My mum was very religious, but didn’t go to church – Femi Kuti, musician

Afro-beat star, Femi Kuti is the first son of Fela Anikulapo-Kuti, the music legend of evergreen memory. Very unassuming and simple to the core as he relates with his staff and children. Never away from his one inanimate companion –  a glittering gold plated saxophone which pulsates with life when it is time for the business of making good music. In this interview at the Afrika Shrine in Ikeja, he talks about his late mum, Remi Kuti.

What do you regard as the best you got from your mum, and which you cherish?

The advice she gave my dad. I traveled with my father to France in 1980. On that trip, my father was arrested. A Communist party invited him and somebody planted 45 kilo of marijuana in that suitcase. A lady confessed that it was the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) that asked her to do it and luckily for my father, my mother advised him to get a recording of the woman confessing to him, which he did. It was that tape that got him exonerated and he escaped sentence to jail.

So, what is the most cherished advice you got from her?

That is between my mother and me. The one I can easily say is that she told me not to let success get into my head. So, all my life I have been trying to keep a level head.

What did she tell you about girls when growing up?

She rarely interfered with the affairs of our lives.

When you joined your dad early in music, what did she say?

She wanted me to have the basic training which my father did not get. She was very much against not having a basic training in music.

At last, did you impress her at all in your career?

Of course yes. She was very supportive. At the beginning of my career, I completely finished all her money. She had about N20,000, and I cleared the whole account trying to run my band. We were penniless; we couldn’t afford to pay our rent. We were staying in Shomolu, Lagos. And after all the hard work, a friend got the French government to take me to France on a cultural exchange. That was my first break outside Nigeria. That was in 1988. So, I became popular in Europe before anybody wanted to hear my name in Nigeria. It was that trip to Europe that enabled me survive and sustain my band. I then began taking care of my mother because she had already done her best. I had to pay the rent and feed members of the house.

What part of your mum’s attitude did you take?

She was a very quiet person. She didn’t like noise at all. I think I have more of her character than my father’s. My father could not sleep without noise. But my mother, if a pin dropped like this, she would wake up instantly. So, I’m more like my mother. She was not the social type. She was very quiet. You will never see her anywhere. She just sat at home all day, all night. She did this for good 40 years. I don’t like going out. Before you see me outside it must be extremely important. Or that on that day they managed to trick or drag or blackmail me to make me go to that event. You don’t see me in parties. For me to go to a party or you find me in a club that means they must have practically dragged me. I must practice every day for six hours minimum. This is my joy (raising his sax), my love. This is what I want to do in my life.

What do you miss about your mum?

Her love and care. My mum was very beautiful.

What food did she cook that was your favourite?

She was very English. She used to cook one English soup with dumpling. That was probably the only thing she could easily cook.

Your dress sense, is it from your mum or dad? What was her dressing like?

She had five dresses and two shoes. She had nothing.

You are her only son. Did she over-pamper you?

My sisters felt so. But she said it wasn’t true.

But you should know if she over-pampered you?

I think she cared for all of us, probably because of the pressure on me because of being in the limelight, she paid more attention. But I don’t think she favoured any one of us more because if we had quarrels she was very honest and straight forward. As siblings when we were fighting she would not take my side because I was her favourite. If I was wrong, she said so. That means I wasn’t her favourite. If I was her favourite she would have always taken my side. You could say my youngest sister was her favourite too because she had difficulties and my mother made us understand she was under a lot of pressure because of the polio and we couldn’t understand how my youngest sister was feeling. My mother made us understand how she was feeling so we could say she was the favourite because she really cared about her daughter. But in a nutshell, she did care for everybody.

As kids did you go to church with your mum?

My mother was very religious but she didn’t go to church. My father wasn’t religious in terms of Christianity, so we had the freedom to do what we liked. We chose not to go to church. Church was boring, I hated church. My grandmother used to take us to church and we hated every moment of it because it was so boring in Abeokuta. And every Sunday, we were so sad that we had to go to church. When we left Abeokuta we moved to my father’s house, he was never going to church and so did my mother.