Former Fela Anikulapo-Kuti’s pianist, Duro Ikujenyo, has opened up on the reasons why he parted ways with the late Afrobeat legend in the early ‘80s.
According to Kujenyo, he left Fela having realised that he could not play Afrobeat without first getting a robust knowledge of jazz music and how to play it.
Hear him: “I left Fela because I realised I could not play Afrobeat without first getting a robust knowledge of jazz music and how to play it. There was this American called Frank, an alto saxophonist who came to Nigeria for his PhD. He was playing at Jazz 38 and he brought a lot of books including one known as ‘The Real Book’, which he gave me. It is about jazz standards with their musical notions.
“Because I studied music I could interpret most of the things. You see, the real reason why I left Fela was because as a member of Egypt 80, I was very limited. Fela had been jazz and classical pianist, and everything, before he started playing Afrobeat, so he had a rich repertoire of ideas. I was stuck in the groove. I couldn’t even improvise on any of Fela’s songs. I was just playing whatever Fela gave me, so after four or five years, I knew I had to leave.
“I realised that if I had to play Afrobeat, I would have to study jazz music. That was how I started playing jazz even in Fela’s house. I used to go to Jazz 38 but it was not enough. So, eventually, I had to go back to my parents in order to develop the technique for jazz and it took me 10 years to develop it.”
Ikujenyo hooked up with the late Afrobeat maestro at a tender age of 17 in the mid-‘70s. He was a pioneering member of Fela’s youth movement, Young African Pioneers (YAP). He played with Fela for many years and was at the forefront of the action when Fela invaded Dodan Barracks in 1979 with his mum’s coffin.
Ikujenyo would go on to play piano for Fela and tour extensively with him before finally parting ways with the Egypt 80 Band in the early ‘80s.
To date, Ikujenyo has released four albums, and to mark his 60th birthday earlier in the year, he released another album entitled, ‘Tribute To The Masters’.