FACE TO FACE WITH DEDE MABIAKU, FELA’s PROTEGE

When Fela Anikulapo-Kuti was alive he had a few boys he trained, who followed him everywhere he went to play and perform. One of them was Dede Mabiaku, the son of Chief G.E. Mabiaku, the late Iyatsere of Warri who was a wealthy businessman in his lifetime.
From when he was in secondary school at Federal Government College, Warri he had grown up to be a Fela Boy. Even in his university days, he was an ardent follower of Fela and he grew up to go and live with Fela in Lagos after his rich father disowned him and threw him out for opting to follow Fela. His father, a very strict man had wanted him to be a Lawyer and not a musician. It was after his father threw him out that he went to live with Fela at his Gbemisola Street, Kalakuta Republic.
That was how close Dede was to Fela in those good old days. That was how Dede became Fela’s protege. He sings like him, dresses like him and dances like him.
Even more so in the last 20 years afters Fela’s death.
When City People met Dede last Wednesday for an interview in his Anthony Village, Lagos home, we met a Fela look alike in Dede. We met him in his briefs. He talked like him, smiled like him, laughed like him. Looks wise Dede has a striking semblance to Fela. They even have similar body features. He also wears tight fitting designed shirts and trousers. And all their mannerisms are the same.
So 20 years after Fela’s death, Dede has remained faithful to his former boss whose pictures and effigy litter his expensive living/dinning room area of his house. His ringing tone has always been some of Fela’s hit songs.
So, why has Dede remained hooked on Fela 20 years after Fela’s death? Why has he continued to sing and dance like Fela? These and many more were the questions the City People team of SEYE KEHINDE, WALE LAWAL and FEMI ADELEKE wanted to know when they met with this brilliant and multi-talented Afrobeat singer, Dede last week in the comfort of his house. For the two hour duration of the interview, everything Dede did reminded us about Fela. It is a vintage interview.

Lets talk about Dede and Fela. Why is Dede hooked on Fela? Each time, I call you, your ringing tone is always one of Fela’s tunes or the other. How do you explain this bond 20 years after Baba’s exit?
One thing our people must always remember is that there is what is called Loyalty. And while you are loyal to a course let it be total. And Loyalty comes from conviction. If your conviction about what is right is real, then let it show don’t hide it. All over Africa, there is only one icon that you can pick as far as the Arts is concerned and that is Fela.
He stands for Truth. He personifies the African reality. He is the one that espouses the need to face who we are and what we are for the world to give respect and regard back to us. He taught us what we need to do to actualise our dreams. If you go into Fela’s songs till tomorrow, it teaches us how we need to live our lives, the original African way. He makes us see that when we respect, regard and value us, on our own, we are better for it worldwide.
Buy Africa, Think Africa, Be Original. Go to your roots. Be sincere with yourself. Fela has looked at all the challenges facing us, like economic dysfunctions, all the bad things soldiers have done, Army Arrangement, the brigandage, we see within the system, authority stealing, abuse of self like yellow fever (bleaching). These things are doctrines which have been dropped by the Master. So, who am I, who opportuned gained training and tulelage under him to rever, and eulogise that great one, ad infinitum.
Can you take us back to how it all started, by that we mean the story of your relationship with Fela?
It is a story of what fate has to offer. As a young boy when I was in Federal Government College, Warri, I was part of a group of young boys who loved to listen to all kinds of music like Reggea. But there was one that caught all of us.
That was Fela’s music. A group of us called ourselves The Fela Boys when we were in Federal Government College, Warri. I remember the first album I ever bought was suffering and smiling, I played my Baba, Wayo, to buy that album. I succeeded. Further down the line, everything started unveiling. Later in life, after my youth service, I came back to Lagos to say I want to settle down and work. I had a group of friends, Ohi Alegbe, Chuzzy Onourah-Udenwa, Osita Ike, Richard Mofe-Damijo, we were all moving together. We were rocking together. Every Friday night we would stop at Jazz 38 belonging to the Kuboyes. Fela comes there to play after which he goes back to shrine to play. So, we would go with him from there to the shrine.
I had a group of friends, Ohi Alegbe, Chuzzy Onourah-Udenwa, Osita Ike, Richard Mofe-Damijo, we were all moving together. We were rocking together. Every Friday night we would stop at Jazz 38 belonging to the Kuboyes. Fela comes there to play after which he goes back to shrine to play. So, we would go with him from there to the shrine.
The normal sequence is Fela will play with the band, he will then retire into the house to see his sister, Sisi Dolu. On one of those days, when he retired into the house the band was now playing, as usual, one of Fela’s numbers, instrumental. Ohi Alegbe, and Osita I think, then went to meet Tunde Kuboye to say, make you call Dede, make him sing a song. Apparently the reasons why they could do that was because many years before when I was in the University of Benin, I was part of a band also. I was in a band in secondary school. I was also part of a band in the University too. We were the best in the universities in Nigeria around that time. At that period, any time I did any of Fela’s standards the reaction was always great. Then I did my youth service in Owerri. I was part of a band again. LABAMBA Band. We went around the entire Eastern region. We did shows there. And I noticed that every time they make me do any of Fela’s standards, the crowd just goes gaga.
That night at Jazz 38, Ohi and Co. had the guts because they knew what they were doing. So, Tunde Kuboye now called me on stage and I started singing Fela’s number. I remember very clearly, it was WATER.
As I begin to sing like this, na so Baba just come out of the house, look like who is this? I nearly freeze. He winked at me and asked me to continue. He gave me thumbs up. That was it for me. That was in 1989 August. Hey its August now!
After the show, we went to the shrine I had wanted to start the linking from that point but I didn’t realise I didn’t need to start any linking. After the show, we went to the back of the shrine with Fela and he was just looking at me. And he strectched his hands out. Omo, as I shake that hand I will never ever forget, the feeling was extraordinary. It wasn’t a normal thing. And that started the bond between himself and myself. I then said Fela, I fit dey come ask you questions just to find out a few things from you, about life, about you? He looked at Chuzzy, he said: hey, bring this boy along each time you dey come Kalakuta.
That was my first experience with him in his own base in his bedroom. We sat down, we talked for hours. Up till around 11am. We talked about different topics, spiritual, social, economic factors of the world, of Africa. It was vast. Who were the people there? Richard Mofe Damijo Chuzzy Onourah Udenwa and myself. And there started a new movement now, where Richard, Ohi, myself and Chuzzy will be going to Fela’s bedroom to discuss with Fela.
And Fela now allowed us to record our discussions with him. After a while Chuddy who was handling the recording just melted out of the scene. Why? There is this woman who came into his life who wanted to marry him. Na strong born again woman. She wanted Chuzzy to give his life to Christ. That was it. Unfortunately, all those recordings were burnt because she ordered that it should be burnt. That was how my bonding with Fela started. Two months later, in October, I was at the shrine. That was in 1989 October, after they do rehearsals for shrine finish, na him I just look Fela stammering, I said Fela. Its your birthday next week, can I play with the band. Na him, he look me for face. Next time. Talk direct. Don’t let any word stammer for your month. He  look Baba Ani. He said Ani B make una rehearse am. He go perform for my birthday. That is how it started. I mounted the stage that day, and I did that same number water. I later did beast of no nation for his birthday. That is how it all started. After that, the rest is history.
That was how my bonding with Fela started. Two months later, in October, I was at the shrine. That was in 1989 October, after they do rehearsals for shrine finish, na him I just look Fela stammering, I said Fela. Its your birthday next week, can I play with the band. Na him, he look me for face. Next time. Talk direct. Don’t let any word stammer for your month. He  look Baba Ani. He said Ani B make una rehearse am. He go perform for my birthday. That is how it started. I mounted the stage that day, and I did that same number water. I later did beast of no nation for his birthday. That is how it all started. After that, the rest is history.(City People)
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