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22nd Memorial: How Fela Composed His Music –Yeni


Fela Anikulapo Kuti,  a Nigerian multi-instrumentalist, musician, composer, pioneer of the Afrobeat music genre and human rights activist, died on 2 August, 1997. In preparation for one of his past memorials, his daughter, Yemi, granted TheNEWS an interview, revealing some more personal details about her late father, especially how he composed his music. He may either go into a trance-like posture, looking at a landscape visible to himself alone or he may ask for contributions from people around to enrich an idea he was playing with in his mind.



Yeni told TheNEWS: “There was one thing about Fela. When one new song was coming into his brain, you couldn’t talk to him. I mean, he would just sit down, staring into space, just looking. The only thing that would be moving was his mouth, his teeth would be knocking, and at that time you knew he was composing and if you talked to him, he would not answer you. He might be looking at you but he did not see you. His eyes would be open but he was not seeing you, he was just in his own world. He would just sit down.”

She revealed how she first encountered Fela in that mood when she was young. In her words: “My grandmother, Olufunmilayo Ransome-Kuti, took us to Abeokuta and she didn’t bring us home. She kept us there. They put us in school in Abeokuta. I stepped on a nail and I started getting a temperature. So she had to bring me back to Lagos for treatment in a hospital. When I got to the house the house was empty. I got to the corridor and I saw Fela sitting down and I said Fela and he didn’t answer, Fela, Fela. He didn’t see me, he didn’t hear me, so I went to my mother’s room, that is my father and mother’s room, she wasn’t there.

“Then I went back to Fela and called him, Fela, Fela, Fela. It took me about five minutes and I said if Fela didn’t hear me, I would go hide under the kiosk so that they wouldn’t take me back to Abeokuta. Then suddenly he just woke up but all the while his eyes were wild open and he saw me and shouted and hugged me. So it had taken him almost 5 to 10 minutes to realize that I was there, so he was always in his own world . Fela would actually go into his own world when he was composing.”


However, Fela would some times ask for ideas to enrich what he had formed when he went into his “trance” as was the case when he was composing Trouble Dey Sleep Yanga Go Wake Am.


According to Yeni: “Fela just came out of his room and he asked that people should give him ideas on many things that could cause trouble. I remember people gave him contributions for that number because he asked for their contributions. To make himself clear about what he wanted he gave them the example of a cat sleeping and the rat come and bite him so the rat will not rest … I remember that day very clearly. When I was much younger I could hear sounds, maybe a bird chirping, a tune will come to my head. Like my brother, Femi, when he is sleeping, the music will just wake him up.”

She argued that people sometimes think music is easy, it is not. “Music is a science. People don’t take music and musicians seriously in Nigeria and that pains me. Music is actually a science, the only form of art that you cannot touch, you can only hear, so it is a gift.”

TheNEWS
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