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AKWASI  KYEREME

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Akwasi Kyereme tailored the costumes the late King of Afro-Beat, Fela Kuti wore for his shows. In an interview with AFRITOPIC, the tailor turned musician, talks about his experience as a member of Fela’s group and his work as a musician.

Afritopic: Why did you decide to go and live in Nigeria in the 70s?

Akwasi: I am from Ghana. I went to Nigeria in 1973, at the time Nigerian economy was booming. I had a good time in Nigeria working for the originator of Afro-Beat, the late Fela Kuti. As a tailor, I designed and sewed most of the costumes Fela wore on stage. He was arguably a mega star in Nigeria and being a member of his entourage, I could enjoy some of the goodies Nigeria offered. The team work in the Group was very good and the atmosphere was very friendly. Like many members of his group, I was living in a room at Fela’s house in Lagos. It was a privilege for me to work for Fela

Afritopic: In your opinion, why did the military regime target Fela as an enemy of the government?

Akwasi: In 1975, during the regime of Murtala Ramat Mohammed, who came to power through a military coup, Fela began a new music album project. The lyrics of the album were intended to address the political instability in Nigeria caused by the military coups, the corruption of the people in power as well as the impoverishment of the masses in Nigeria. The Album was to be titled “Black President”. In other to mobilize people to fight against the misuse of power by members of the military rule, Fela’s group became active in political campaigns. The political activities and the open public criticism of the military dictatorship by Fela, made him the worst enemy of the military regime. 

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Akwasi Kyereme
Fela and his group knew that he was being targeted by the military and his life was in danger. But he did not stop his criticism of the government. The album “Black President” was released and became immediate success. The people got the message. They were mobilized to criticize the inefficiency of the dictatorship and fight for their rights.
 

Afritopic: What led to the escalation of the situation and the attack on Fela by the “unknown” soldiers?

Akwasi: Fela’s album continued to sell and more people summed up the courage to openly reject dictatorship. The government became nervous and decided to stop Fela’s activities. A group of soldiers attacked Fela in his house, assaulted members of his family and music group and burned down his house. Fela was brutally beaten and tortured. Major Nigerian newspapers reported the event. The public demanded from the government to investigate and identify the soldiers that carried out the attack. According to the military regime, investigation revealed that “unknown soldiers” carried out the attack. It was a very sad period for all. Fela was later arrested. However, through public pressure and the intervention of high profile friends of Fela, he was released. He bought a new house and got the group together. At that time, I started developing interest in singing and becoming a musician. But, I did not get a chance to perform. Later, I took the chance to come to Berlin, Germany as member of Fela’s entourage. While in Berlin, I thought of the potential of starting my career as a musician. Other members of the entourage also had their plans and some decided to stay in Berlin. I went back to Nigeria with the remaining members of the group at the end of Fela’s tour.

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Afritopic: You were working for Fela as a tailor. When did you start developing interest in becoming a musician?

Akwasi: My interest in music grew stronger in Nigeria. I tried but did not have the chance to sing for a band. So I decided to travel to Berlin, Germany. I had an entry visa for Germany but it was very difficult to obtain a stay and work permit. In 1984, while struggling to make ends meet, I met a German woman; we fell in love and got married. Soon after our marriage I became father of a daughter. It was clear to me that I had to find a way to a career in the music business. Luckily, I met a friend from Ghana who introduced me to other African musicians in Berlin. We discussed about the African music scene in Germany and my wish to become a music artist. I had a chance to demonstrate my singing talent. They were impressed with my voice and gave me the opportunity to sing for the band. I started doing cover versions of Fela’s hits. After sometime, I began to learn how to play the trumpet and compose my own music. My favourites are Afro-Beat and Reggae. As I gained more knowledge in song writing, playing the trumpet and production technique, I started creating my own type of Reggae and Afro-Beat. With the help of my friends and the sponsorship of The Senate of Berlin, I was able to produce my first album titled “Ashanti (Twi) Reggae”.

 

Afritopic: Was it difficult to find a studio to produce your music?

Akwasi: The Senate of Berlin provided a studio, in which I could work with other musicians to produce music. Unfortunately, working together with some other African artists proved to be difficult due to power struggle. I believe this one of the problems making it impossible for Africans to achieve success as a community. Nevertheless, I came to agreement with a couple of African music artists and worked together with them to produce four other albums. The latest is titled “Adamu Reggae”.

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I do not have a distributor for my albums. I used to distribute my CDs myself to the retail stores. I drove to the stores all over Germany and presented my music CDs. Through contacts, I sent the CDs to the USA and one of my songs was even in the US charts. I am also a member of Reggae Ambassador in Ghana, which I am very proud of. With time, composing, producing and marketing my music became a very difficult task. Moreover, I had family problems to tackle. The problems caused me some set back in my aspired career. It has been a tough time.

Afritopic: It seems that you have overcome your problems and now focused on music. What is your next goal?

Akwasi: Now, I am working together with other musicians while looking for a company that is ready to handle the marketing of the music we produce. We are also planning to release a music video this year. My goal is to have my music distributed not only in Europe and the USA but also in Nigeria as well as the whole of Africa.

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