remember on two or three occasions, when we were on tour, we were playing side by side on stages overseas.
You worked with Fela for 32 years. What was working with Fela like?
When we started with Fela in 1965, he was not taking Igbo (Indian hemp) at the time. He was not taking marijuana. He was not drinking alcohol. His was just minerals – Fanta and things like that. But he was a very hard working musician. I can say he is the hardest working musician I have ever come across. One day, we were rehearsing with Fela and late Uncle Steve Rhodes came around. When he got into the room, he first stood up for some time and the first sentence that came out of his mouth was, “Fela, are you sure you are not going to kill these people?” You know, after watching the strenuous job we were going through he made that statement. So one of the things I cherish in him is that he was a hardworking musician. He didn’t play with his work or music. Then all along, I noticed that he abhorred telling lies or stealing. And he never encouraged physical combat between people. And that was why he made a law in his own enclave that we called, “First Touch,” meaning that if you and somebody are having some misunderstanding, you can talk, you can insult each other – we called it yabis. You can yab your fellow man or woman but don’t touch. Because I think he knew that you can only know the beginning of a squabble, physical combat, you cannot tell the end. How the end will be. He abhorred all those things. You don’t beat people. If you had a quarrel and it got to a stage of physical combat, and the case went to him, he would ask, “Who made the first move, the first touch?” So we called the law, First Touch law. The person who touched the other fellow first would have to pay a fine. That was Fela for you. Then as we were playing along, as I said earlier on, by the time we came back from the first U.S.A tour in March 1970, Fela had become revolutionized. He was ready to die fighting on the side of the poor. He hated people telling lies or fighting or stealing. That was why he sang about corruption in his numerous songs. There was one song entitled Authority Stealing. That was Fela for you.
You just said Fela abhorred physical combat, then would you describe him as a pacifist?
Oh yes. He didn’t like violence at all. No fighting, you can talk. You can yab, but don’t touch, don’t fight, don’t engage in physical combat. Whoever did that first between two people quarrelling would have to pay a fine.
Fela was a bohemian artiste. How were you able to cope with his so-called excesses, so to speak?
If you had the opportunity to move very close to Fela, he was humane and was like somebody that didn’t like problems and things like that. He was very generous to a fault. His house was open to all comers from whatever tribe in Nigeria. When you got to his enclave, you would see Ibo, Hausa, Yoruba, Itsekiri etc. He was not a discriminating person. His major concern was the welfare of the poor people not only in Nigeria but also poor people all over the world. Because we have poor people all over the world. Go to the US, Paris, Germany, everywhere, you will find poor people, people sleeping under bridges. So he was a man like that, very passionate about the welfare of the poor people. And that was why he used most part of his life fighting on the side of the poor.
Fela was a pan-Africanist. Where did he get his idea of pan-Africanism from?
You know, man dey acquire knowledge through different media. By his connection with Sandra Izsadore, by his moving amongst members of the Black Panther Movement in the US for a period of time and through his experiences all over the places that we were performing in his lifetime. All those things made him become more vibrant and passionate about his fight against the powers that be. He was more determined to take the government head-on at any time. And he went through hell, beatings, imprisonment, torture and things like that. But he was not deterred even till the end of his life.
You were with Fela while he went through those experiences. Did you also taste those bitter pills with him?
In my own case, I joined him before I got married. People, family members and friends were not happy about my association with him. I was already a civil servant before joining him. I joined him in 1965, but I was already a civil servant in 1961. Because I was leaving in my own house, 67 Ayilara Street, Surulere, at that time – I was not staying in his compound. So I didn’t experience all the tortures, beatings, harassment he went through at the time. But even with that, we had our own portion of the problems that successive governments in Nigeria were giving him.
But you see, what made me to decide to stay with him till the end was my discovery that he was on the side of the poor. Here was a man who wouldn’t take contract from the establishment. Even at a point, during FESTAC 77, he was co-opted into the committee handling that project. But when at a meeting, he gave out his opinion about what and what to do to make the festival a success, and the power that be at that time – the Chairman of the committee was a military officer – rejected his idea. And he did the honourable thing. He resigned from the committee and left them to handle the festival the way they like. . So the rest, as they say, is history.
You are widely travelled. What were your experiences in your travels with Fela around the world?
A lot of things. We went through a lot of things and we saw the very great disparity between our way of life in Africa and that of the Western world. There was no basis for comparison. The whites keep advancing and advancing while we keep sinking. Look at the condition of the country today. Though over there, in the Western world, there are some little things that the people are still asking for. But then what I know is that in those years – and till now – the whites were taking care of themselves more than we did in Africa. Look at the roads in this country today – in this 21st century – our governments only take care of the major roads. Still, some major roads are not motorable. They will do major roads, but the roads passing the front of the houses of the common man will be left undone. I have been in this house for the past 12 years. And the street in front of my house is nothing to write home about. It remains so. Look, there was a time, a tenant parked out of this house because he saw a better place. Before I could get a replacement, it took a year and about four months. And it was not as if would-be tenants didn’t come. They were coming. The estate agents were bringing tenants. They would inspect the place, they would express joy, happiness that the place was good. But they would be complaining about the street, about how they would be able to bring their cars inside this compound. And if they park outside, the cars could be vandalized. We all know what we are going through in this country. It took me a year and four months to get a replacement when a tenant parked out of my house. Though they want to repair this Abaranje road, it is taking too long. When you are passing, when you are going out, especially when you just took some food and you want to go out, na so all your stomach, your body, go dey shake in this modern Nigeria. It’s like the politicians are just pocketing money, stealing our money. They leave what they should do undone. And yet they will ask you to pay national income tax, and then land use charge. Yet the house you build on that road is not made profitable for you. People don’t want to rent the house because of the bad roads.
Are you saying things are getting worse?
Things are getting worse. And now you have this problem of Boko Haram, bandits, kidnappers etc all over the place. One sector of the country trying to take over the whole country by force, saying God has given them the land of Nigeria as their personal belonging. Can you imagine that? In our own younger days, herdsmen used cane to herd their cows. But nowadays, cattle herdsmen carry AK-47. Where did they get it? Who is sponsoring them? Who is giving them money to purchase arms and ammunition? And I am sure those who are doing these things are amongst us in high places, funding and harming all these senseless herdsmen who want to take Nigeria from the indigenous people. Things are getting worse. Nothing is getting better. We have been managing for years. And we are still managing. Is it education? The standard is falling. The economy is falling. No regular power supply. A lot of manufacturing companies have relocated to some other African countries where they can get stable power supply. Everything is just getting worse by the day. I was buying a loaf of bread for 300 naira a few months ago. Then it became 350. Then later 400. And now, the one I bought a few days ago is 500. The same size. The naira is falling on a daily basis. Because when we started with Fela and went on our first American tour, when we came back, the dollar was being exchanged for 50 kobo or so. And now see the value of the dollar. Why? Why? And you if want to buy anything from overseas, they will be demanding for pound sterling, dollar, Euro. But when they come here to buy our own products, they will pay us in naira. You see it. But you want to buy something in their country, you will pay their own money. Why can’t our rulers do something to make sure that if you buy something in Nigeria, you will pay with your currency, as we are paying for whatever we buy from them with your currency? Things are getting worse. We are all praying that the Almighty God will come to our rescue, will bring up people who will say “no” to slavery, internal slavery.
You said there was a time Fela never drank and smoked. At what point in his life did he start drinking and smoking?
According to him, in those days, he gave a reason because this question came up in one of the interviews he granted. And his response was that a girlfriend was the one who introduced weed to him. When he took it he noticed that he “performed” very well with the woman (laughs). And from then on he kept smoking till he died.
Did you also indulge in smoking and women?
One thing that is certain, especially when you are playing the kind of music we are playing – except it is a religious band in churches – there is no way you will not get women coming around you. And there is no way you will not be introduced to smoking weed and some other drugs. In my own case, when we started in 1965 till the 70s, I was not smoking. But we went to perform at the University of Ilorin at a time when Sunday Adewusi was the Commissioner of Police in Lagos; and he was after Fela, doing the bidding of his master, the government in power. So when we got to Ilorin, we didn’t know he had sent his officers to follow us to Ilorin. We were in the hall at the University of Ilorin performing, then we noticed these people enter the hall. But because of the large number of people and or other reasons best known to them, they didn’t strike. When we finished playing the following day and we were coming back to Lagos, they went and waylaid us on the road from Ilorin. We just got there and saw many cars parked along the road. And when we got there, they stopped us, searched the vehicle in which we were and they found a small, half-smoked Indian hemp on the seat that four of us were sitting. We knew the owner of the half-smoked weed but the solidarity amongst us would not let us pinpoint the owner. “So who has this? Who has this?” they asked. Nobody answered. Nobody owned up. They parked the four of us that were on that seat – we were sitting on the next seat behind the driver – and took us to their police station. Eventually, the matter went to court. Fela had to send his lawyer, Late Kanni Isola-Osobu to Ilorin. So we went to court and eventually we were left off the hook by the court. And since I felt that I was taking into custody for something I was not doing, then I made up my mind to smoke. “So make I smoke sef. See wetin dey happen,” I thought (laughs). That was how I started smoking (laughs).
You worked with Fela for 32 years before he passed on. How has life been since then?
Well, it’s been a bit hectic. Because, first of all when Fela died there was a meeting between the band and his family. I was the spokesperson for the band. Late Professor Olikoye Kuti was the spokesperson for the Kuti’s family. Before that meeting, we the members of the band, including Seun’s mother – because Seun was very young then. He was about 14 or so – had decided to continue with the band. We had decided to keep Fela’s flag flying. So at that meeting with the family members, we were told that well now that the owner of the band, Fela, was dead, they wanted to advise us, because there was nobody in the family to finance the running of the band. They suggested that the best thing was for us to disband (Everybody go him father house). But we insisted that we were going to stay together. So their response to that was that “Well, in that case, whatever you make is what you chop.” Then we said fine we were okay with it. And that was it. A member of the family (I don’t want to mention her name) was saying in a low tone that “when you start soaking garri as food, everybody will go to his or her father’s house” (laughs). But I thank God today that He used me to keep the band together. Today, glory be to the Almighty Allah the band is growing stronger and stronger. So it was not easy. As a matter of fact, at a stage, five members of the band left – the saxophonist, the trumpeter, the drummer and two others. They deserted the band. They went to join somebody’s band (I don’t want to mention any name because anything I say now … (laughs). So they went there, joined the band and in no time they came back. They were kicked off. They couldn’t stand the owner of the band. They were ashamed to come to me directly. Rather, they went to meet late Dr. Beko Ransome Kuti, the immediate younger brother of Fela. And the man told them. “When you were away, and that old man Baba Ani kept on holding the band, together, you don’t come and beg me. Go and beg him.” They came back to me. I took them back. But they lost their positions in the band, just like Fela’s policy – soldier go, soldier come. In Fela’s time, if you left the band and came back after some time, he would take you. The only thing is that if you were holding a post before you left, by the time you came back, somebody would have taken that position. So you will have to begin from the lower rung of the ladder again.
And we were finding things very difficult, especially when somebody from the family (I don’t want to mention name) came to Fela’s shrine and packed all the sound equipment and locked them up in his house. It took the intervention of a dear friend, late Alhaji Rasheed Gbadamosi, who called a meeting between myself and the guy that packed the equipment. It was at that meeting that the guy agreed that I should come and pick up the sound equipment in his house. Rasheed Gbadamosi gave me money to rent a truck. I went to the person’s house and packed the equipment. I went to Beko. Because Dr. Beko had been managing the band before and after Fela’s death. He was the manager. Anything we made, we had to take to his office. And they would take the money to the bank. Whatever we needed we would request from his office and he would do it.
So Beko was the manager even when Fela was alive?
Yes, he was the manager when Fela was alive. When we made some money. Fela would take what he wanted to use immediately, the rest would go to the office. So I went, picked up the equipment. But when I went to Dr. Beko’s house at Anthony Village to inform him- and I informed the band. Both the band and Dr. Beko Ransome Kuti rejected the equipment. And so as if I knew, at that meeting with Rasheed Gbadamosi and the guy who packed the equipment, I asked, “:if these equipment are rejected by the band and Dr. Beko, what do I do?”” And he said I should take it to their father’s house. And that was what I did when the band and Dr. Beko rejected the equipment. I took them back to Fela’s house. They appointed a man in Fela’s house to take delivery. And that was what I did.
So from then on, we started renting equipment to perform at every engagement.. So you can imagine, at every engagement. But thank God, some good people rally around us, like one late Italian, Avantario. And there was another Italian, Ejidio, who was in the ruling party in Italy at that time. They rallied around us. In fact, it was through the assistance of Avantario and Ejidio, that we were able to do our first European tour after Fela’s death. They were sending some stipends to us, stipends, which we were joining with other little engagements we were getting at that time. So we thank God. We went through a lot of hardship. But because of our determination and togetherness, we were able to wade through all the difficult years. Today the band is going places, if not for this Covid-19 that is affecting music performances and night shows adversely.
What were the reasons the guy gave for packing the equipment?
(Laughs). He gave a very funny answer at that meeting with Rasheed Gbadamosi. He said he carried the sound equipment away and locked them up in his house because he didn’t want the equipment to be vandalized. Imagine! The band was still performing at Fela’s shrine. Can yo imagine somebody entering Fela’s shrine to vandalize his equipment, a shrine where there were always people, whether we were performing or not, day and night? When you visited Fela’s shrine at that time, you would always find people selling things and food. So who will be so bold to go into Fela’s shrine and start vandalizing his sound equipment without being challenged? So you can see that the reason the guy gave was flimsy.
Why did you decide to stick with Fela even after his death and mentor Seun?
When we started with Fela, as I told you, we were singing socializing songs, songs for merrymaking. But once we went to American for nine months and came back, Fela became a revolutionary. And as we were progressing, he was churning out tunes, songs that were meant to open the eyes and minds of our people to things happening around us so that we can reason, think and try as hard as possible to extricate ourselves from this bad situation. And his fight I saw was not for a lone man. So when I saw that he was right on the side of the poor people that made me follow him no matter what happened. Because by that time I started seeing Fela as a prophet. And if you go through the Holy Books, you will see that there is no prophet without a disciple. So somewhere along the line I just made up my mind to be his disciple. And that was why I stayed so long with him. Sometime when he was in prison in Benin-City – that was the time that I told you five members of the band left – he sent a letter through his photographer, late Femi Osula to me. In the letter, he told me to go and ask those people to come back to the band, Egypt 80 because where they went was not the proper place for them. And true to his letter, they were thrown out. They had to come back to the band. Secondly, when I got married in 1967 Fela came with his family – his wife, mother-in-law, children – to perform at my marriage ceremony at Oreofero, in front of Oreofero mosque agarawu area on the Lagos Island in 1967. Fela was not a musician given to playing at private parties- house warming, naming ceremony etc. He never played for any individual for financial gains or anything). He never did that for anyone. And thirdly, when Fela’s house was burnt down and club owners were distancing themselves from us – they were not giving us any chance to play in their clubs because everybody was afraid of the powers that be in Nigeria – Fela had to relocate to Ghana. At that time, Fela surprised me in the sense that every Friday after closing at work, I would go to Ghana by air and return to Nigeria by air – the whole band was in Ghana and I had my room in a hotel in Ghana). And Fela was footing the bill. It was not as if he couldn’t get somebody, a replacement. It was not as if he couldn’t get a baritone saxophonist or somebody else to take my place. But he was doing that because he didn’t want me to lose my job with the government and he still wanted me with him because he knew my value. How many band leaders could do that kind of thing? So those are some of the reasons. First, his performance at my marriage. Second, his taking care of my work with the government, making sure I was not booted out. You see, he was spending money on me to make sure I didn’t lose my civil service job. Third, and perhaps the most important of the reasons I stayed that long till his death and even after his death with his youngest son, Seun is because I saw him as a prophet fighting for the betterment of the poor people.
In an interview you granted Arise TV recently, you said Femi Kuti banned you from entering the New Afrika Shrine because you refused to join his band. But the family has debunked your claim, saying that you were economical with the truth. How do you react to that?
Do you think at my age- 85 years- and what I have gone through, I will still be telling lies against somebody? To get what? I am not lying. I have explained my position on the issues raised by the writer of that post. I have replied. And I don’t want to say anything about that issue again.
How is your relationship with Seun?
Well, it is cordial.
So there have not been differences between you and Seun, especially following your interview with Arise TV?
What was it like working with him?
We never had any problem.
How did those of you who were close to Fela feel when he was sick? Did you think that that illness could lead to his death?
At the beginning, we didn’t think so. But as the sickness got progressing, when he started coming to the stage and you could physically see that he was going, we all felt very sad about the situation. But there was nothing else anybody could do about it.
What is your philosophy of life?
My philosophy of life? Well, take things as they come. Don’t bother yourself too much about life. Take care of yourself. Minimize your excesses. Like I said earlier, food, water, drinks women, everything you do, minimize. And don’t go about doing bad things to people, even those who offend you. Learn to forgive. It may not be humanly possible to forget certain bad experiences. But, you see, it is better you forgive so that you have peace of mind. I see life not as a matter of do or die. If I want something, and I know how to go about it, I will try my best as a human being. But if there is no way I will let go. I don’t quarrel over things. Like in one of my songs entitled, Ohun Aye – one of the songs I have in Seun’s album – I said, “When we came into this world, we came with nothing and when we are going, we go with nothing.” we go naked. We came naked, we go naked. So look, Abiola, for instance, with all the acquisition, what he got from CIA, the US government to “dabaru” this country, building houses, doing philanthropy things all over the place, when he died, what did he take along? Any building? Today where is Concord Press? Where is Wonderloaf bread? So I don’t fight over things. That is my philosophy of life. If I want to do something, I try my best. If it doesn’t work, I have made my attempt, I will stay off. No problem. So that is my philosophy of life. Take life easy. It is not worth dying for. When your time comes naturally to leave, go.
When you were Fela’s band leader, how did you cope?
Well, as I told you, by nature I don’t like quarrelling with people. Even I don’t always beat my children. But I talk to them. So it wasn’t very easy to be a band leader. I had to stomach a lot of things At a stage, a member of the band went to Benin Republic to do a charm against me because he wanted the leadership of the band/ A young boy (I won’t mention his name. He now calls himself a churchgoer), one of the members that followed him to do the charm was the one who disclosed the secret to me. I didn’t do anything. After making his charm. It got to a stage – because he was having some rough boys around him – they were harassing those who were selling things around Fela’s shrine, collecting illegal tolls from them, harassing people around. One day he insulted me and I reported him to Fela. Fela told me “Anibabe, leave him alone. He will get his portion.” And one day, just like what Fela had said, those boys he was using to harass people around the shrine quarrelled with him. And they beat him to stupor. I was not at the shrine then. So late in the evening, I went to Fela’s house on a visit. When I got there, Fela said, “Anibabe, have you seen so, so,so (I don’t want to mention his name)? “I said I have not seen him o.” Fela said, “Ah Olojigbo, if you see him, even his mother will not recognize him again.” And that was how he left the band He is still alive today.
What was being the leader of Seun’s band for 19 years like?
It was not easy, especially when there was no money. But my determination to keep on keeping Fela’s flag flying influenced my actions. It was not easy. I remember after Fela’s death, the band got an engagement to perform in the East. And some of our singers decide not to go with the band. I led the band. We went and came back. We made some money. It was not easy. But once I decided to do something, I would follow it up, depending on God’s grace. So it was not easy at all. But as time went by we started picking up and today, as I said, I am happy the band is growing stronger and stronger.
There is this controversy about who actually created Afrobeat. Some say it is Fela, others say he co-created it with Tony Allen. Who really created Afrobeat?
Na Fela (It is Fela) period. Na Fela.
How did Fela create Afrobeat?
Well, in the first place, when we started as Koola Lobitos, Nigeria 70, we were playing highlife music, although with some traces of jazz. Even journalists analysing Fela’s music at the time would say Fela was playing Highlife Jazz. But you see, I see a difference in the composition of highlife and Afrobeat. When you play highlife, you are using major keys, major scale, major scores, major phrases etc. But what Fela did was getting traditional sounds together, using oyibo equipment to play traditional music. He incorporated traditional music and jazz together. And if you are a musician that knows your salt, you will see that Afrobeat uses the minor beat, minor scale, minor scores. Everything in Afrobeat is minor.
Could you speak about your music, the album you released?
Fela was in charge of the only album I released in 1995, two years before his death. He released this album for me. On side of the album is: Low Profile Not For The Blacks. On the other side is: Sererere. Apart from the highlife sound that I did, I have been doing all the other sound in Afrobeat keys, minor keys. Another highlife sound that I have is Ohun Aye, meaning, materialism. The song is in one of Seun’s albums. Some time ago, years before Fela died, another musician was claiming that he created Afrobeat. But to the best of my knowledge, at that time when this other guy was in Ibadan, he himself called his music Jazz highlife, not Afrobeat. It was Fela that named his sound Afrobeat.
What have been your high and low moments?
I am always very happy. And if anybody annoys me I don’t allow it to linger in my heart. I have been having good times. I have been having low times too. But I never allow that kind of low feeling to affect my life. I think about it for a few moments then I let go. Because life is full of ups and downs. And in order to have peace of mind, take things as they come. The one you can correct, correct. The one you can’t correct, let go. That is my policy.
How is life treating you now?
Well, I Thank God I am living my life. My children are doing fine and I don’t have health problems. I cannot remember when I last went to the hospital. Okay, some time ago, about three or four years ago, I was hit by a motorbike and was taken to the hospital. I was treated and released. Though I was admitted. So, for a long time now I have never gone to any hospital or doctor because of any ailment. I live in my own house, not a rented apartment. So I have no problem with any landlord or landlady. I am doing fine. Life is good as far as I am concerned. I don’t have plenty. I don’t bother myself. Some time ago, after Fela’s death, Rasheed Gbadamosi bought a car for me. I used it for some years.. But when in 1998, the thing started giving me troubles, to the point that even I didn’t have food in the house and the vehicle got spoilt, I was prepared to repair the vehicle instead of buying food. So I sold the vehicle. Since then I have been taking public transport. If there is money for a taxi I take it. If there is money for Uber, I take Uber. I have no problem.
How did you come about that name Baba Ani?
(Laughs). Life. When I joined Fela, he was calling me Anibabe because that time they said I looked facially like a woman. So he would say, “Anibabe, Anibabe. “ Some friends still call me that name. That name, Baba Ani, was given to me by a girlfriend who was a dancer in Fela’s band at that time, before the burning of Fela’s Kalakuta Republic. And since then the name has stuck (laughs).
Any advice for the youth and upcoming musicians?
My advice is that, as the whites say, what is worth doing at all is worth doing well. The youths of this country should not slip off crying over the worst condition people are going through. They should find themselves something to do. If you are going to school, face your education. Don’t cheat. And if you are learning a trade or a business be serious with whatever you are doing because whatever you do there is always a reward. And if you want to do music, don’t just take it as a joke, a pastime. It is a serious, spiritual job. When we were young, you hardly find parents who would readily allow his or her child to go and learn music. Why, because everybody considered musicians as dropouts, never do well in society. But thank God, today, since people are seeing what musicians are doing, a lot of them now want their children to learn music. So my advice to upcoming musicians is to learn the music the correct way. Try to know the theory and then take the practice of your musical equipment top priority. Don’t joke with what you are learning. Secondly, run away from distractions, which could be in form of women, alcoholic drinks and drugs.
What do you want to be remembered for?
I want to be remembered for my integrity, steadfastness and hard work. As a matter of fact, I want to live behind a foundation called Lekan Animashaun Music Foundation. I want to build a music school with a recording studio. I want to build a music school, where indigent youths can learn music the correct way at little or no cost. The foundation was launched at my 80th birthday ceremony at Lagos Theatre, here in Igando. I am expecting people to contribute to that foundation so that it can become a reality.