WEEKS of artistic programming had been lined up for the greater part of August to celebrate the legacy of the master saxophonist and leader of Egypt 80 Band, Lekan Animashaun, aka Baba Ani, who recently turned 85. He served the band for five decades. Baba Ani is famous for his leadership of the band headed by late Afrobeat and music maverick, Fela Anikupalo. He was a quiet force behind the masterful accomplishments of the band and the strange one fondly called Ebami Eda. The man’s month-long celebration has been aptly tagged ‘Baba Ani… Exemplary Musician, Committed Culture Advocate, Model of Loyalty’.
As part of activities to celebrate the man Baba Ani, family and friends recently tuned in to Spirit of Nigeria Radio, an online radio broadcasting Nigerian content to the Africa diaspora. The date was Saturday, August 14; they had gathered to pay their respects and share their experiences meeting and working with the maestro.
Amongst those present were Afrobeat musician and historian, Temitope Fagunwa, also known as Maberu, who recalled that “Showboy introduced me to Baba Ani at the Kalakuta Museum. Baba told me that I needed to be patient if I was going to lead a band because the musicians were focused on making money. I was focused on promoting Afrobeat, and if I wanted to do this successfully, I shouldn’t make money-making my goal.
“Baba Ani was a simple man, an octogenarian who is principled and has high regard for morality. He and the band members worked with Fela despite the ups and downs, because they knew what they stood to achieve.”
Leader of Age of Aquarius and former pianist for Egypt 80 band, Durotimi Ikujenyo, also spoke about his first time seeing Baba Ani.
“The first time I saw Baba Ani, he was playing a baritone saxophone and I was still very young at the time. I’ve known him to be an octogenarian and a man of principles,” he said. “At the time, Baba Ani made sure the band never arrived late for a performance. Twenty years later, he was still touring and playing with the band until his retirement in 2018.”
Baba Ani’s daughter, Ayodeji Animashaun-Fagbohun, also joined the program and spoke about life with her father while touring with Fela: “It was actually a trying time for my mom who raised me and my siblings alone. His homecoming was always fun. The whole neighborhood would know when he arrived and he would always buy things and share with people. When he was at the shrine, he does things with the band, but when he comes home, he becomes a family man. Most people didn’t know he was Baba Ani until later in life.”
“My father is strict and principled and raised us to have high morals. He is intelligent and hard-working; he has integrity. He is very welcoming and very loyal to friends. His good deeds and lifestyle are infectious, and this has opened so many doors for me. He taught me to develop self-confidence in myself as a woman and tasked my intelligence while growing up.”
Baba Ani’s granddaughter, Boluwatife Fagbohun was also part of the radio talkshow program and thanked those present for honoring her grandfather.
“While growing up, he would always buy us gifts, one might think we were pampered,” she said. “We were very much loved. He has had a wonderful career and it is so nice to see people come together to celebrate and honor him for who he is.”
The Director-General, Nigerian Association of Chambers of Commerce, Industry, Mines and Agriculture (NACCIMA), Amb. Ayo Olukanni, also spoke about his love for the group that had Baba Ani as a life force: “I was always happy to visit cities where Fela’s band performed when I was outside the country. It was a wonderful experience. Everyone wanted to see them perform. Now, people want to come to Nigeria for Felabration. This has aroused the interest of many countries who now want to work with us in the cultural space.”
The weeks following the tribute program were packed with activities in celebration of the grand old man of music. On Sunday, August 15, a musical event was held at Freedom Park, featuring various musicians who also spoke glowingly about Baba Ani for his commitment and loyalty to the Egypt 80 Band for five decades.
Two symposium sessions were held at Lagos Theatre, Igando, on Wednesday, August 18. The first session had as theme ‘Nigeria’s Socio-Political and Economic Challenges: Way Out of the Logjam’ with lawyer and human rights activist Mr. Femi Falana as keynote speaker. The second session had ‘Music as Weapon for Socio-Political Development’ as the theme with journalist and civil society activist, Mr. Lanre Arogundade, as speaker
Capping off the celebration will be live performances on August 22 at Gbedu Music Village, Ayobo where ‘Toast to Baba Ani: Master of Integrity and Loyalty’ will hold to bring Baba Ani’s 85th birthday festivities to an end.