Posted by: Khepera | Monday, 28 June 2010

“When you kill us we rule!” (an interview w/ Fela Kuti)

I have to thank Bro. Kalamu for this… Being a hardcore member of the Fela nation, this info & insight is immensely valuable, and moving, to me.  There are other musicians, including Femi Kuti, his son, who we are asked to embrace as equivalent, but like when Marley passed, we have yet to discover anyone truly in that league….for either.  Make sure you check out the link for the full article…an excerpt follows…


(Chimurenga) I had planned to visit the Shrine the night I arrived in Lagos but never made it. My sister Dupe, who knew some of the band Egypt 80, then took me to the Kalakuta Republic2. But each time we got there, every day for a week, we were told Fela is sleeping. On the fifth day, Sunday June 11, 1996, we decided to wait. We waited six hours. By that time he had stopped giving conventional interviews and was not talking with journalists. I sensed someone who truly loved himself and all peoples, but who has been persecuted for speaking truth, by the very same people it was designed to uplift. In the middle of our conversation there was an electricity failure and the second half of our talk took place in the dark. In Yoruba cosmology, some things happen outside of the logic of time and space. This felt like one of those moments. When I left he came out to greet me from his balcony—an unusually polite gesture from the Chief. It’s under that very balcony that over a million people gathered, around a year later, to wish a safe passage to the Black President.

Boto: Fela’s assistant
Seun: Fela’s youngest son
Dupe: My sister
Femi: Olufemi Sanyaolu aka Keziah Jones representing The African Anarchist Corp.

In Fela’s Living Room
Sunday 11/6/1996]

I hang with the various people coming in and out of the main living room—beautiful women, tough area boys, businessmen in smart suits, the curious, — everybody united by His music, N.N.G.3 and the possibility of revolution. Waiting to Exhale4 is on the TV (by satellite). He walks in wearing only a towel, excuses himself, reappears in his underpants, explains that he has just woken up and lights up a large spliff. With eyebrows arched, he slowly surveys the room and dismisses several people. He is a little bit skinny and graying at the temples, keeps you in constant and direct eye contact, speaks in short bursts of baritone. His speech is embedded between long pauses and punctuated with a deep resounding laughter. In the three hours or so that we spoke I eventually submitted to this flow, I realized that my questions interrupted trains of thought so I just chilled, listened and replied with my ideas when necessary.

Femi: Fela, I’m glad to be interviewing you. This is quite an opportunity for those of us outside Nigeria, cuz we don’t really know what’s going on.

Fela: About me?

Femi: Yeah, so I thought it would be a good opportunity cuz many young blacks read Chimurenga and they know about you, so I thought it would be good to come back with some news, you know what I mean, to tell them that things are cool.

Fela: [smiles.]

Femi: After 20 years of essentially political music do you still believe music to still be an effective way to change a political system?

Fela: [long pause] Oh wow! That’s a very good question [laughs] . . . music. Do I still think music is the best way to change a political system? You have to give me time to think about the question. Pause the tape so that I can understand what I want to talk.

[Personal assistant-type character, Boto pauses the DAT while Fela sits still for about twenty minutes in silence. No one in the room moves. Then with a smile he speaks.]

Fela: If one actually believes that he still wants to go into politics… [notices me adjusting the DAT] ah you see? It’s not loud enough. Are you sure? Please… it’s okay? [asks Boto] Wetin I first say?

Boto: …if one still believes…

Fela: If one believes that politics is still the best way to enhance a human life then music is a good medium for spreading message. I think it’s only one of the ways and with music it’s not so important who is playing the music. Or is the person who is playing the music going to get involved in politics? Or is he playing it just for people to listen? Those are the two points. If you are playing it just for people to participate its okay but it is best if you yourself are willing to participate within the music itself. But then again I don’t think politics is the best avenue for developing human life. Don’t ask me obvious question. [General laughter.] Continue, you can ask me that later on.

Femi: Okay. I found that—not only me, many many young people, Nigerians lets say—many of the social and political issues that you were talking about since the early 1970’s proved themselves true. The present political crisis in Nigeria and the revealed long term collusion between our military dictators and western powers came true. What next?

Fela: What next? [Long pause.] You see Femi [laughs to himself], for me to talk about “what next” can take days . . . but then I have to answer the question as soon as possible. I will first of all ask people what has the human being gained from all these years of so-called government, so called development of civilization. There has not been little gain anywhere. The black people in England are still having the same experiences, same in America, Africa is worse. The experiences are worse in Africa because of the conspiracy of the white people against the Africans, you see? The American government will shout to us from America that “democracy is the right thing to do!” but they in themselves are not democratic—at all! The UN is not democratic. You have five countries with vetoes there, China, Britain, France, America, Russia. They can just veto anything the passes through there! How can America, Britain or basically “white people” tell us that in Africa about democracy? Without the army behind their governments there cannot be any democracy [laughs], you see? That is why Bill Clinton himself is the commander of the armed forces—so can we say it is a military government? Well, if the president is also the Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces as it is in the U.S., then it is a military government! It’s just that they are covering up with poli-tricks. I call it DEMOCRAZY. Now this democrazy that people are talking about in America and England, in order to participate in it, the population of the country has to be literate to fully understand what they’re voting for. If you come to Nigeria man, only 20% of people are educated—all the people who are supposedly going to vote can’t even write! They don’t even know what they’re reading—so this voting democrazy cannot be the system to develop the human race. Something is wrong somewhere but the whole system keeps going round and round and round. And with all the going round it knocks some people down. Gbam! Like it knocked Africa down you see . . .? There was a war in the gulf and oil prices were going down when they should be going up! Damn! Do you know an American can just walk into Lagos and watch my show for a dollar and fucking fifty cents, man?

Femi: what!?

Fela: An American can walk into Lagos and watch my show for a dollar fifty cents man.

Femi: What?! The dollar equivalent of the same amount in Naira?

Fela: What’s he going to do? English man will come in and watch me for one pound! One pound and two pence equals 150 Naira! [Femi laughs.] Ah ha! [Smiling.]

Femi: [laughs]

Fela: Ah ha! [smiling]

Femi: En hen?

Fela: Can I go on?

Femi: Yes go on please

Fela: I was talking to one of my friends today and he said the French government wants me to play at the French cultural centre and they’re going to pay me 45,000 Naira. Do you know that 45,000 is not even up to 500 Dollars, man? Could the French government pay any musician with a 16 piece band in France 500 Dollars? For a whole show? See the whole game, man? And here Africans are rushing for this bread . . . because to us one Naira seems like its equal to one Dollar. Do you know that for a Nigerian to watch my show for 150 Naira then I’ve killed him? Ah ha! You see now. It’s a lot of bread! Yeah this is what is called the Whiteman’s conspiracy—called the devaluation of currency.

Femi: So that westerners can buy our resources cheaper . . .

Fela: Thank you. Then I ask them, I am the one with the oil. They say, no your money is not one Dollar, your money is one eightieth of a Dollar. I say, but my oil has not devalued has it? .You see their fucking cheating man? All the heavy slapping, boxing, kicking, karate, leg kicking . . . My brother anything, they’re just giving it to us here in Africa. They are now telling me that our currency is of low value, but our crude oil is still considered as one of the highest qualities in the world. The validity of the oil remains the same.

Femi: So I mean…

Fela: You see now that’s democrazy. These same people come and tell us that democrazy is the best thing to do. We have our own commander of armed forces here who also happens to be a president. What’s the difference?

Femi: [laughs.]

Fela: It’s just that one is wearing uniform and the other is not because without the soldiers, the guns and the violence they cannot keep it going. It’s no fucking democracy! NOW when you have calculated all these things in your mind and you have been at the forefront of politics something just happens that opens your eyes and says “Look Fela, look at this, it can’t be right.” Then you see the whole picture—all the time I was fighting for the struggle of the people I was only fighting for the Whiteman’s democrazy! [Laughs.] That’s what it all amounts to!

Femi: That’s your conclusion . . .

Fela: No, it’s fact. If it’s MY conclusion then tell me who’s talking revolution in this world today? Tell me, give me one name. Is there a black person in world politics now talking revolution? Give me one name! [Pauses whilst he watches me thinking.] There is no one—don’t waste your fucking time man.

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