On the wings of the 2010 Felabration that just ended in Lagos, one of Fela Anikulapo-Kuti’s wives, Kevwe, speaks with CHUX OHAI and ADA ONYEMA about her life with the late Afrobeat musician.
How did you meet Fela?
I used to take food to an uncle of mine known as Gabriel Okpaku. He had a studio. I would take the food to him there. One day, when I got to the studio, he locked me in the dark room and walked away, leaving me in company with Fela, who was visiting him at the time. I had sex with Fela that day. Later, Fela said he wouldn’t like me to live in the same house as his boys in the Mosalasi area. He took me to his first wife, Remi, who was Femi’s mother. The first day I saw her, I was shocked because she was very light and her hair was as long as that of a white woman. Fela left me in her care and asked her to take care of me. I told her everything about myself and she said that if I should take her word and be like a daughter to her, there would not be any problem. Which year was this? That was in 1972. He had just recorded the popular album, Shakara.
Did you eventually marry Fela officially?
Yes, I did. I was one of the 27 women Fela married in one day. His friend took us to his house first before we were taken to a high court for the wedding. The people at the court said we were underage and that Fela should be arrested for even thinking of luring us into marriage. Eventually, they threw us out and we went to his friend’s office and from there to the late Dr. Beko Ransome-Kuti’s residence. By that time, Fela’s house had been burned down. So he rented a hotel where 12 herbalists were invited to conduct the wedding ceremony.
Which one of Fela’s house was burnt? Was it the one in Mosalasi?
Were you living with Fela then?
Can you describe what happened?
I was an eyewitness. What happened was this: Femi was learning to drive a car. On his way back, the police arrested him for one reason or the other. The policemen who made the arrest argued with Fela’s boys, who appeared to be drunk at the time. A fight ensued and one of the policemen fell to the ground. The others ran to nearby Abalti Army Barracks and reported the matter to some soldiers. Before the soldiers arrived, the boys had already gone into hiding inside Fela’s compound.
The police came in and told Fela that they wanted to arrest his boys. But Fela said he was not going to allow that and they threatened to bring in the army. By this time, Fela had fortified his residence, which was walled, with a live electric wire and anybody that touched the wire would be electrocuted to death. When this was going on, he told his mother that he wanted to activate the wire; but she said he should let the police go into the compound as long as they had a search warrant. Also, she said if they didn’t come with one, he should be ready to wage a total war with them. Of course, it turned out that the policemen did not come with a search warrant and they came in company with many soldiers.
All of them surrounded Fela’s compound at once. He had no choice other than to turn on the electricity, thereby activating the wire on the fence. In the process, some soldiers were electrocuted. That was why their colleagues came back forcefully and threw fire into the generator that supplied the electricity and the generator burned out.
Having destroyed the power generator, the soldiers were able to gain entry into Fela’s home. When they got in, they shot five girls to death instantly. I still remember their names. They were Patience, Kemi, Kehinde and Taiwo, alongside two white men, who were standing at the front gate of the compound. I didn’t remember anything else until I woke up to see myself in Abalti barracks.
Was it on the same day that Fela’s mother was killed?
Yes, the soldiers killed his mother on that day. They came in with arms and were prepared to kill everybody in sight. Immediately they started shooting, I went to hide in the toilet. But they found me and beat the hell out of me. I saw them go upstairs to Fela’s mother and carry her. At that point, I was in pains and half-conscious. But I knew they threw her downstairs. They were really determined to kill.
After you got married to Fela, what happened?
After the marriage ceremony, we went to Ghana for the honeymoon.
All the 27 wives?
Yes, all the 27 wives with Alex Conde, the one that married the late Chief Okotie Eboh’s daughter. He took us to Ghana for the honeymoon and from there Fela brought other girls. The other wives were always jealous because Fela paid a lot of attention to me. Fela used to tell us to smoke marijuana or he would not accept us as his own people.
Were you smoking marijuana before you married him?
No. He introduced me to smoking. Whenever I refused to smoke, he would get angry and disgrace me in public.
What made you think that the other women were jealous?
They were jealous because Fela used to ask after me in my absence and he never allowed anybody else to sit in the front seat of his car. He took me out for shopping always and showered me with gifts of expensive clothes. Apart from that, I could walk in at anytime and demand anything from him and I could drive any of the cars in his compound whenever I wanted them.
Is it true that you used juju to charm Fela?
It is not true, I never used juju on him.
Did your parents approve of your marriage to Fela?
No. How many children did you have for him?
But for Femi’s mother, Remi, I would not have been able to give birth to my son. She took me to her hospital at Apongbon and the doctors washed my womb and I got pregnant again. I had my baby and came back with the child and Fela’s other wives were saying that the child did not belong to him. But Fela took the child, turned him upside down and declared that he was his son. He named him Fela in 1982. I want to do DNA test because it is a test of life. Let’s say the truth because the truth will set us free.
Are you suggesting that there is more to this issue?
Yes, because there is a relative of Fela concerned. We were living in the same house with the mother and two sisters, I was very close to his sisters. He had loved me since the first day I set foot in their home. He was always playing with me and from there we started sleeping with each other. I used to prepare his meals. His favourite meal was fried plantain, beans and eggs. Even his best friend used to come and call me for him. One thing about him is that he is a very jealous person. He didn’t even want me to talk to any of Fela’s girls and Fela too is the possessive type. I was so afraid and so, I could not cope.
How come you were sleeping with both Fela and his relative?
Once, the relative told Fela bluntly that he wanted to marry me. Later, Fela called me to ask me to marry him. I told him I couldn’t do that because he was still alive. He said if I refused to marry him that it was going to be over between both of us. I couldn’t say anything and ever since that episode, he started fighting me.
When you had this child, did you let the relative know that it belonged to him?
He knew. He used to come and carry the child. What transpired between us threw a wedge between us and he stopped speaking to me. So Fela’s other wives were right when they said the boy was not Fela’s son. They lied because they said the baby belonged to one big-man in the society. It wasn’t true. The baby did not belong to him, but to Fela’s relative. I’m not a harlot.
Is the relative aware of this?
I have told him about it. Even I took my son to him during my last visit.
Did he accept responsibility for the boy?
He told me that he was going to do a DNA test and sue me. I told him to go ahead and do the DNA test and sue whoever he wants to sue. I’m ready to go to any level with him. But nobody should torment me. Right now, right now I am not allowed to receive visitors in the house when my son came the other day, He was showned the way out of the house.
Who is Mama Mosun?
She is the one they call Najite or Damiregba Anikulapo-Kuti. She has made herself Fela’s only surviving wife in the house, whereas she is not.
How old is your son?
He is 28 years old now.
Where is he now?
He is in Lagos. He used to attend Babcock University.
Who has been funding his education?
My godmother, Mrs. Aduke Bademosi. Why did it take you so long to make this revelation? Because I swore on oath to late the Remi Anikulapo-Kuti that I would not spoil anything for her, as long as she was alive. We had an agreement that I could go ahead and spill it after her death. She was a great woman and I respect her a lot.
Aren’t you going against your promise to her now?
No. It was her dream to see the relative of Fela and I settle down as man and wife.
She wanted you to marry Fela’s relative?
Yes, she wanted me to marry Fela’s relative. She used to tell me that Fela’s relative was very fond of me. She was even the one that took me to the hospital to save my pregnancy. She was always there for me.
You abandoned your son, didn’t you?
I did not abandon him.
So what happened?
After Fela named my child, one of the wives poisoned my baby’s food. Unknown to her, I had seen her do it and decided to drop the feeder. Unfortunately, another house mate mistakenly took the feeder and fed her own baby the poison and the baby died. That was how I left Fela’s house.
When did you leave Fela’s house?
That was in 1982.
Between 1982 and now, where have you been and what have you been doing?
Well, I have been in England.
Are you back to Nigeria?
I will say fully because I don’t want to reveal more secret.
Did you come home when Fela died?
Yes, I was here for his burial. That day was very dark.
It’s been more than a decade since Fela died, how do you keep body and soul together?
It’s by God’s grace.
Do have any plan to remarry?
I will remarry if I see somebody that will love me the way Fela did.
You haven’t told us your age
I’m 50 years old.
At the time Fela died, there was this rumour that he died of complications arising from HIV/AIDS infection.
What was your reaction when you heard it?
It was a lie.
When you heard it, were you not afraid?
I wasn’t afraid because I had faith in what I believe in. If he died of AIDS, how come it did not affect me? Fela had slept with me more than anyone else in that house. I should be the first person to be infected with HIV/AIDS. Really? Yes.
Have you gone for HIV/AIDS test?
I did all the tests in England. There is nothing wrong with me. I’m healthy. I’m a nurse.
While in England, did you date anyone?
There was Nicholas. Since I came here, I have had other people, too.
Do you still smoke Indian hemp?
No, I have stopped.