Lemi Ghariokwu Interview: Part 2 of 3
This is the second part of Afrobeat 69's three part exclusive interview with the legendary Lemi Ghariokwu, conducted by our contributor, Samaila Dan Fulani ... a.k.a Samo. If you missed the first part of the interview, you can read it here, otherwise enjoy part two of this in-depth interview.
Samo: If your parents were musicians, na which musician go be your Papa and which one go be your Mama?
Lemi: My Papa..ha ha..a musician. Maybe, Fela or Peter Tosh. But my Mama na Miriam Makeba.
S: That is correct. Na Mama Africa and Rebel Rockers. What are some of your artistic dreams for projects in Naija?
L: I wan make I do workshops for schools in Naija. I dey do workshop tomorrow for Spanish Harlem and I do them while I am here but I haven’t done them at home yet. I wan do that thing so I fit pass my knowledge to young people.
S: How can you visualize effecting young people on a grand scale?
L: I wan make academy for art. Where I go train young people for art. You dey see pikin where dey say they wan be actor, musician or comedian because dey make money for Naija. I no see pikin where dey say I wan be artist, You dey see that kine tin for America and Canada but not in Naija yet. In time…
S: Wetin be your best memory from being with ‘Abami Eda’ Fela?
L: The kind of freedom where I learn for am. I learn freedom and to get person open minded. You dey see how I dey talk about myself, I no wan hide anything, na from Fela I dey learn dat tin. Because Fela no dey shame, no dey hide sometin. He go just tell you how sometin dey koro koro clear. Eh heh, I learned that one and I dey love that one. Then, the thing I dey love about Fela pass, is that he gave me that freedom to express my self that time I dey do all the album. Because I no sef de tin where he wan dey talk, me sef I go translate de tin. He gave me chance where I dey put my photo for album cova, no artist in this world has ever done that. I go even write comment, designer’s comment. For de back of him record sleeve, you know? When I dey think of the tin now I go say “Woooow” you know, I no go trust think I go see any one give person that kind of freedom again. So I no fit forget Fela for that one.
S: Is there an occasion that sticks out as just unbelievable when you were with him?
L: It is the rough time that I remember really. Me and him get quarrel and we get issue for the end. I remember that challenge where him give me. One time he got upset because I broke away from him. We met again 8 years after. On that day, he was furious. He wanted to confirm my reason for breaking away. So it was the day he was able to confirm it and he was upset. I said it was because you rejected that artwork from ‘Sorrow, Tears, and Blood’ I felt really pissed off. He was upset because I had designed so many covers for him and he only rejected one. They charged him for armed robbery I didn’t come, they charged him for murder, I didn’t come, all the problems he went through I didn’t show up. He was upset. Then typical Fela he say “Who know me before, he pick me out of gutter, no one know me before” he just yab and yab, you know that kind tin. So when I see him dey angry like dat. I dey with Papa Ani at Beko’s house, him dey drink beer. When Fela came out of prison he day stay for Beko’s house. So him come and say him old enough to drink my Papa to be my Papa, you know that kine tin. So him na 17 years olda than me. Papa Ani come say make I dey draw stripes. I dey know wetin he wan make I do. Him come say “ I no fit fight Lemi, I no fit fight Lemi”. So him come sit down. That memory dey big in my mind. Then he come say “ why I no dey here your name for town?” I say I dey get 4 bedroom apartment, I dey get wife. In this society if you dey do dat tin it means your building up. I don’t know why you go hear my name for town. So I thought of these times and they touched me. So I dey say “Fela, wherever you are, see me now, as I dey carry your banner now!” As you dey go Kalakuta now, I am one of the few who dey carry the Fela thing. Everywhere I go I represent Fela in a positive way. Kalakuta wasn’t totally mad, there are good things that can come out of the place. My name is all over the world now, and that is some memories for me.
S: That is exactly what I wanted to hear, to have you revisit some specific memories. I am glad they have been on your mind so that you could recall them clearly today. Do you like any of these guys that dey do cartoon for newspaper inside Nigeria?
L: I love Josy Ajiboye, he was doing Sunday Times. I met him about 2 months ago in an art shop. I didn’t know he was the one and he didn’t know I was the one. That was like 3 months ago, we didn’t know eachother by face but we know eachother by name. I love Kenny Adamson. He used to do for Punch. I did a cartoon that I still have a scanned copy. When Fela’s house was attacked he did one fantastic cartoon for Punch man. Not only dat but when Fela was in jail he did another cartoon. This was in ‘74 he had a cartoon of Fela in pants with saxophone, that one was too much.
S: I have one compilation of press releases with cartoons that I got from Bayo Martins in Kalakuta. I know you love cartoons, I can see in your style that you love cartoons…
L: You know it is because I am self taught. I go to a lot of exhibition. So I will look at something and I will say “Ah, I can do dis”. I need to mention some artists. I don’t know where de Heaven, I don’t want to say Hell. There is this guy named Mohammed Arahi, he did cover for Sonny Okosuns. So, I was very close to Sonny Okosuns because I knew Sonny Okosuns in my teenage years. Um, I was 8 years old when I first meet him but we are very good friends.
S: I am friends with him as well.
L: Eh heh. At a point in time I dey try to do a cova for him. I have to send the design through the producer and Mohammed Arahi was Sonny’s graphic designer. So I met Mohammed and he was older than me so I say to am “Broda, how did you do dis?” So that is how I learned some of that style. So I mix them, that is because I love cartoon.
S: You wan take small of your wackees? (Samaila asks if Lemi wan take break to chop small) That wan na fish…
L: America too much food.
S: So what music you dey love now?
L: There is this Nigerian guy. I love his music mad and I can’t even believe it, he is called 9ice. Yeah, I love his music. His current album I don play it like 100 times already, his latest release. I love songs like “Respect is Reciprocal” a track called “Anytime”. I love all the 16 tracks though, I love the track that he did with Nneka “Show your love”. I love his sexy one…ha ha ha…it’s X rated. I love all the tracks, I really love him because the music and the album title is very good, it is called ‘Tradition’. The cover has a concept, instead of just this photoshop thing that is going on now. It has a concept. There is photo where he is in western clothes and he is looking in the mirror and his image in the mirror he is wearing agbada, and it’s called tradition. I love it a lot. And his lyrics are very deep rooted Yoruba. He uses the proverbs a lot. I can’t imagine sometimes I think about how someone from this generation of Yoruba can speak that deep. The deepest Yoruba, with all the meanings and he blends it with English and Pidgin English in an African Hip Hop style. I really love 9ice yeah.
S: Even his big hit was like that too.
L: Gongo Aso, yeah. That is the current music I am listening to from Nigeria.
S: If they were to give you Nigerian presidency, wetin you go do with that powa?
L: First I would change the name, then the flag. Nigeria needs to be ideologized. People need to be conscious of their true potency, their true potentials as human beings first and foremost and they have to identify with their environment. The Creator put us in an environments specific, so we have to relate to our environment. Because Africans have acted stupidly through the effect of colonialism, colonial education and miseducation. So that is my priority really, ideology is my priority. Then other senses can fall in. But if you are conscious of who you are, you will know that it’s wrong, it’s very degrading, demeaning not to have constant electricity, you will know that it is demeaning not to have pipe bearing water, it is demeaning not to have food on the table. The natural resources that the country has it is demeaning not to share the resources. The accruement from the resources you know? To serve the people and everyone. It is demeaning not to have integrity. But you have to be conscious first, it is the consciousness that is missing. The mentality is very shallow and that is why all the rubbish is going on.
S: Beautiful answer. Okay now, what do you study in your freetime now?
L: I dey study everything, I dey even study man and woman relationships. Marriage, that thing ee dey break my heart. Because I study it, I talk to a lot of people. I have a lot of lady friends and we talk relationships they are involved in and things like that. I keep trying to find out what makes a man tick what makes a woman really tick. Because everyone has problems except for the people that don’t tell you. I love to listen to the news and listen to what’s going on and make up my own opinions.
S: What is your strangest attribute, your weirdest passion or something unique about you?
L: I love to excel in everything I do. I feel like I would love to become a monk, a man in the hills and be far from the emerging crowd. You know sometimes I wish I could just be going, go to Brazil, go Cuba, you know just go like, you understand…
S: Like a gypsy.
L: Yeah, like a gypsy. You know I feel somehow sometimes like I just want to go far from people and get some fresh air.
S: Yeah, I know that feeling. A lot of people have that feeling. So you can’t think of something strange you do that only you do it?
L: I like to be on my own totally, some privacy, solace. My family are all born again Christians and they leave the house and for four hours I am totally on my own, I like that. That could seem strange to some people. My birthday is December 26, so from the 21st of December I was just in room, I didn’t go out. On Christmas day I just played music. On my birthday people were calling me, I really enjoy that and that is very strange to some people.
S: So for your birthday your present is to be alone?
L: Alone. And sometimes I like to be in my birthday suit. When there is nobody in the house I want to be like Adam. Yeah, that is a strange thing about me.
S: So na which place you don meet your wife?
L: Directly opposite of my house where I grew up.
L: She was very young, she was going to be 16 when I met her. That was 34 years ago. She is going to be 49 this year.
S: So how many kids do you have, three?
S: How old are they?
L: The oldest is 24, she turned 24 February 9. The second one is a girl, she is going to be 23, July 20. The third one is a boy, he’s 18 and the fourth a boy will be 8 on July 22nd.
End of Part 2.
Article By: Samaila Dan Fulani