Wednesday, July 11, 2012

In language class with Femi Kuti

Femi Kuti speaking to Lolade: Photo by Wale Falola

I have had some interesting interactions with musicians over the course of my journalism career but this one with Afrobeat star Femi Kuti trumps all. During my recent interview with him following his third Grammy Awards nomination, we talked about the concept of ‘knowing’. He made a point about the fact that I couldn’t have known his father Fela which I responded in the affirmative. Then he went on to lecture me about the rudiments of English grammar. And the following argument ensued: 

Femi Kuti: How old are you?
Lolade Adewuyi: 31
FK: You couldn’t have known Fela.
LA: Well I knew him even though I didn’t grow up in Lagos.
FK: You knew him; you don’t even speak English well. Knew? How did you know him? You met him? Knew means you must have met him, you’re familiar. Knew him in terms of you have heard his album, abi?
LA: Before he died. I grew up with my dad playing his songs.
FK: So from your dad is how you got to know his music.
LA: Yes.
FK: Even before he died, you were not privileged to even come to Lagos to watch him perform. Patapata [at most] you would have seen him on TV and the footage they have of Fela on TV is when he was old, over 50.
LA: No that was Egypt 80 performing in, was it that Egypt show?
FK: He never performed in Egypt, either Berlin.
LA: There was a big show. It was really the biggest I’ve seen.
FK: Where?
LA: I can’t remember the city, but it was really big and I saw it on Ondo State TV because I grew up in Akure.
FK: You have to tell me because they don’t have much footage of my father when he was young, except you Google him now. There is some footage that people are putting on the internet when he was in his 30s, when he was at his peak.
LA: I think he was in his 40s in this video.
FK: You still did not “knew” the man.
LA: But I’ve read his biographies.
FK: It’s like me saying that I know Kwame Nkrumah. I’ve read his book, I’ve read his philosophies.
LA: You don’t have to meet someone before you know them.
FK: It’s good to still meet, you have met me now; you can tell another generation that you met me. It says a lot in 20 years time when, if I’m still alive or dead, that you have met me than to know or read about me.
LA: Yes, true.
FK: So “knew”, I’m only going about the English you’re speaking, “knew” is different. You do not know the man; you have heard about him, you have read about him...
LA: Stop trying to intimidate me!
FK: I’m not trying to intimidate you, I’m trying to make you understand the English that we’re speaking as African people is such a problem and a burden on our lives that if we don’t understand what we’re writing, when a journalist takes his pen and writes that Femi Kuti is mad, it’s a big deal because 100,000 people will read, and they will tell their friends and then Femi does not have the power to counter that story or fight back this journalist, or journalists.

Needless to say, I left that interview a whole lot wiser and became a friend of Femi Kuti. The interview that was scheduled for an hour ran into almost two hours as we exchanged banters. Perhaps like Femi said, I can tell my children that I met him, therefore I know him. However, since I enjoy Fela’s music and identify with some of his messages, having interviewed his sons, read his story and philosophy, I would like to maintain that I KNOW him. Jesus Christ said, blessed are those who have not seen, yet believed. I have researched enough to assume a level of knowledge that many people who met him physically can say about knowing him. I do believe that I know Fela. After all, he’s no longer a man but a concept.     

A more 'serious-minded' part of the interview was published in TELL last week


Raymond Mordi said...

To assume that you know somebody based on the fact that you've read stories about him is superficial; you can easily be misled. True knowledge comes from experiencing!

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