By Nehru Odeh
Lekan Animashaun, better known as Baba Ani, who was Afrobeat legend Fela Anikulapo Kuti’s baritone saxophonist and trumpeter for 32 years, has revealed that when Fela started out as a musician he never smoked Indian hemp or drank alcohol.
Baba Ani, former band leader of Fela’s Egypt 80 who celebrated his 85th birthday recently, made this revelation in an exclusive interview with TheNEWS.
“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 hardworking musician. I can say he is the hardest working musician I have ever come across,” Baba Ani said.
The legendary baritone saxophonist said Fela once revealed in an interview that his romance with marijuana, which he took unapologetically and romanticized, despite several clashes with security operatives, started after his girlfriend had introduced it to him. And realizing, after he had smoked the hard drug for the first time, that it enhanced his sexual performance, he decided to stick to it.
“According to Fela, 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,” Baba Ani explained.
Asked whether he himself smoked marijuana and drank alcohol, the octogenarian said the habit comes with the territory, adding that there is no way anyone who performs their kind of music will not indulge in smoking marijuana and drinking alcohol.
“One thing that is certain, especially when you are playing our kind of music – 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,” he said.
Baba Ani also said he started smoking Indian hemp after he and some other members of Fela’s band were arrested in 1965, when the police found a half-smoked Indian hemp in the car they were driving on their way from Ilorin after a live music performance at University of Ilorin. Though he was not in possession of the Indian hemp since it was one of the members of the band who had smoked it, he was arrested alongside the other members.
The police, who were on their trail from Lagos, were sent by the then Commissioner of Police in Lagos, Mr Sunday Adewusi. According to him since he was arrested for being in possession of Indian hemp he wasn’t smoking at the time, he decided to start smoking it. So that in case he was arrested he would not feel any remorse since he actually smoked it.
“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.
“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 Kanmi Isola-Osobu to Ilorin.
“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. That was how I started smoking,” Baba Ani maintained.
Read the full Interview: Why I stuck with Fela for 32 years – Baba Ani