Afrobeat Culture Federator

WAS FELA MENTALLY UNSTABLE? FACEBOOK DEBATE PICTURE SANDRA & ID

Monday 25 January 2016 by Mabinuori Idowu (aka ID)

Pardon me folks to revisit this seemingly closed discussion about who is in the picture with Sandra Izsadore, the role of Fela’s cousin Fola in Kalakuta, and Banjoko’s claim that Fela Anikulapo-Kuti was mentally unstable at this time, etc. If I revisit the debate I am doing so for two reasons: First; there has been so much talk about Fela being mentally unstable during the “spirit saga” in Kalakuta II, and the debate came at a time I wanted to shed light on many issues raised but I had just had a surgical operation, with so much pain I couldn’t participate as I would have wanted. Now that I am back on my feet, I guess from an insider’s knowledge, it is time to put an end to the issues raised.

The second reason is that the debate in a way provoked reactions from those who have contributed in various ways to our understanding of the phenomenon Fela Anikulapo-Kuti despite Banjoko’s affirmation that: “Those who most of the time claim they knew Fela Ransome Kuti or Fela Anikulapo Kuti (with the exception of some quite inner circle few) are most of the time wrong in their public utterances.” To some extent; I agree with Banjoko’s view, unfortunately because of space limit I cannot go deep on this issue.

Among those that contributed to the debate: Sandra Izsadore, known for her role in Fela’s life, during what we can call a career setbacks in America, she took care of his financial needs and also set him on the African personality line of thought - with this evolution, Fela became political and historic conscious. Michael E. Veal, author Fela: The Life and Times of an African Musical Icon. Also contributing to the debate; Babatunde Banjoko who was a member of YAP, a graphic artist - designer of Coffin for Head of State and Sorrow, Tears and Blood albums of Fela.

Most of the issues raised in the debate I have chronicled in my work: Fela, Phenomenon & Legacy, and for those who haven’t had the chance to read the book, here is another reason, and link for you to pick-up a copy:

FELA, PHENOMENON & LEGACY http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00C4QS9LK

In 1979 during an Italian tour, Fela was presented to a journalist from London New Musical Express (NME), Vivien Goldman. She did an interview that was published in the magazine, and she also presented Martin Meissonier a young French citizen, who would later propose to organise a tour in France for Fela after this trip in Italy.

If my memory remain intact; the picture with Sandra and I; was taken in Paris 1981 by Africa 70 Photo Agency photographer Femi Bankole Osunla, at the Captain Video Club situated along Champs-Élysées. Sandra Izsadore; was invited by Martin Meissonnier who in the early 1980; became tour agent in Europe for Fela, and later produced divers Nigerian artists like Sunny Ade, Tony Alen, Sandra, etc.

In 1981; Martin Meissonnier wanted to produce Sandra Izsadore in a recording with the Egypt 80, he invited Sandra to Paris with the hope that she could convince Fela to do the deal. Fela turned the deal down because he was not convinced that Martin could deliver. Like I wrote in my book mentioned above; most of these Europeans around Fela, at this period starting with: Martin Meissonier, Pascal Imbert, Francis Kertekian, and much later Rikki Stein, were relatively a bunch of novice in the music industry.

Thanks to the exposure their representation of Fela provided, they would eventually become well connected with the leading figures in the industry, the case of Martin Meissonier could be considered as a good example. When he met Fela, Martin did not have any specific professional formation, except playing music and trying to become a tour agent. He claimed to Fela he represented an agency named Martin/Daniel Promotions.

According to him they had organised tours in Europe with Dizzy Gillespie, Don Cherry, and The Chicago Arts Assembly among others. Instead of him working on the big media success of the first tour he organised for Fela in France in 1980, highlighting Fela’s message and image of an Africa personality with a solution for the world, Martin Meissonier wanted to sell Fela to the French public in the manner Chris Blackwell sold Bob Marley - a rebel (Rasta) non-conformist and a sex symbol married to 28 wives.

Financially in debt, emotionally heart-broken and blamed for the turn-out of the second unsuccessful tour, disillusioned Martin tried to replace Fela with Sunny Ade whom he signed with Island Records. Unfortunately Sunny Ade was not Fela, the record sales from the album Sunny made with Chris Blackwell was a financial disaster for the record company. Chris Blackwell did a “disco” mix of Sunny’s album, with the hope of breaking into a new market. However Sunny Ade would not agree to the release of this version. For him the re-mix was no longer his concept of juju music, and the company renounced their contract and they went their separate ways.

With his move towards Sunny Ade, Martin Meissonier lost Fela’s confidence despite his attempt at rallying all his French associates in Nigeria together to work on the Sunny Ade project. They chose to continue to work with Fela & Egypt 80. Fela and Martin Meissonier parted ways in not too friendly manner as Martin was blamed for the out-come of the tour. “Fela, everybody thinks I am an arsehole! Even Pascal” was his reaction - referring to Pascal Imbert, another French citizen he had engaged to co-ordinate the two tours from Lagos. As a result of their separation, Pascale would later become tour agent in Europe for Fela.

Talking about drugs (cocaine, heroine and LSD), a lot of these drugs were coming into Nigeria around this period. Fela, who did not approve of hard drug use but tolerated it among his friends, exposed us (YAP Boys) to drugs. He insisted on us having a taste of them saying “they are not good for you, but I want you to have personal experience of them to understand why I consider them not good”. According to him, he did not want us to fall victim to those friends who could encourage or influence us in that direction. Thanks to his advice, I never touched any of those drugs despite my coming in contact with them in the cause of my involvement with musicians and artists who use them.

On the issue of Fola Ransome-Kuti Fela’s cousin and his role in Kalakuta, he is related to Fela on the Ransome-Kuti side of the family. He was the paymaster of Africa 70 Organisation in Kalakuta I and he remained in the same post in Egypt 80 and Kalakuta II, situated at Atinuke Olabanji Street in Ikeja. There was never any connivance to push cocaine involving Fola that I know of, I guess those in the debate, were talking about the African American lady that planted 43.5 kilos of marijuana in seven suitcases given to Fela’s wives, her name is not Sandra but Suzan Findlay.

Fola was not the brain behind this sabotage of our tour in Italy, as someone claimed in the debate. Rather Fola was used in what we believe was an infiltration of Africa 70 Organisation by Security Agents. It is important to understand the context of the situation around Fela during these periods. From all indications, Fela’s message was not destined for the Africans shores alone as thing were turning around him. Shortly after the change in Nigeria to a civilian administration in 1979, he was invited with his band to headline the annual Italian Communist Party Festival – DE UNITA.

He was billed to perform with his band Egypt 80 in key Italian cities - an opportunity to internationalise his struggle. The festival would have afforded him the opportunity to link his Pan-Africa struggle back home, with the International Communist Workers struggle and this international setting I believe, would have enhanced his political standing.

Considering again, the “insiders” warning from Minister Louis Farrakhan of America’s Nation of Islam during a chance meeting at the lounge of Mainland Hotel mentioned in my book, as part of the events that led to the Nigerian Army attack on Kalakuta in 1977, an international political statue for Fela would not go well with any Nigerian government - the new civilian regime of President Shehu Shagari inclusive.

Fela was convinced the Nigerian Government; in collaboration with American Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), tried to set-him-up with marijuana traffic in-order to discredit him politically as a “drug trafficker”. The role played by Susan Findlay, an African-American helped convinced him of the CIA theory.

During our interrogation of Susan Findlay, we found-out she had gone the previous week to the United States, one of us in the room asked her if she was paid to set-up Fela, she denied it vehemently claiming she worked alone. We asked her if her trip to America was connected with a re-call by her CIA handlers for briefings. She denied this too, saying she went to leave her toddler daughter in her mother’s care.

Though it was clear to us she was not telling us all she knew, we had problems dealing with the situation. Despite the trouble she had created for Fela and the rest of the group: planting 43.5 kilos of marijuana in seven suitcases given to Fela’s wives, her African origin did not permit Fela to hand her freely to white police whom he considered could treat her in a racist manner.

Susan on the other hand, wanted to be handed over to the Italian police - saying she was ready to admit ownership of all the suitcases. Immediately after her arrest, the American Embassy provided her a lawyer that represented her during the process in an Italian court.

On our return flight back to Lagos in what looked like coincidence, Fela was sitting next to a Lagos State Commissioner of Police who claimed he was returning to Lagos from vacation in Italy. Coincidence or not, there was no doubt of an international conspiracy to sabotage Fela’s tour in Italy.

Unfortunately Fela’s state of mind; influenced by all these incidents from these period is what Banjoko and many others refer to, as when Fela Anikulapo Kuti was mentally unstable. I can understand Fela’s attitude during these events in Kalakuta, even if I was not in agreement with his choice of inaction.

Consistently subjected to harrowing and anguish from successive regimes, betrayed and deserted by trusted friends, his organisation infiltrated by security agents - thanks to his cousin Fola, exploited and used by lawyer friends like Kanmi Ishola Osobu and Tunji Braithwaite, considered as trusted advisers, who on earth would not develop a paranoia?

Like he sang years later in the song Underground System: “Since I de young nah to trust people I understand! Since I de grow-up; to find people to trust hard!” Meaning “while growing-up to trust is what I was educated with, but since my adulthood to find people to trust is difficult”. I believe that all these let downs; plus the continued combat against a repressive system, pushed Fela to adopt the “spiritual façade” to protect himself in the last two decades of his life.
With all these recurrent problems; let-downs from trusted allies, betrayals, as confirmed in Femi Anikulapo-Kuti’s interview with Jimi Disu, I duff my hat to Fela; for staying sane and strong to his convictions, (Watch VIDEO:

Femi Kuti at THE DISCOURSE with JIMI DISU http://jimidisu.com/videofemi-kuti-at-the-discourse-with-j…/

Though I am not a professional psycho-analyst; and I do not have any medical record from a doctor who has had the opportunity to examine Fela during the “spirit saga”, despite all these I still believe he was not crazy. With a hind-sight it was clear to me he was only disillusioned with the Nigerian people who sat arms-crossed while the system did everything to destroy him. I had the privilege to watch Fela perform on several occasions since our parting of ways and from my observation, his artistic genius was still very much intact.
What then could one attribute to the cause of the turn of events? The only person capable of explaining his state of mind was Fela himself, and a song he wrote shortly after the advent of the “spirit saga” could help us define correctly how the man felt then and towards the end of his life. Titled LOOK & LAUGH.; in the song he sang: “many of you must have been wondering why, your man has not written new songs! It is not that I don’t want to write new tunes to make you think and happy...what I am doing is just look and laugh”.

Fela went on to explain his contributions and sacrifices for the cause of black emancipation and the countless beatings and arrests from the Nigerian police and army, his trials and tribulations, his ultimate sacrifice the burning down of Kalakuta by the Nigeria army. Despite his sacrifices and sufferings like million other Africans, he felt it was obvious that things were not getting better for the average man on the street.

There are still injustice everywhere, no freedom, no happiness and despite his outspoken criticisms, the people seem not to want to do anything to change the situation - all these made him feel disillusioned and all he could do about the situation was to Look and Laugh. By 1981; when Fela wrote and started to perform live the song ‘Look and Laugh’, he was living a life that could be described as a recluse.

Fela who loved to participate in public lectures, symposiums, and going-out to clubs, suddenly was always found sleeping or playing sax at home with women around him or performing at the Africa Shrine. His old attitude of keeping abreast of events giving lectures at universities and institutions of higher learning suddenly stopped, he rarely gave press conferences or press releases like he used to do.

The “spirit” saga started shortly after the first French tour with Martin Meissonier. It started with Femi (Fela’s son), who suffered a strange fever very much unlike the normal malaria fever with high temperature. His temperature was stable, but he refused to eat living from drinking water and chain-smoking (cigarettes and marijuana).

A lot of people left the organisation as a result of the “spirit saga”. My public opposition to the “spirit” issue afforded me the opportunity to hear first hand how the people felt about it all. When I inquired why they were not voicing their disagreement to Fela, most of them pointed to the physical punishments dissenters were subjected to and my example that people like me couldn’t be physically punished for opposing the “spirit show” was not reassuring to most of the people I spoke with in private to openly speak-out.

Between 1981 and 1983 when it became obvious to me that our struggle was losing its direction, whenever I thought of Fela’s “If you YAP Boys ever leave me...” statement, I found it difficult to “abandon ship mid-stream”. Travelling back to Lagos from University of Nigeria Nnsuka after participating in a symposium, a nostalgic conversation took place between us in the car, we were reminiscent about the good and bad times we all had shared and at a point during our conversation Fela turned and said: “ID! If you YAP Boys ever leave me...” Unfortunately, he never completed the statement beyond what is quoted above.

It took me three years to make-up my mind to leave the organisation. Looking back over the years, I can understand why he never completed the statement. Deep down him, he appreciated what we had all gone through but the reality of life made him see that there is never anything in life that is permanent. Everything and everyone has the right to change their points of view, it is only an imbecile that never changes.

Most of the top members of our organisation JK included chose to go along with the “spirit show” as some of us came to call it. Since officially I could not get Fela committed to a home to examine his mental state not being a Kuti, my position became more unjustifiable to make such a decision. The only person I could turn to was Remi but I was in a dilemma to discuss this line of action with her, I would have to tell Remi what Fela whispered in my ear in Lagos airport, when Fela on our way to take a flight to Paris, was running from one end of the departure lounge to the other.

Remi; who never spoke-out against Fela in public, was obliged to shout at him in order to calm his erratic behaviour. Instead of answering back at Remi’s reproach, Fela worked over to me and whispered in my ears: “ID! That woman is a CIA agent! Don’t tell anybody!” How could I tell a woman, that the man who has been her husband for 21 years thought she was a CIA agent? At the same time, I felt something had to be done to verify Fela’s mental state.

In order to do this, I needed the support of all the leading members of our Organisation. Without their support, it would be difficult to convince him to subject himself to medical examination. To compound my dilemma, behind the scene almost everybody in the organisation’s leadership JK, Duro, Femi Photo, agreed that the “spirit” affair was a hoax but in Fela’s presence they acted differently.

In a desperate attempt to find a solution, I was obliged to turn to Remi during the tour in Europe, as his legally married wife to see if we could commit Fela to a medical check-up. She was so disappointed with Fela’s remarks, that she decided she wanted to return to Lagos. Though I was disappointed that Remi told him what I had revealed to her in confidence, I realised it was an opportunity to bring-up the issue of him seeing a doctor for medical examination.

In our confrontation on why I revealed what he whispered to me, I explained that he was no longer the Fela I used to know, pointing to all his bizarre actions since the advent of the “spirit saga”. As a reproach, he said if he thought I was loosing my mind he would not consult with my immediate family like I did his, he went on to say he would have taken me to see a doctor if he had the feeling that I was loosing my mind. I tried to make him see the futility, of me unilaterally taking such a decision in his case as the leader of our organisation.

He finally attributed, my divulging of the “secret” as my lack of understanding of the “spiritual transformation” he was going through. I believe he held me responsible for her departure from the Organisation and my argument that I had to tell Remi to impress on her the need for an urgent solution to this “spirit drama” did not absolve me from his blame.

Remi left Kalakuta II, with her mother and two daughters – Yeni and Sola, leaving behind Femi whose involvement with the “spirit saga” provided Fela the ‘smoke-screen’ he needed to justify his so-called “spiritual transformation”. She rented an apartment in Shomolu area of Lagos Mainland, from her Taylor family heritage after her departure from Fela. Many times during my visit, she re-assured me that my telling her of Fela’s comments at Lagos airport was not the reason why she left, for her she couldn’t imagine that Fela would be that gullible to the spirit hoax.

But like I said earlier, all the years of persecutions were beginning to take its toll on the man. While he did not openly admit this, it was clear Fela did not believe Hindu and the “spirit transformation” hoax, his action in 1984 before his departure on an American tour would confirm this. Due to limited space I cannot explain it better here, but those interested can find details in my book mentioned above.

If I hesitated to leave the Africa 70 Organisation, it was Lekan Animashahun (aka Baba Ani) that gave me the necessary motivation to leave. During one of those heated debates with Fela and his so-called “spiritual transformation”, present during the discussion, Ani turned to me and said: “ID Nobility (as he usually called me), if a man say he wants everyone living in his house to eat pork and you are against eating pork, you better leave the man to eat his pork”.

After almost a decade with this organisation, if my loyalty becomes a matter of question I guess it was time for me to move on. I realised as a folly my insistence on staying around because of the: “ID, if you YAP Boys ever leave me”, statement from Fela. It was obvious to me that there was no basis for trust between us anymore and I made this clear to him. I remember walking over to him sitting in the living room surrounded by his women. I thanked him for all he had taught me and I also told him I was withdrawing my services with the organisation in view of our mutual lack of trust.

Thus ended; my almost a decade of association with Fela and his Africa 70 Organisation, I know that in my attempt to explain the sequence of events that led to my parting of ways with Fela, I must have presented the picture of a crazy man but despite the bizarre nature of my story I can say with all conviction that Fela was not crazy. I strongly believe this, despite all I said above leading to my leaving the organisation.

His comments shortly after my departure from Africa 70 Organisation in 1983, reassures me in this line of thought. Fela was asked in an interview: “…apart from your immediate family, who is the person you hold in very high esteem?” His answer: “Ohh! There are some young boys! One is called ID! One is called Duro! One is called Femi-photo! These three boys, they’ve been with me for a long time. When they burnt my house, many people left me you know! Because I didn’t have bread (money), till now I still don’t have enough bread! Many people left me, but these boys stayed – going on and everything! I dig them so much. And you know they read a lot of books, history books, and African political books! Economic books! African things – they are very vast in knowledge. I dig them you know! I trust them completely. For now! I trust them completely!”

(FELA SPEAKS: www.radioshrine.com).


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