At Afrima musical concert recently, you wowed the audience with your expertise on the trumpet. You did that for almost one-hour non-stop. How did you do it?
It wasn’t up to one hour. Maybe 30 minutes. It’s a technique that comes with practice. It takes years to play for that long. Quite some few people can do it these days; the duration is probably more difficult. That’s not the essence of good music, I just do that. The essence of music is good melody and lyrics. What you saw that day was really to show off probably.
To show off?
So what? If you can do that and not write a good song, so what? If you can do that without good melody, so what? It’s just a plus in one’s abilities. It’s like you have doctors who don’t specialize, they are just ordinary doctors. There are many doctors i.e. surgeons, eye specialists and they all have to pass through medical school and specialize. Same thing with music. Many musicians specialize in different areas. The more areas you specialize in, the better for your career.
You followed your dad’s footsteps. Do you wish your sons did the same?
My children can decide what they want to do but I will teach them music. You can’t force people to become musicians otherwise they will become very unhappy. My children will be taught what they love. If it’s carpentry or building, I will encourage them. They must love what they are doing. When they love what they are doing, then during difficult times, they are still happy but when you don’t love what you are doing, during difficult times you become very depressed. Every profession has ups and downs. It’s very important that one chooses what he/she really loves and not what people or your parents believe you should do. It has to be your decision.
When growing up, were you playing instruments?
I started very late. Normally, a child should start at age five. That’s the basic age. I didn’t start till I was 16 years old. That was late. Coming from my father that was very well educated in music, he should have understood that I should have started earlier. On the other hand, he can be forgiven, because he became a star and it became very new to our territory. I think he was shocked by his popularity and people were amazed at his talent.
You are very calm and some people might believe you’re shy or arrogant. What’s your take on that?
If I worry myself about what people think, then I will not enjoy my life. That’s the price of fame. People would talk. Some good talk and some bad talk but if I listen to either, it would have a negative effect. So, I better follow my mind and do whatever I want to do with my life. I hardly listen to what people say.
How would you describe yourself?
I’m the son of Fela Anikulapo-Kuti who everybody knows and Remi is my mother. I just like to be very simple. I just like to sit down and do my work. I don’t like to be bothered. I like very quiet and peaceful life. Probably, when I’m on stage performing, there’s much noise and so much attention and I need space to just get out of all that. My house is very quiet and I have very noisy children (oh my gosh) but I cherish my peace.
What’s your sense of style?
When I buy fabrics like this (pointing to his adire trousers) I enrich my people and when I sew it, I enrich indigenous tailors. I don’t like jeans; I have one pair of jeans all my life, but I always wear white at home, just sitting around. I’m not fashionable at all. I can wear this outfit all week. People complain, “Why are you wearing same pair of shoes? Please change your shoes?” I have so many pairs now that I didn’t buy with my money. It’s either my girlfriend or my sister bought the shoes for me and they get angry that I still wear the same shoes week-in week-out.
If I’m comfortable with something, I stick to it. I’m very simple. Many things don’t interest me. I don’t wear gold, I don’t wear chain (why should something be hanging on my neck) I don’t wear wristwatch not that I don’t like them but I’m not concerned about all that.
You still look really handsome; do you use anything to look this good?
Thank you for the compliments but I don’t use anything. Nothing at all. My mother was very beautiful; my father too was a fine man. Probably that’s why.
No exercise to keep in shape?
Nothing, I don’t even go on diets. I eat anything. I eat twice a day, breakfast and dinner.
What kind of person was your mum?
She was very quiet and didn’t like the limelight at all. I think I inherited more of her than from my father.
You mean being quiet?
My father could not sleep without noise but my mother, if a pin drops on the floor she must wake up. So, I’m more like my mother.
Can you tell us your happiest moment?
Probably my happiest moment was at the very beginning of my career in 1988. We played at a festival in France. We opened for Jimmy Cliff. We woke up the next morning and it was on the front page of newspapers “Femi Kuti, the star of the night”. Jimmy Cliff was a huge name then and for them to say they loved our band better than his band that was the headline that gave us popularity in Europe.
Everybody was asking, “Who is Femi Kuti? We know his father, is he that good?” That was a big break. I won’t say I was happy or I was sad. I’m quite non- chalant about issues. People are always happy for my success but it doesn’t get to me.
Will they be happy when I die? I’m going to die one day. My training is that I know I have to live and I have to die. I do the best I can do in my life so, when I die, I’ll leave a good legacy.
Arrogance and pomposity are not legacies I want to leave behind. I like to be nice, quiet, concerned and loving. These are things I want to be remembered for when I die. So, when people praise me, I try not to let it get into my head. This is the training my mother gave me, not to let success get into my head. I have tried all my life to keep a level head. It’s my joy to make people happy. People are sad, they come to watch my concert and I want to have an attitude? That’s wrong. Otherwise don’t be a musician.
Maybe his jokes. Sometimes, he has some stupid funny jokes or his analysis of the political situation. He always had a way of making it funny. No matter how serious the problem was, he could present it in a way that we would all sit down and laugh.
Where is your preferred holiday destination?
I don’t go on holidays and this is causing a big fight in my house these days. Everybody thinks I should go on breaks. I go on break every January, I have done this for the past three or four years but I sit at home. I don’t like going out.
You don’t see me at parties. For me to go to parties or a club that means I must have been practically dragged along. I must practice everyday for six hours minimum. This is my joy, my love; this is all I want to do all my life. You can’t see me outside, except it’s extremely important or that day they managed to trick or blackmail me to make me go to that event.
Your dad had so many wives, how many wives does Femi kuti have?
I’m not married. I don’t believe in marriage anymore.
But you believe in having children?
Does one get married to have children? Let me put it this way, I don’t believe in marriage anymore. My children bear my name and if my partner loves me enough she will stay with me and I have been heartbroken so many times in my life. My heart is very fragile. I was once married to the mother of my first son and it didn’t succeed. Why would I want to go through it again? I like my peace and quiet. I like my freedom.
I’m hearing for the first time that your heart was broken..
Many times. Not once or two or three times.
Can you talk about your lovely ex-wife, Funke?
I don’t talk about her because we have a child. If we didn’t have a child, then I’m obliged to talk about her. When you have a child and you love the child enough then you must protect your child, in protecting my child, we are best friends. I can forget our past and build the future. Today, I can call her now, we are just friends. We have a child and I love my child so much, why would I want to lambaste his mother on the pages of newspapers.
My pain can heal quickly and quicker because of my love for my child. I don’t even mind taking the blame for the problems of our marriage. That doesn’t affect me and I can appreciate the time we both shared and our disappointment, because we have a lovely child.