Looking at it holistically, do you feel comfortable that a Nigerian who has practically lived abroad all his life is playing the role of Fela?
I’m sure if they do a movie, it will be great. Now, let us look at the broadway show. Critics say that it was too Americanised. They did not want to show Fela’s story from the Nigerian perspective. They wanted the American and the international market to understand the Fela story. See how Fela was misunderstood even when he went to the United States. It was after his death that people started evaluating his music. What he was doing? He married 27 wives in his lifetime, how dare he? This man was against feminism.? They gave him different kind of names. He was completely misunderstood because he wore pants, he smoked marijuana. He had issues. He had serious issues whether we liked it or not. At his death, people were celebrating him but in his lifetime, he was broke before he died.
What they did was to tell the Fela story for the average international market to watch and understand it. If you did watch them, you would notice that the dancers could not dance the Afrobeat music. For you, the man was speaking American English. But you would have every reason to believe that the Fela you know was not being acted but if you look at it from the neutral perspective like you didn’t know Fela, you would understand the story and even weep for him.
The day I watched it, I cried. I cried because I knew where they were coming from and I saw the audience. Probably, they have not heard about Fela, the Americans were saying, it made them want to listen to his music to know more about Africa. It opened their minds to so many issues. Now, they are studying Afrobeat in many of the schools and universities in America, Germany, France, Sweden, Australia, everywhere. There are over 20 American bands playing Afrobeat at the moment.
Over the years and given what is happening in the country today, will you say your father has been vindicated or misunderstood while he lived?
I will answer in the affirmative. He was grossly misunderstood for a purpose because he saw corruption and he knew what corruption was going to do to the country; those involved in corruption wanted to get away with dictatorship and corruption which was what he was against. And because he used his own unconventional way of protesting, it didn’t go down well with the authorities.
Then the authorities controlled the media up to a point until after Daily Times, when other media houses started springing up because we have to remember that it was only government newspapers and TVs that we had then. So, the story was told from the government’s perspective until The Punch, Vanguard and other magazines were established. Fela’s story could be seen from another point of view.
We have to understand where Fela was coming from in the 60s. Where did the problem start? What was the cause of his problem? And maybe, because he was already a stubborn character, he was going to make matters worse and that was his character and that is the character that people now love. What kind of man was he, that many people ran away from him, or even compromised him. But he didn’t have to go through all those beatings? So, I think, he was purposely misunderstood but yes, he has been vindicated.
— Son of the late Nigerian Afrobeat music pioneer and controversial political activist Fela Anikulapo Kuti, Femi Kuti speaks about the currently in the works and much talked about biopic based on the life of his father as well as Fela’s posthumous legacy, and more, in this interview.