‘It took me 10 years to record first album’
By Tony Ogaga and Precious Agbava
For years he was Fela Anikulapo’s pianist and traveled with the late Afro beat maestro across the world. Today, Duro Ikujenyo is a force to reckon with as far as Afro beat is concerned. And late last year, he marked his birthday with the release of his fourth studio album titled, Tribute to the masters to commemorate his 60th birthday. In this chat with TSW, The troubadour talks about what it feels like turning 60, his music and the day Fela ‘invaded’ Dodan Barracks.
You turned 60 years recently, do you feel fulfilled?
You can see where I am living. I am living with ordinary people. My life is a very big experience; it is not just about me but my environment because whatever my environment is, that is what I am. If I am in an American environment my house will not be like this and my account will be loaded. I have released four albums. I started releasing albums very late about 10 years ago but I am thanking God that I am doing everything at his divine time.
Have you made money from music, are you fulfilled?
My happiness is an everyday thing. My philosophy is that I don’t depend on perishable things. And that is what my band; The Age of Aquarius is all about. The Age of Aquarius is not the change Buhari is talking about. Buhari is talking about material things. If you dwell on material things you will have hypertension and be taking coca-cola and all the things that will destroy you without looking for your own original roots. I use chewing stick because it is very medicinal; you can also crush it and put it in your tea, it is the strongest vitamin C and mint. When I was growing up, with N1000 you could buy a car so how can you be talking about being fulfilled when Nigeria is getting underdeveloped. When I read Walter Rodney’s “How Europe Underdeveloped Africa”, I forgot about the Nigerian government because they can never ever change. Like I said, I live with the people. They come and say they are hungry, they have not eaten, no light and no water. And my landlady has bought five pumping machines and they all went bad. In fact, I don’t want to talk about fulfillment. If you are talking about fulfillment in Nigeria just forget it because any day there is an election there is always fuel pump price increment. Do you know how many times they have increased fuel pump price after elections? There is no planning in Nigeria. My fulfillment will be that day when we have a revolution. I have a song entitled Revolution which I specially composed for Nigeria. And the revolution must be dynamic and coordinated. Fela was a leader with a strong philosophy. We must know that as Nigerians or Africans, we are all one. But the first thing we must think of is how to organise ourselves into a community. That is why we have an organization called May25 Group which originated from Fela’s MOP (Movement Of The People ). You can hear it in Fela’s song, the one dedicated to the day he carried his mother’s coffin to Dodan Barracks. I was right there at the front of the action that very day.
Can you recall what happened?
It was a Sunday, the last day before Obasanjo handed over to Shehu Shagari. Fela rented two buses, a coaster and a normal bus and put the coffin in the small bus while 75 people boarded the coaster bus. We took off from Fela’s house in Ikeja by 12pm and drove straight to Eko Bridge. We were in traffic and police tried to stop us because they informed them that Fela was coming so we did a detour and came in through Apapa. When we got to Dodan Barracks, there were no soldiers because Obasanjo was handing over power the next day and the gate was opened so we drove inside because there was no soldier to assault us. We had a photographer by name Femi Osula. There was also another photographer from Punch by name Dare. Femi climbed over the fence and took photographs and disappeared. That was when the army got wind of what was unfolding and they alerted the barracks that ‘ahh… there is wahalao-o! Fela has brought a coffin.’ Before we knew it over 1000 soldier jumped on us from every angle with every kind of weapon and beat us blue black! However, one intelligent officer ordered them to stop so we were bundled into the bus and they took us to a mobile police station on Awolowo Road where they used to interrogate armed robbers. About 52 of us where put in two small rooms. After four days they took us to court and the case was thrown out because there was no offence and besides, the military was no longer in power.
How many albums have you released and what were your challenges?
I have four albums. I have been working against the odds. First of all it took me 10 years to get my fist album. Now it is being sold for N3, 500 because I insisted we beat Alaba Market to it. Alaba is an impediment to CDs because they sell at N60.
Those days night clubs were the places musicians made money. Today if you go to a night club and start playing they will be like, “who is this guy? Is he crazy?” They want to listen to hip hop music, they want contemporary music not ideological music and then, they don’t have space. They cannot pay the musicians even N20, 000. It was very difficult for me to even start so I got a place at Bogobiri. Bogobiri has developed now that they play music almost every day. My gate fee was N1500 and I got about 100 people and that was how I paid my rent and bills. Though it has been rough, Fela’s ideology and what other great masters taught me is helping me in my life today. I did not to school but I can’t say I am a drop out like Fela. Although I did not go to the university but I studied music on my own, I developed myself to write and I am writing a book on high life music right now. Talking about fulfillment, my fulfillment will happen when we have a revolution in this country. I even have a song entitled Revolution. And the revolution must be dynamic and coordinated.
When you look back the last 60 years, what has been your happiest moment?
I did not plan my life but my happiest moments have always been when I release my albums. My happiest moment was when I completed my last album. It took me seven years to make the album.
How about your saddest moment?
That was when I lost my friend who came all the way from Austria to shoot a documentary with me. His name is Angelbert Theurezberther. The documentary was entitled, Lagos: Fastest Growing City in the World and the Future of Planet Earth’ featuring late Fatai Rolling Dollar. He died in an accident while we were traveling. I was hospitalized for days.
How do you feel turning 60?
It is just a number. At heart I am still very young and fit as a fiddle because I am into natural roots and I am also getting closer to my God.
At 60 you are not yet married. Why?
(Laughter) Marriage is not something that you just jump into. You have to take your time. I have already started the process but I am still looking for the woman. You see, my music takes all of my time so I could say I am married to my music. Music is a very jealous profession. Maybe, if I can find a woman that can cope with my music and life style, then I will get married.