Takuro: ‘why I wrote Life and Times of Fela Anikulapo Kuti’
He was an enigma. His name conjured the image of a weird one. He was a raconteur and had death in his pouch. He was a human rights’ activist and different things to different people. His unrelenting voice called everyone to attention. He was above all, a fascination to everybody, who listened to his music.
He was Fela Anikulapo Kuti.
Born Olufela Olusegun Oludotun Ransome-Kuti in 1938 to an educated middle-class family, his father was an Anglican minister and teacher, while his mother was a feminist activist. His two brothers, Olikoye and Beko, were medical doctors.
He studied music at the Trinity College of Music where he formed the band Koola Lobitos. He later married in 1960 and moved to Nigeria in 1963 where he trained as a radio producer for the Nigerian Broadcasting Corporation.
From the 1960s, when Fela Anikulapo Kuti created afrobeat —- a fusion of traditional Yoruba rhythms, highlife, pop, American jazz and funk music —- to the time he died in 1997, his music mesmerised the audience. He entertained them with tunes that commoditised the apparent suffering in Africa.
As at the time he passed on, Fela had recorded 77 albums, which have continued to provide reference material for the plethora of books on him. In fact, Fela is one of the most written and talked about artistes that ever lived.
He possessed an energy, which many have tried to pontificate in books, videos, theatrical performance and plastic arts.
Books and essays on him consistently provoke critical exegesis. Why a lot of them interrogate the weird one (abami eda), using his vices, in others, these vices are made secondary, while his art is examined from scholastic perspective.
One of the disciples of Fela still carrying on his touch, this time, not through music, is Tayo Takuro. In Life and Times of Fela Anikulapo Kuti, Takuro reflects on the period that shaped this tornado of a man, who had ‘death in his pouch’.
The 94-page book is a detailed, easy-read material that digs up facts from different secret archives of the artiste. It discusses issues such as, when the band played in the United States for months where Fela was attracted to the Black Power movement, the band’s renamed as Afrika ’70 upon his return to Nigeria, the formation of and the opening Kalakuta Republic community, which had a recording studio and served as a home for band members and other musicians, as well as when he opened of Afro-Spot nightclub, which was later, renamed Afrika Shrine where he regularly performed and promoted the African traditional religion of the Yoruba ethnic group.
Takuro recalls sneaking to Fela’s performance Cathedral, Kakadu Hotel, Yaba, to see him on stage as a secondary school boy. He felt differently, afterwards, and had been ever since, a Felasophia.
Takuro says, “I started following Fela in 1969, when I was in secondary school, class three. It was my brother who took me to his club one day, that time there was no shrine, the place was Kakadu Hotel. My brother just took me there, because it was a holiday period, and since then, I began to follow Fela.”
He continues, “anytime I had opportunity, I would sneak out to watch his show. When I now joined Radio Nigeria, with entertainment as one of my beats, so, anything Fela was doing, I would cover it. I covered his marriage to his 27 wives and when he was facing his trials I covered them too. Like I said in the book, I’m not a fan of Fela, I’m fanatic about him.”
As a reporter, Takuro had intimate relationship with the musician. He had unfettered access to him. He reveals, “I can’t recollect now how it started. But I often went to his place to interact with him. The children know me, because I was very close to their father. I knew him through Kanmi Ishola-Osobu. Osobu brought me closer to him. So, I had access to him. I saw him often in the shrine. I was opportune to visit Fela in prison in Benin through the late Dr. Beko Ransome Kuti.”
Takuro adds, “I had all the records of Fela at a point. Now, I have disposed of them, because of the medium, which they were recorded. I used to have live recording of his shows and some other songs that had not been recorded for releases. I had opportunity of going to his shrine with a recorder and would record his live music. Those were the kind of his music that I had and they were what I was playing.”
He didn’t intend to write the book. It was one publishing that approached him to do it. His words, “I didn’t even know how they got to know me. Everything happened in March 1986. Fela was then in jail. The publishing house approached me, saying they wanted me to write on Fela. I agreed. So, every Friday, they would give me a topic and I would write and they would look at it.”
He says, “I still don’t know what happened. I went to the place I used to meet them at Ilupeju, when I got there, they were not around. The security man told me they had gone. When I asked why, he said he didn’t know. Since that time to this moment, I have not heard anything about them. That time, there was no GSM and I tried several times to reach out to them, but I was not successful. We had an agreement; I still have a copy of it with me. So, I just dropped the manuscript somewhere. I forgot about it completely until last year June, when I was relocating to Ifo, Ogun State, from Lagos that I discovered the book. I had almost thrown it away before I sighted it. So, I took it up and decided to update it to include the time Fela died, in 1997, because I had written the manuscript in 1986. So, when I updated the book last year, I contacted another publishing company, which eventually published it.”
Why did he write the book?
“I thought that Fela was an international figure and whatever you wrote about him would interest people. I didn’t have any intention of making money from it. I believed that if you wrote something good about him, it would also be of good to you. I wrote about his birth, his childhood. I met people that were closer to him in the course of writing the book, people like J. K Braimoh and Dapo Tejuoso. Anyone who followed Fela will know Braimoh. I also met some other friends of his. I believe that the book will interest people as I wrote about his political activism too,” Takuro says.
What was the challenge of writing the book?
“As a journalist, I was prepared to meet any challenge that would come my way. I was ready to go any length to fulfill my obligations as a journalist. So, I believed I would make it. Getting some of his pictures, his parents’ and wives’ were some challenges, but I got them. To me, generally, I don’t feel I faced any major challenge.”
For somebody who spent quite a number of years with Fela, you would expect Takuro to write a book, something close to a compendium. But this is not so. He says, “as journalists, we reduce words. What will be said in 40 or 50 words, we say it in 10 words. We don’t waste words. That’s one of the things that influenced the book’s size. But there is hardly anything about Fela that the book does not capture. The course of my experience as a radio broadcaster impacted the book’s length.”
Takuro believes there is no way any musician around now can match Fela. “Even in death, his music is still reckoned with. He had his own unique style. No afrobeat musician comes close to what Fela was doing. I don’t think any musician can beat him. To me, Fela was in the league of his own.”