Yeni Kuti is the first child of Afro-beat king, Fela Anikulapo Kuti. In this interview, the single mother-of-one speaks about her childhood, failed marriage, romantic escapade among other issues.
I was born in England in 1961 to a British mum, Mrs. Ohireni Kuti and the legendry of Afro-beat maestro, Fela Kuti. I am the first child of my parents. My mother had three children. Femi, Sola of blessed memory and myself. My Mother brought me to Nigeria when I was two-years old. I studied Journalism at the Nigeria Institute of Journalism (NIA) and attended a secretarial school where I acquired a diploma. I worked for four years as a secretary and later went into fashion design for a year with a company called Arrow Head. After that I set up my own fashion house. I design all the costumes for Femi’s Band, The Positive Force. I have also designed for stores like Quintessence and UTC Departmental Stores just to mention few. When Femi started his band in 1986 I abandoned full time fashion design and joined his band. The band gave me the opportunity I needed to dance in a band. I could not dance in my father’s band because of all the politics involved; you know Fela had too many wives. My late sister and I were in charge of choreography untill she died after which I continued alone.
I am still single because I have lost all interest in marriage and I don’t believe in the institution any more. Nigerian men are too controlling and overbearing for me and I am already set in my ways. Besides, I have been on my own for too long. My major concern is training my daughter. I praise married women; I think they are the real stars of this country. Women in their husbands house looking after their husbands and children are amazing especially the ones with nine to-five jobs who come back home tired and still go to the kitchen to cook for their husbands. These are the women that women magazines should be celebrating because they are the real super women. Men are not easy to look after; I can’t do that so I duff my hat for such women. When my only child clocked two, I was separated from my ex-husband. I am now in my 50’s and I am not thinking about having another child and I have no regrets. I don’t believe in having kids with everyman that comes my way. Maybe I could have had more kids if I had re-married but since I never remarried there was no need for me to have more kids. My marriage didn’t work because we couldn’t get on together after two years. Right now my daughter is the most important person in my life. I am still single and I have found a suitable man but right now, marriage is the last thing on my mind. Yes, it is true that you never can say never because things happen. But if ever I want to get married again, you will be the first to know.
ADVICE ON RELATIONSHIP
First I will say take things slowly and don’t rush into any relationship. Get to know whoever your partner is. It’s not just about looks or money because you can meet someone with good looks but nasty character and end up with a monster. Learn about the person you are dating. Take advice from me because I have a story. I went for the looks and not the money and I regretted many times over. Now I have a man that is handsome, hard working and very nice; he is a genuinely nice person and we are happy together and we’ve been dating for a numbers of years now. There are no wedding bells for now; we are happy the way we are. We don’t need marriage to be happier. Who knows, we might get married and start arguing, fussing and fighting.
However, I can’t say my marriage was a bad experience. Maybe if I had not been married before I would be excited about getting married today. I have a beautiful daughter from the marriage and I am happy with the way my life is. My daughter is educated, has a good job and lives in England. I am proud of what came out of that marriage; I can never say I regret that marriage.
ON SINGLE PARENT HOOD
I can’t say it’s been easy being a single parent and I can’t say it’s hard too. Life itself is full of challenges and I am up to the task. I don’t see difficult situation; I just take then as challenges. Single parenthood is the life I chose. I could have stayed with my husband but I chose not to so who am I to complain about whatever I met along the way? I am not in a position to do that. I take it as my destiny. I take each day as it comes, I live for the moment; tomorrow will take care of itself. Back then when I used to dance full time with the band, my late mother helped looked after my daughter when I went on tour with the band.
I am very strict when it comes to business. I have been managing the New Africa Shrine since it opened its doors in 2000. And I am aware that there are a lot of people who do not like the way I run the business because of my business like nature. I don’t let a situation that I can’t control immediately get out of hand; I don’t suffer fools gladly. In the course of running the business I have tried to work with some individuals because I did not want to be saddled with all the responsibilities. But in most cases it never worked out so I ended up running the whole thing myself. Now that I don’t dance on stage anymore with the band because of my age, running the business takes a whole lot of my time. I still choreograph the dancers and I have a strong influence on the girls. I see to the daily activities at the shrine and I also arrange for shows for the band and liaise with Femi’s international manager who arranges his international shows. Sometimes I go on tour with the band. I only recently came back from the Grammy Awards where Femi was nominated.
ON HER TELEVISION SHOW
Presenting a television programme has always been my dream. After I quit professional dancing I wanted to do something that will keep me in the limelight because once you’ve been on the stage you will always want to be on it. Actually I wanted to do a talk show with a friend of mine. And then comes this phone call from a producer from TVC called Lukmon Musa, who tells me about a programme that he was working on and how he would love to have me come on the show. So I went to see him for the meeting and I asked if I would be allowed to speak my mind on the show and the producers agreed. I got the call last year January 2013 and the show took off on May 29, 2013. I have enjoyed saying my views on the show because my views are not in consonance with what everybody agrees to so there is always conflict on set and I actually find the programme very enlightening. I read papers more than I used to because I have to be abreast of what is going on. Before now I never bought Saturday papers but now I do and my favourite newspaper is Saturday Sun; I love screaming headlines.
The television programme has made me more relevant with the youths. A lot of people now recognize me especially young people who stop me on the streets to say hello. And because I am a very shy person, I am sometimes embarrassed by the attention.
Nobody is chasing me. You know I am old now. Do you want my man to leave me? However if I am getting love attention from another man I will not tell you because if my darling reads it in the papers he will not be happy. Already he thinks that I get way too many love advances and that men are chasing me. I get funny phone calls from strange men and I wonder how they got my number.
It’s funny I have never heard any rumour about myself. It might sound strange but I am happy. Maybe, during my brother’s break-up with his wife, Funke, there were some rumours but that’s history and I don’t want to talk about that now; maybe it’s because I try to live my life above board.
WHAT KIND OF MEN ARE YOU ATTRACTED TO?
I am attracted to handsome and hard working men; I can’t stand lazy men. I have dated some handsome but very wretched men in the past. And my advice to younger girls is ‘if you go for handsome make sure he is hard working because sometimes, looks can be deceptive. Handsome but empty is not the way to go; it’s better to go for a man’s character instead of looks.’
I am a happy person. I don’t feel I have enough money or I have made the money I am supposed to have made. The basic thing is to be contented with what you have and I am a very contented person. There are still things I am yet to achieve but I am happy and I feel loved. What constitutes fulfillment is happiness and I feel I am fulfilled in my life because I am happy.
Life is full of challenges but I have never let that to pull me down. If I say I have had misfortune, do I know what other people have gone through or are still going through? Probably worse. Everybody has a story to tell. Sometimes people say to me ‘you’ve lost three people in your family; you lost your father, sister and mother so you must have had it bad.’ But what about people that have lost five members of their family? My own loss cannot be compared to theirs. What then do you say to a family that is wiped out in a plane crash? I once met somebody who lost his mother and sister the same year; you don’t know the other person’s pain. The death of my sister came as a big shock to me and the pain I felt can never be compared to any pain I ever had. I never felt such pain in my life; it was almost physical. I was a very sad person for a long time because of her death. Every time I talk about it I feel pain inside; even now. So many years after I still weep on her birth and death days. My mother was alive when we lost my sister and she never got over it. I guess that sent her to an early grave. Her early death was inevitable; she was too sad after my sister’s death. I blame Nigerian hospitals for my sister’s death. We need to do something about medical care in Nigeria. Losing my younger sister, Sola, was the most miserable time of my life. I was sad when I lost my parents but losing my sister was the worst feeling I ever had in my life. It was 16 years ago. Anytime I talk about my sister I get teary eyed.
You know as women, some of us have tried one way or the other to outsmart men. I was a player as a young girl so I won’t say I have been sexually harassed because I was the one that tried to play men for their money you know. I have had men that have spoilt me silly with gifts and money. And I knew I was just a flirt; I was just playing them. The men took us out for lunch and we just spent their money. My friend used to come along when I went on dates and I went with her when she had dates; we would eat and drink and the men usually gave us some money when we were about to leave. You know N500 was a lot of money back then. I remember that those days, a car was going for N3, 000. So there was this particular instance when we wanted to do the same thing with my friend’s date. The meeting point was one of the rooms at the Eko Hotel & Suites. When we got there we knocked on the door, he answered and we entered. He was lying on the bed but left the door unlocked so he would not have to get up to open the door when we came in. He is a popular man so I don’t want to mention his name. When he removed the sheets he was stark naked and we were shocked! He started chasing us around the room; he would chase my friend and then me. When we eventually found our way out of his hotel room we ran straight home. I couldn’t tell my mum what happened. But I told my sister, brother and our friends and they all laughed at us. We were greedy young women who happened on a very wicked man.
No man has ever asked me for sex for favours. Maybe they are too scared of me because of my father and brother; they probably know they will sing about it. Even with Felebration, no sponsor has ever asked me for anything; they just sponsor; maybe it’s because of my family background.
I come from a family of role models. My late grandmother, Mrs. Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti is my role model.
Sources: Sun Newspaper