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At 52, Yeni Kuti, daughter and first child of the late Afro beat musician, Fela Anikulapo Kuti is full of life. She still loves to dance and can wriggle her waist like she used to do at 27 when she started dancing professionally with the band.
The mother of one, whose marriage crashed some years ago was at home in her New African Shrine office. In this interview she talks about not having any time to contemplate getting married again. She unveils her lifestyle, fashion sense, how she quit smoking and the challenges of managing Africa Shrine.
At 52, you still look strong and dashing, what is the secret?
I think the first secret behind my looks is to be happy. Try your best to smile or even laugh no matter what you are confronted with. That is what I do. I try as much as possible to laugh a lot. Then apart from laughing, I try to watch what I eat because even if I start laughing from now till eternity without a good diet, I may not get a good result. But I must be honest with you, some months back, I wasn’t eating healthy. I was eating everything I see. But now, I have reduced that. I don’t eat much of junk these days but if I’m very hungry and junk food is what I see, I eat but I don’t eat much of that. Another thing that helps me to keep fit is that I love to dance. Oh yes, I still dance a lot. While doing my dance class I burn excess fat in the process. I dance three times in a week – twice with the band and once for my dance class where I teach people how to dance Afro beat. Finally, I don’t take my dinner anything beyond 7 p.m.
Besides these, do you still drink and smoke?
I don’t drink beer or brandy but I can take alcoholic wine, especially Champaign. I drank a lot last night at the party of my good friend who clocked 50. I take soft drinks once in a while unlike before when I used to have it with every meal. I do a TV show every Thursday so I have to wake up at 4.30 a.m. on Thursdays to go for it because it is a life show. For that, I have curbed my alcohol intake a lot. I may take it once or twice in a week. As for smoking, I don’t smoke anymore. I must tell you it was very difficult to stop. I tried for several years to quit but all to no avail. I wouldn’t smoke for, like two or three weeks, and then I would start all over again. Smoking, honestly, is a very difficult habit to stop. What really gingered me to stop was when my daughter was entering university and I thought it over and said to myself, if I continue this my smoking habit and I die in the process before she graduates, how would she graduate? Who would pay her fees? It is only me she has. That was enough inspiration for me not to smoke because I wanted to be alive to see my daughter graduate.
How about guys then, were they relating with you? Did some of them woo you?
Guys didn’t have negative impression of me. The toasters were game. It is only their parents that didn’t just like me. They didn’t want their sons to go out or date Fela’s child. There were times they walked me away when I came visiting. There was a particular woman who seriously warned me never to come to her house to visit her son who was my boyfriend then. She was actually very nasty about my coming to see her son, I mean very nasty, she didn’t hide it at all. Her son was nice to me and was my boyfriend but his mother didn’t like me one but because of my father. In fact, she came one day and descended on me when I visited. It was a very ugly scene. I really don’t want to remember it although the whole thing is still fresh in my memory. The whole scenario that happened is still etched in my memory.
She walked you out of her son’s residence, did you cry later?
No, I didn’t cry! Did I cry that I wasn’t proud of my father or what? Or that I was ashamed of my father or what? They are the ones with a problem and not me. But that kind of thing would annoy me. They never made me cry or shed tears.
How was the relationship with your boyfriend, his mother having walked you out?
The relationship didn’t continue. We broke up. It didn’t just last. I knew that at times many parents didn’t want their sons dating me. That was why I wasn’t keen to meet people’s parents. I was very nervous about meeting people’s parents.
You were once married, what led to the breakup?
Yes, I was once married when I was in my 20s. My marriage then was fine but honestly I would not want to talk about my marriage. You can ask me about other things but not my marriage because I believe it is too personal to talk about. My ex-husband and I are still very friendly. We have a daughter between us. Please let’s leave it at that.
Have you ever felt like remarrying?
There was never a time I was in desperate need of another marriage. But I’m in a very happy relationship and I really don’t think I need to be married to be happy. Our relationship has been going on for a few years. I’m not a marriage kind of person. I have experienced it before and I don’t need to experience it again to know that I’m a human being or to know I’m a fulfilled woman. I’m quite okay with myself. I’m not missing marriage at all and as I said, I’m in a good relationship. I don’t need to get married to know that I’m happy.
What do you remember most about your late father?
I miss so many things about him – his talks, chats and music. I loved listening to him and his live shows. I missed watching him every week unless I wasn’t in town. I never missed his shows. There are some things that would happen and I say to myself, I wished Fela was here, he would have loved to hear this. But he has gone a while, so you have to move on unless you want to move into the ground. This reminds me of the time he was being lowered into his grave how one of his wives was crying and trying to enter into his grave. I told them to leave her let’s see whether she would enter and when she was left, she didn’t enter and I told them that all that was just a show. I don’t believe in that kind of show.
What is your life’s philosophy?
This is a hard one. I think mine is happiness and honesty. To be alive alone is a thing of joy.