By Christy Anyanwu
Tomorrow May 24, Yeni Kuti will hit a milestone. The first child of Afrobeat legend, Fela Anikulapo- Kuti and choreographer per excellence will on that day turn 60.
In this exclusive interview, YK Power as Yeni is fondly called, opened up on her life journey to the Elders Club. Enjoy it.
You’ll turn 60 this week Thursday, but you don’t look it, what is the secret of your ever looking young?
There is no secret to it. I just like to live happily. I don’t hold grudges; I like to be happy with myself. I like to smile and laugh a lot. Those that know me know that I love fun. If you say I look young, maybe, that is the reason.
Does it have anything to do with your genes?
That could be a very good factor as well. That probably has a major factor.
Genes from your dad or mum?
Genes from both of them. My grandmother passed away at 95 and she didn’t really look it except when she got ill. She was smart and outgoing. I remember when she turned 70; Fela said: ‘mum, you are not looking a day older.’ My father too was quite younger than his age.
How was your growing up, coming from an influential family, were you a spoilt child?
Who wants to spoil you in my family? Nobody! You will only get correct slap. I started to fend for myself at a very early age. At 18 or 19 years, I’ve started fending for myself.
Trying to survive. Working and paying house rents.
Were you not staying in your parents’ house?
My father’s house was burnt. He didn’t have a house. My mother didn’t have a house either. We (children) stayed with our mother and we had to pay rents. My siblings and I contributed money to pay rent. We never even had any house help growing up. We had to fetch water, wash our clothes by ourselves. We lived in Ikate, Surulere then and Ikate was known for not having running water, and nothing like house help to help fetch water.
What lessons have you learnt about life?
Life is transient. Do what you have to do when you have to do it and enjoy what you have. Try to give a good account of yourself so that when you go, you will be remembered for what you do.
In your teenage years, what was the perception like being Fela’s daughter?
A lot of people didn’t want to be our friend because were Fela’s children. A lot of people looked down on us because we’re Fela’s children. It’s a totally different ball game now. Growing up, it wasn’t like that. If you went to your friends house and they knew you’re Fela’s child, the children will be warned not to mingle with you. That is if they didn’t tell it to your face there and then. Even now at 60, I still remember the incident that happened one day. My uncle, Prof Olukoye’s son introduced me to a girl, Bisola, and there and then she snapped into anger, telling my cousin never in his life should he introduce her to such people again. It’s an experience that stuck with me for a very long time. I was 17 then and I’m 60 now, but I still remember that episode very well.
Was it the same perception that also affected your first marriage?
No, not at all. It’s just irreconcilable differences between my husband and me. It’s not about being Fela’s daughter.
You used to teach ladies how to dance Afrobeat. Do you still dance?
Of course yes, I still dance. But you know, we have been on lockdown, so that part remains hazy for now.
Are you saying you still have stamina to dance?
Yes. I’m even going to do a video of the old Positive Bands dances. I am going to do a short video to show that I can still dance. I would post it on Instagram soon.
A few years ago, you reportedly got married, what happened to the relationship?
We are married spiritually not legally. I think spiritual marriage is more important than legal, because we are tied together spiritually.
Were you married in a church or mosque?
That one is just on paper! We didn’t need church or mosque to get married. Our spirits are married. We are fully committed to each other. You don’t need any church, mosque or registry to join you together. Just to let you know, we are driving out of town for the weekend.
How did you cope during the COVID-19 lockdown?
Very badly! It was terrible. We lost a lot of money. But that is life; we have ups and downs. I thank God we are no longer in lockdown. I think the Lagos State government felt our pain and so they eased the lockdown. You lock people up and they don’t have palliatives like that of abroad. How are they going to survive? In Nigeria, people make money daily, how are they going to survive without going out on a daily basis? I think we shouldn’t be copying Oyinbo people. But I’m glad that Lagos State government took the initiative to open up.
Who influenced you more growing up, your dad or your mum?
Both. They both had values that I emulated and live for today. My father was more political. My mother was on the home front. She loved us unconditionally. For my mum, it’s her children first. She sacrificed for us her children. That was why when she died, I gave up dancing so that I could take care of my daughter. My political belief and the way I think as an African woman is what I took from my father. My grandmother too influenced me a lot, in the way I think and act.