The traces of her yesterday still resonate in her voice. You could feel the charms of her laughter ringing in your ears, her words, carefully and cautiously piercing the telephone receiver. Sandra Isidore, despite age and time, is stunning and aging with grace. This woman, regarded as the empress of Afrobeat music fortress, still sings. Sandra, like Afrobeat music, is panoramic. She can be stubbornly evasive but delightfully submissive, or pretends to be. However, get ready to seize the moment with persistence.
“You ask the same questions in a thousand ways, Jebose, that’s scary,” she subtly conceded recently.
The awakening of late Fela Anikulapo Kuti’s political consciousness was birthed inside the heart and home of the then Los Angeles singer and dancer named Sandra Smith. The romantic relationship between Fela and Sandra became legendary and everlasting: it nurtured one of the most profound musicians and characters of the 20th century. It created a music genre that became a movement, a weapon of the future, Afrobeat music.
Sandra, now Sandra Isidore, remembers those early years of transformation.
“Los Angeles was the birthplace of Afro beat music. Fela’s music changed here during that period… It became a conscious music vehicle for awareness. We were part of the dawning of the Age of Aquarius. It happened in LA and exploded all over the world. I was the vehicle that was used for the awareness and the awakening of Afrobeat music and message. What is happening today, we hoped, could have happened then. Fela and I were forty years ahead of everybody else. He was incredible. He had sense enough to listen…”
Sandra fell deeply in love with Fela and determined to turn this “African that came to America with colonial mentality into a social engineer with saxophone, music, knowledge and power to change the world.”
With her support, Fela became a student of political rhetoric. The American civil rights movement shifted its political landscape. United States was experiencing a major radical and revolutionary uprising from intelligent and articulate black leaders and organisations, determined to demand equal rights and justice for blacks and minorities. These figures included members of the NAACP, Malcolm X, The Black Panther, Stokely Carmichael, Angela Davis and Martin Luther King Jr.
Great master percussionist and drummer, Juno Lewis and Sandra Smith were dance partners in an African Dance group, Suwaba, performing in the Los Angeles music scene during those interesting times. The National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People was having a party at the Ambassador Hotel (same hotel where Robert. F. Kennedy was fatally shot years later), Lewis was a guest of the NAACP and Fela was billed to perform that night. Fela and Lewis were band mates at the then Bill Affairs Club. That night, Juno Lewis invited Sandra to the event, as his guest.
“Jebose, when Fela walked onto the stage to perform, something in both of us stirred. He was looking down and I was looking up to his eyes. That first eye contact, that moment, I felt I was walking with a flash light in the day light. It was something at first sight. We connected immediately. It felt like something the gods had put together. I finally found the African man I had invented in my wish-land. I had this crush on Hugh Masekela, but when Fela came that night, it was like Hugh rolled out the red carpet for Fela to walk into my life. I wanted to marry him!
“Jebose, he was different from all the African students that came to this country then. When I met Fela, I met an urban African man that charmed me and made me fall in love with him. Fela was my first love. He was the first man that made me feel real love. I was ready then to marry him. He wanted to marry me. He asked me to marry him.”
“So why did you not marry him then?”
“I am not going to tell you why I did not marry him. Are you married?”
“Yes, I am married”
“Tell me about your marriage then.”
“This is not Jebose on Jebose Boulevard; it is about you, Sandra Isidore, the most influential woman in Fela Anikulapo Kuti’s life, beside his mother. I just told you I am married, so give me something back, why did you not marry Fela?”
“I did not want to marry him.”
“Sandra, you said earlier that you wanted to marry him when you first met him. So you broke his heart? A young charming man asked you to marry him and you turned him down?”
“Jebose, I did not break his heart. He broke his own heart in learning lessons of life… However, in 1982, Fela proposed to me in the city of love, Paris. How romantic that was. But I turned him down again… He had 28 wives, remember Remi, his first wife? And he married 27 of his dancers. He also had numerous concubines. This was in the 80s. So tell me which intelligent woman, in her right mind, would want that deal of chaos? Jebose, who would want that? I am not answering anymore of your questions. I didn’t marry Fela because I am a very smart, blessed woman….I was protected by the universe from him, and that’s why I did not marry him. I submit to spiritual guidance, that was love and divine intervention… he was sent by divine intervention to make a change for black people in this world.”
“But you broke his heart. You rejected true love. You could have been the 29th wife. What divine intervention stopped you from marrying a man you said you loved so much?”
“I didn’t want a deal of chaos. But I was happy when he married 27 wives…who would not be happy Fela married 27 wives?”
“So you were jealous he married 27 women?”
“I wasn’t jealous. I see jealousy as one of the seven deadly things. However, it took a lot of growing to accept moving on. He was a man that didn’t take no for an answer, but I moved on. I am not answering your questions anymore on this. Read my book, Fela and me, due next year. Let’s talk about something else. Let’s talk about our dear Nigeria and the beautiful continent of Africa. I have been taking grains of sand to the beach for years. It was the grain of sands that I took to Fela, and Fela took that to create a pearl. Nigeria has not had a leader. She’s had only rulers. It’s been same problems since 1969. The problems are still there today because of greed; it’s very painful. Every time I think about Nigeria’s sad circumstance, I cry. I don’t know, maybe I am foolish, but I have hope for Nigeria. I know Nigeria can set herself free, Nigeria can be the pulling together of Africa. Nigerians are the most educated people in all areas of life. Why isn’t Africa recycling the dollars in Africa? Western nations have no respect for us. Why is it that Saudi Arabia can pay its citizens residual from oil and Nigeria can’t provide basic functional necessities of life to its citizens? The only thing I can come up with is greed. There should not be any poverty in Nigeria.
“Here in America, they don’t care about blacks. Our brothers and sisters in Africa need to wake up so they may wake us up in America. Western world needs Africa. Look at the natural and human resources abundant in Africa. Africa is just giving it away and getting very little in return. Africa is chasing an illusion and a dream instead of creating its own wealth. Nigeria will wake up and it would wake up Africans in the Diaspora. We take pride in what is ours. We have to reach across and teach, socially and economically… we need to tell our own stories.”
By Azuka Jebose Molokwu/Copyright PUNCH.