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Tuesday, December 30, 2008


In 1976, Afrobeat legend, Fela Anikulapo-Kuti introduced Duro Ikujenyo to the public at the regular Sunday Jump in the Afrika Shrine as one of the secretaries of the Young African Pioneers (YAP). Later, Duro became a research and founding member of Fela’s Movement of the People (MOP) and went on to write, albeit with Fela, the organisation’s manifesto. However, in 1979, Duro took a decision that changed his life permanently.

He joined Fela’s Egypt 80 band as a rhythm pianist, thus emerging the first of its kind in Afrobeat. Together with Fela, Duro recorded monumental hits including Unknown Soldier, Perambulation, Original Surferhead, Coffin for Head of State, Authority Stealing, ITT, Power Show, Army Arrangement, Africa, Centre of the World, and MOP.
In this rare encounter with Blockbuster, Duro recalled his days with Fela and talked about his wave-making CD, Tribute to Fela. Enjoy:

Encounter with Fela
“My meeting with Fela was divine. We met at the hospital in 1974. He was caught with India Hemp and was beaten by the police, and admitted at LUTH where I went to greet him. It was Lemi Ghariokwu that took me to him. All this while, I have been hearing about Fela and was eager to meet him. As a student of Lagos Anglican Boys Grammar School, I used to buy Fela’s albums. I particularly fell in love with Water No Get Enemy because it has depth. The lyrics are spiritual and melodious. To me its Fela’s best song.

In the hospital, I said hello and kept watching him. From that day, Lemi and I were regular faces at Sunday Jump at the Afrika Shrine. We used to sit in the front row and the managers would reserve chairs for us. We came in free of charge. But our parents didn’t know that we were patronizing the Shrine or else they’ll kill us. I was a chorister in the church but I’ll skip church for the Shrine. To me, church was dull but Fela’s Shrine was lively.

The Egypt 80 band

“I studied music at the Royal College of Music in London between 1074 and 78. I wanted to go to the Polytechnic but Fela said ‘no, you know a lot already. Go on and develop yourself’. When I finished school, I met Fan Fairrax who introduced me into jazz music, gave me tapes and books to read. Later, I started playing piano, then joined Fela’s Egypt 80 band. I was the first rhythm pianist of the band. I recorded many albums with Fela including Unknown Soldier, Perambulation, Original Surferhead, Coffin for Head of State, Authority Stealing, ITT, Power Show, Army Arrangement, Africa, Centre of the World and MOP.

Greatest moment with Fela

One of my unforgettable moments was the day Fela introduced me into the band. It was May 25, 1979. From that day, I became his pianist. We also had more than 60 lectures together at various universities in the country. Before any lecture, I would do research and compile references for Fela. We actually had many great moments together. Indeed, Fela was fun to stay with.

What Fela taught me

“Fela taught me that Africans started civilization. He spoke glowingly of the Egyptian pyramids. He gave me some books like Blackman of the Nile by Ben Y. Johana and Stolen Legacy to read. Fela told me how philosophers like Plato and Aristotle came to Egypt to learn philosophy, which formed the bedrock of western civilization. All these changed my life. Fela also taught me to know myself. He always told me to find out what’s best for me and pursue it with all vigour. I wanted to study accountancy but when I told him I had passion for music, he encouraged me. He said, ‘why study accountancy when you have passion for music? If music is best for you, go for it.’ That’s how I enrolled for correspondence course in music at the Royal College of Music, London.

Negative influence

“To be honest, Fela was a victim of circumstances. When Fela started in the 1960s, he was not smoking Igbo (Indian Hemp). Fela had so much freedom because of his environment. To me, Igbo is against the system and I will not advise anybody to smoke it. But today in Europe, more than three million people smoke Indian hemp. When I left Fela, my father took me to a psychiatrist to determine my mental state because everybody in Fela’s house smoked including me.

Fela and women
“To me, monogamy is colonial. Like I told you, Fela was a victim of circumstances. Women were easily attracted to him. Most of the women around Fela came to the Shrine and were hooked to him. Most of the girls were school dropouts and lacked education so, when Fela’s house was burnt, he decided to marry all of them because they had nowhere to go.

Age of Aquarius

“I believe that the age of Pisces is gone. We are right now in the Age of Aquarius. I formed my band, the Age of Aquarius in 1985. It is a three-man band that plays jazz, highlife and Afrobeat in clubs. We used to play in Jazz 38, Sheraton Hotels, Hotel Bobby, Ariya Nite Club and Stadium Hotel among others. In 1996, I did a compilation CD entitled “Ede Gidi”. Gboyega Oyedele produced it. The CD features 13 songs from artistes like Ras Kinomo, Kayode Olajide and I. My own contribution is “Invention”. After this, Jazzhole asked me to do an album entitled “Ase”, which I have started working on. It’s going to be a remix of some songs and will be released in December. The album would parade songs like Surulerre, Ase, Oyeku, Dada and Oriki Olorun among others.

Tribute to Fela
“My current CD is entitled “Tribute to Fela”. It’s a 10-tracker, which I did as a reminder of the past for the present and the future. My own generation never had the opportunity of listening to some of Fela’s songs like Bonfo, Lagos Sisi, Onidodo and others. So, I decided to rearrange these songs. I made some of the songs funky so as to be appreciated by the youth, to tell them that highlife is the root of all music. Rap is not our music. Highlife has roots in our language, culture and tradition. It talks about our lives. The album features artistes like Biodun Batik and Seun Olota, and is supported by Chief Rasheed Gbadamosi and Mrs Abiodun of Gold Records. It is getting an incredible response from the public. The CD sold like hot cakes at the last Felabration where I performed with great musicians like Tony Allen, Femi Kuti and Baba Maa from Ivory Coast. People say that no Fela’s band boy can play Afrobeat like him but I have proved them wrong with this album.

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