Chief Ireoluwa Olubodun Michael Fayehun (popularly called Eddy Mike) is the Sao of Ijomu Akure, and one of the notable trumpeters in the late Fela Anikulapo-Kuti’s band. The late Anikulapo-Kuti would have clocked 81 years old on October 15 this year if he had been alive. However, in this interview by HAKEEM GBADAMOSI, 78-year-old Eddie Mike speaks on his musical career with the late Afrobeat musician, among other issues.
What’s growing up like?
I am Ireoluwa Olubodun Michael Fayehun. I am from Akure in Ondo State. I am a musician and I will be 78 years old on October 28. My growing up was very memorable as I was born into a very average, sound and educated family which made sure that children were well disciplined and brought up in a Christian way with the fear of God in them. I attended schools all around Nigeria because my father was a teacher and teachers in those days, unlike now, were transferred across the country. I started my primary education in Kabba province, which was then in the northern region, then I moved to Ilesa, and later to Ogwachi-uku, though it was in the western region then, it was an Ibo-speaking area. With this, I can say I am a Nigerian. My secondary school education was in Akure. I attended Oyemekun Grammar School in Akure and after leaving school, I did some correspondence courses before I ventured into music.
How did you come into music?
My coming into music was not accidental; no miracle or surprise about it. I will say music runs in my blood. My father was a trained musician, though not professionally because he was a teacher. He attended St Andrew’s College, Oyo in the 1920s. It was like a university then where some sets of Nigerian leaders were trained. My father happened to be in that group. He availed himself of the opportunity to learn music when he was there and he was the choirmaster of St. David’s Church, Ijomu, Akure and of many churches where he was posted to. I think I got into music through him, even though he didn’t know I was in love with music and I never knew that I would end up being a musician, but one thing I am sure of is that if my father were to be around when I decided to go into music, he would not have disturbed me.
Today, even after his death, Fela Anikulapo Kuti remains globally celebrated as a music genius, how did you get into his band?
It was a long journey into music before I joined Fela’s group. I started my music career through the process of learning, and I was taught how to play the trumpet by the late Eddie Okonta, but I must give credit to a Ghanaian known as Mr Kreppy. He was the first person to teach me the rudiments of music through music reading. He was a music teacher at CMS Grammar School, Lagos then. He didn’t just start by putting trumpet into my mouth, but he taught me how to write, read and understand music. After three months, he told me to go and buy a trumpet for the practical aspect of the training. I had to come home to see how I could buy this trumpet. I pleaded with my mother to buy the instrument for me.
What was her reaction?
My mother was an educated person too but my dad had died by then. I told her my plans to go into music and asked for her of blessing. The only thing she asked from me was the assurance that I would keep the good name of the family and would not ridicule or tarnish the family’s image. I told her what I needed and she bought my first trumpet for me. That very day, I didn’t sleep in Ikere-Ekiti because she was living there then. She promised never to disturb me but advised me to be serious.
How and where did you meet Fela?
I left for Lagos but had to pass the night in Ibadan. As fate would have it, my late uncle, Mr. Adejumo, got to know about my love for music and stopped me from going to Lagos. He introduced me to his friend, Eddie Okonta. He was one of the friends of Eddie because he was a socialite. Eddie was ready to accommodate me and what prompted that was because I had a trumpet and I had to take all the lessons seriously. I usually reported at Eddie’s house as early as 8am and within three months, I got on stage. I learnt faster than anyone could imagine; this was because of my initial interest in music. The first band I played with was the Asondu Band which was at Palm Tree Club in the days of Baba Awolowo in Ibadan. The club was adjacent to Awolowo’s house; it was opposite Ibadan Boys High School then. That was where I started my professional career. But three of us left the group and travelled to Akure and we played at Flamingo Night Club for a Christmas show and got some money. But our dreams never came through, so we had to leave Akure. While traveling back to Ibadan, I stopped at Ilesha where I joined Banana Band. I was there before I left with one of the band members, Dele Bamgbose, who also helped my music career a lot. He took me to Ile Ife where there was another band at Mayflower and from there I went to Ado Ekiti before I finally returned to Ibadan.
In Ibadan, things got better and I was involved with a political band known as Action Group Band. I went to a meeting at Chief Obisesan’s house at Yemetu where we formed the Action Group Band and organised a leader whom I invited from Eddie Okonta’s group because I believe I didn’t have the standard yet. A funny incident happened one day. When we had started making waves in Ibadan, some police officers invaded our house; they came to arrest us, all members of the band. It was during the period of the Awolowo and Akintola feud. We were accused of singing against Akintola but we were later transferred to Mapo, where they accused us of tax evasion for five years. Some lawyers came to our rescue but we were detained for days. However, someone from Akintola advised us to agree to sing for Akintola in order to regain our freedom and we agreed but we all left Ibadan for Lagos.
When I get to Lagos, I met this man again, Bamgbose, at Empire Hotel. It was here I met Fela. Before we met, I had been admiring his music. There was a time he produced jazz on a radio programme then. I listened to him and some of his records while he was abroad. So by the time Fela wanted to form that group, he came to the Empire Hotel. That was the center where all musicians converged after each show and if there was anyone you wanted to invite for shows, you would meet them there. So it was there Fela met me; he just approached me in a casual manner and said “you, you’re joining my band.” He was so commanding, he just put his hand around my neck and said he loved listening to me play. I inquired who he was, and I was told that was Fela. But I got to know that one of my friends who played konga in his band had assured him that I would join his band after seeing me perform on stage. But I never knew. We, however, talked and we sealed the deal. So that was how I got into the band and I am happy and proud to tell you that I am a founding member of this band. I stayed in the band more than I stayed in any other band.
I wouldn’t know but we started that group, Koola Lobitos, in 1965. We practised for two months and launched the band on March 1, 1965 at Boundary Hotel. The band was changed to Nigeria 70. I travelled with the band abroad and when we came back, I travelled back on my own to some African countries to research into indigenous African music and I really enjoyed it.
I was with Fela all through when Koola Lobitos changed to Nigeria 70, then later Egypt 80.
I was with Fela until I decided to relocate to Akure. I didn’t decide to leave music but I decided to come home to look for sponsorship and form my own group. Unfortunately for me, it was not possible because my kind of music (which does not praise-sing) is not what they like here. They want juju. Most of the people I met love my kind of music but could not sponsor it.
As a member of Fela’s group, what can you say about Fela that is not known to the general public?
What is not known to many people is that Fela was one of the most disciplined gentlemen I’ve ever met. He never joked with his profession. He was truthful; he never promised what he could not do and never disappointed. This was one of the reasons the government in power never liked him. He always spoke on the ills of the society; he was very brave and fearless. Government is not responsible to the people and you know what we are in Africa. We don’t want to be told. We just want to be yes-people. Fela was very law-abiding. Most of the problems he got into were caused by his boys, not him directly. People do say he smoked Indian hemp a lot. Yes, he smoked Indian hemp but not the rate at which people said he did. He only used it for show. At times, he would wrap a very large roll of Indian hemp. Can someone dare finish that size?
He would just be holding it for fun. And that was what the young ones liked. That was how he made his money. Those leaders in government who attacked Fela usually attended his shows; they smoked hemp, and enjoyed themselves. But it’s a pity they can paint him bad by telling people he was a heavy Indian hemp smoker, that he lacked discipline. Fela was not like that. He loved people and he helped them. You can see the way the students rallied round him in those days; he sponsored the education of many of them, most of them, and he was always happy doing that. There’s no university campus in Nigeria that we didn’t perform with all the hostility of government. At the end of the day, there was nothing the government could do to him but to accommodate him. The last thing they did was just to burn his house which did not affect him. They tried to dampen his spirit but it was not possible. He was a fine gentleman.
If he were to be around, considering what is happening in the country now, what do you think Fela would have done?
Let me tell you one thing, whether Fela is alive or not alive, Fela was a prophet. All that is happening now was prophesied by Fela. Do we have potable water? Do we have motorable roads? Is there electricity? What about workers’ salaries? What about corruption? They are all deceiving us. It has boomeranged now. I want to tell you that if Fela were to be alive, he would have called upon the president. Look at the uprising in North Africa, did we ever expect it? It happened in Tunisia, Egypt among others. And they did it successfully. The people did it against the military, they chased them away. His music remains evergreen. He is being missed.
Why do they call you Eddy Mike?
It is because of Eddy Okonta who taught me how to play the trumpet. And Eddy himself always called me Armstrong. But people don’t call me Armstrong, they always call me Eddy.
When you finally embraced music with the consent of your mother, were you fulfilled financially or otherwise?
Well, when you look at our own time, we were like pioneers. What these boys are enjoying today, we laid the foundations, built it but unfortunately there was not enough encouragement for us. People saw us then as loafers. They saw us as being lazy. But we thank God. We’ve made our mark.
You will be 78 this month, what keeps you going?
My belief in God and I live a natural life. As I told you I was born into a disciplined family, a Christian home. So, I keep that in mind.Read Full Story