Life as Fela's daughter - Yeni Kuti
Yeni Kuti , the first child and daughter of late Afro beat maestro , Fela Anikulapo Kuti, is a reporter's delight . At her residence, you are welcomed by five hefty Alsatian dogs, a puppy and a cat. Her household is at peace too, except for the destructiveness of the cat.
Before this interview began, she explained why she is keeping the pets and pointing at her leather seats she said ' My daughter brought in the cat. It was a stray cat . She even brought another two but somebody has taken them. The cat has indeed been troublesome . So what exactly has Yeni been up ? She tells it all in this interview with Christy Anyanwu. Excerpts:
What are you doing right now?
I'm running the African Shrine and planning Felabration.
If I do any other business right now, it would distract me. I don't need any other thing to distract me. It's our main source of income. We built it to succeed. When we built it, we planned to make it work. So that is where all my whole attention is.
Do you still dance?
Not like before. I don't dance for shows. I just do rehearsals with our dancers. Just choreography. Sometimes, when I feel I have added weight, I do continuous rehearsals with our dancers. Like now, I'm too fat. I do rehearsals. I know that dancing keeps me fit and in shape. I have a big tummy, but I dance at home just to lose the extra pounds.
Would you consider dancing in home videos?
Yes, if I like the role and have the time.
You are looking prettier than ever . What's the secret?
Hmm… maybe because I'm contented. I have a partner who treats me well. No stress. Apart from the stress of business, my private life is stress-free. I'm satisfied.
What do you mean 'my partner' ? Is he a business partner or boyfriend?
My partner as in my partner. He's not a business partner,but my boyfriend.
What kind of person is he?
He is a nice person. He doesn't like publicity. I can't talk about him.
Is he a showbiz person?
Not really, no.
So he is the secret of your good looks ?
When you say I look good, that's what I can attribute it to. He makes me very happy.
You wear your natural hair. How do you maintain it?
I 'texturise' it once a year. Every night before I sleep, I use different creams and I plait it Calabar style . That keeps it soft and from breaking. I wash it maybe every two weeks. My daughter said I should wash it more.
Her hair is much longer than mine but not as thick. She introduced me to different new creams good for African hair. Before she uses any cream or shampoo, she explores the Internet for hair-care products that are suitable for different hair textures . I even told her she should incorporate a business here, that she will get a lot of patronage. She would teach a lot of women how to maintain their hair. She uses a lot of natural products on her hair too.
Is your long hair due to heredity?
Yes, my mum had long hair. My mum had Red Indian blood so I think we got it from her. I think o, I'm not sure. My mum's father was Nigerian but her mother was half English, quarter black American, quarter Red Indian. My mum's sister too had long hair and her daughters have long hair too.
What's your daughter doing now?
She is going back to England in search of a job. Since she graduated, she doesn't want to stay here. She's going back in a couple of weeks.
She finished at the University of Leeds.
So, from Vivian Fowler Memorial School, she went straight to Leeds?
No. From Vivian Fowler , she went to Oxbridge and did a one-year foundation course, and she was admitted after successfully completing the programme.
How old is she now
Is she arts inclined? Your family and her father's family are creative people. Does she take after you people.
Yes, she draws very well. She did a beautiful painting of me two years ago.
Does she like music?
What of dancing?
Not at all. At all. I have never even seen her dance.
So, how are you sustaining Fela's legacy?
I'm sure you know about Felabration. Through it, we try to keep Fela's legacy alive. The shrine was built as a memorial to Fela and it keeps his legacy alive. His records have been released again in America and will be released world wide very soon. The Fela on Broadway show is coming to Nigeria in March, so there are so many ways we are keeping his legacy alive.
This present shrine, is it different from the shrine we used to know?
Different in what sense? The building itself, we fashioned it upon the design of the old shrine, though it's much bigger . Here we keep the toilets clean. It depends on what you mean.
Some have said The Shrine is a den of thieves and doppers.Is that correct?
Yes , that's true about the old shrine, but Fela stopped that long before he died. It doesn't happen in the new shrine . A lot of expatriates believe this is the safest place in Lagos. Thieves don't disturb. It's quiet and peaceful.
Do you sell Indian hemp in the new shrine?
We try as much as possible to stop people selling it. We don't allow anybody to sell it inside The Shrine. The land outside The Shrine doesn't belong to us. Inside, we do not welcome dope pushers and If by some means they smuggle it in ,we hand them over immediately to the police. So they steer clear of The shrine. I will be lying, if I say they don't smoke hemp in the shrine. That was one of my father's legacies. We all know that he smoked hemp. Femi has tried to stop people from smoking hemp inside The Shrine, but it's been very difficult. We just try to curb it.
Do you smoke hemp?
No, I don't. I don't smoke anything.
I used to smoke cigarettes but I stopped 5 years ago.
What's it like managing the shrine, with all these guys around?
Remember, the shrine is 10 years old. I have been running it since 10 years ago . To begin with, it was a battle. I asserted myself and they knew I meant business. It's not a problem anymore. When they knew I'm there to stay, I'm not going anywhere , I was given different names.I don't find it stressful at all. The stress comes more with the running of the shrine i.e buying diesel, water, and light. When PHCN withholds power, they damage our equipment in the process.
Tell us about your childhood
At school, being Fela's daughter made me very popular among my peers and younger girls. I had over 30 school daughters. Everybody wanted to be my friend, because I am Fela's daughter. Outside school, some people didn't want to associate with me because I'm Fela's daughter. The 'uppercrust' children a.k.a Aje butter, as they called them. I met one particular girl whose name I don't remember now.
When my cousin introduced me to her, she said 'don't you ever introduce me to such people'. Then, my father was in jail, I was so hurt. I said to myself how can people be so wicked. My brother Femi, had girlfriends but when their fathers found out that he was Fela son, they screamed at their daughters to discontinue the friendship. We had some pleasant experiences and bad ones while we were growing up as Fela's son.
I believe everything in life is an experience and it's how you deal with that experience which determines who you are in future. I don't look at any childhood experience negatively, I look at everything positively, because it has determined who I am today. Today, I am very proud of who I am.I'm very proud to be Fela's daughter.
I feel very blessed to have been born into that family. When people made negative comments about me as Fela's daughter, I felt bad. But now, I couldn't careless what they think. Everybody is entitled to its opinion. When you are younger things affect you totally than when you are older. I will give you an example. My daughter has been going to motherless babies homes like Mother Theresa.
When she's going, I give her things for children at the home. Recently, she donated two bags of rice to them. She started visiting the home through some oyinbo friends of hers. When they saw her as a black lady they told her to go downstairs. They didn't tell her oyinbo friends to go down o but my daughter the black person. She told them she came to visit and play with the children and they said no way.
Her oyinbo friends then said, oh 'she is with us, she is black American, she can stay. Can you imagine that? When she came home, she told me about her experience and before now, I planned to buy them a generator but after her experience, she said she would never go back there again. It's not the children's fault .
Why are we being discriminated against in our country? I can imagine, if I was her age and something like that happened to me, I would feel so bad, but I will wash them down from head to toe. I would have confronted them. You can imagine that happening to me at 22. I would react the same way she did. I won't go there again, but at 49, if I go there and they said rubbish, I will give them what they are looking for.
The full length of my tongue and more. I'm just trying to explain life at different stages. If someone told me don't go there because I'm Fela's daughter, I would keep quiet but now, if someone says that I would call her a fool. She is the loser.
What's your relationship like with your siblings; especially Femi and Seun?
I'm very close to all of them. Of course, Femi and I are in the same age bracket, so we are close. I'm friendly with every one of them.
When your daughter was growing, what's your experience of motherhood?
Luckily for me, when she was growing up, my mother was still alive. She grew up very close to my mum. When I was performing, she stayed with my mum. If you listen to her, she speaks with an accent which sounds very English because she grew up with my mum and grandmother. She decided not to talk like us very early in her life. I sacrificed a lot for her. I remember paying her fees when she was in the university.
I could have used the money to buy a new car just to make myself feel good, but to me, her education was more important . If I bought a new car , it would be old and worthless ultimately, but if I train my daughter, it's my legacy. Even if she wants to do her Masters, I will pay for it. I stopped smoking, principally because of my daughter and my chest was hurting. I said to myself, my daughter is at the university, if I die before she graduates who will pay her school fees?
That was why I stopped smoking. I stopped smoking the year she was entering the university. I said to myself when she graduates and she's settled-up for life on her own, then I would start smoking again. But now, I'm not thinking about smoking again.
It's been you all the way training your daughter. What of her father?
Well, I'll rather not comment on that. Or I would rather say we share the expenses.
Does she resemble you in anyway?
Maybe when she is dressing-up. She likes to match her clothes like I do. She likes make-up. She's very shy and quiet. I used to be shy and quiet when I was young too. She likes to take care of her face and her nails. She picked a bit of my fashion sense and she likes to take care of her face and her nails. I like her choice of earrings, and her choice is very much like mine. She doesn't wear anything on her hand now but I assume she's getting there.
How did you sponsor your daughter's education abroad?
I'm working now. I'm running the shrine. I'm collecting a salary working at the shrine. The Shrine is business. We are not multimillionaires, but we are not uncomfortable. We are ok.
Do you work everyday?
Yes, but I haven't gone to work this week, I'm off duty. I've not rested after Felabration.
It was one week of working morning, afternoon and night. I just decided to rest. Also, I was trying to lose weight. I put one thing around my stomach and now I have serious blisters on my stomach. I didn't celebrate New Year's Day satisfactorily . The thing was too tight and it was really paining me , but I thought it's reducing my stomach with the pains.
Is that what you're holding?
Yes. It's a slimming belt and you just wear it, but I think, it was just too tight that day. I used it a day before and it was nice.
What's your impression about marriage?
I don't have anything against marriage, but it's not proper when you're married to cheat on your husband. Married women should be advised that if they're not interested anymore they should leave and not just cheat on their husbands. An American guy told my brother that married women are chasing him.
Coming from his own part of the world, he couldn't understand that logic. Here it's so rampant. To me, marriage is sacred and you have to respect those vows. If I won't respect conjugal vows , I won't bother about marriage at all. But at my age, I don't think about marriage.
What if your partner decides to marry you?
We are going to decide. I have my house, he has his house. This is my house, I love it. I don't know. We have to sort out somethings.
You prefer to be single?
No, I'm not single. We see each other everyday. I spend time at his place, he spends time with me too. Right now, we have a perfect relationship. If we were going to take it to another level, that would be another level. But we haven't taken it to that level yet.
What's your impression of a typical Nigerian man?
Nigerian men, I don't know. I don't want them to abuse me. But they like women. They are ambitious goal getters and can be very successful when they face their work. They can be promiscuous , but each human being is unique and I don't want to generalize .
How's your relationship with your daughter's father?
We are friends. We still talk. Sometimes, if he's having problems with my daughter, he would call.
How do you spend your Sundays?
Right now, we are on holidays . Normally , Femi plays on Sundays, so I'm at The Shrine, I don't get home until about 4.am in the morning.
So you don't go to church on Sundays?
No. I'm a free thinker. I have been a free thinker since I was 24 years. My partner sometimes takes me to church. I believe in prayers and in church they pray too.
What do you mean by that?
I believe in God , but I don't discuss religion. I believe religion is the private domain of the individual . If it's church that is your own way, go to church, if it's the mosque go to the mosque. Religion is such a touchy subject. Some people can get emotional about it. During a program at TBS tagged Experience or something, my ex-husband took my daughter and asked if I won't be coming along. I told him I'm already experienced. He took offence at my comment, but I was just joking.
What do you miss about your mum?
I really miss my mum. Her death was a rude shock. She died 8 years ago. We were supposed to move into this house together. It didn't happen. I miss her wisdom. She was just for us and would sacrifice anything for her children. Her whole life was her children. She was always in the house. She supported us 110 percent. She helped us build the shrine at that time.
How do you maintain so many dogs ?
Since childhood, we've always had pets. We moved into this place with three dogs which gave birth to many. If not dogs, we probably would have monkeys here as well. When we were growing up, we had monkeys too. My father too liked animals and before government burnt his house he had 8 dogs. They killed the dogs in that raid. He had 2 monkeys, a donkey and lots of other pets as well.
We grew up loving monkeys as well. When we were kids, we had a dog in the house that was for my sister and the monkeys were Femi's. The cat was mine. I was the laziest among the three of us. You know you don't have to train cats. Dogs and monkeys you have to train, so I stuck to the cat. Femi and Sola were always cleaning their defecation and my cat would just go outside and do her own.
Your father was fashionable. How come he ended up wearing pants?
He never wore pants alone. It's a misconception. In his house he wore pants. You came to visit him in his house. He was an African. He didn't want to wear anything but pants. Anytime he stepped-out of his house, he wore clothes. Sometimes, he wore trousers alone. I don't know why people say this. A lot of pictures were taken of him in pants. He never wore pants outside his house or on stage. Never. For his shows, he normally removed his shirt and painted his body but he was always in trousers .
What do you miss most about your father?
I think it's the gisting mostly. We shared ideas, giving him gist about what was happening in Nigeria. His own interpretation of things. Like he would call CNN 'See No News'. I liked watching him play and enjoyed his music. He did that every Friday. I just danced by the side of the stage and enjoyed myself. I never danced for him.
I danced for my brother. My brother formed his Positive Force band in 1986 and we were the foundation members. I danced for the band from 1986 to 2003