|October 28, 2011||By: Lexi Lewis|
While on the Capital Jazz Cruise V, I had the honor and pleasure of speaking with Mr. Roy Ayers.
SJM: Before we start I want to first say Happy Belated Birthday. You had a birthday last month.
Roy: Yes, September 10th. I made the beautiful age of 71.
SJM: Ooo, how young!
Roy: Yeah, it feels good.
SJM: Well you LOOK good!
Roy: Well, thank you very much and you do too! (we’re laughing)
SJM: Let’s talk about Fela. [Fela was a Nigerian multi-instrumentalist musician, composer, pioneer of Afrobeat music and a powerful human rights activist].
Roy: Fela Kuti from Nigeria. As a matter of fact, his name was Fela Ransome Kuti but he changed his name to Fela Anikulapo Kuti. Anikulapo meaning one who carries death in a sack. When he told me that I said wow, heavy. He was a heavy person but he was not a violent person or crazy. I think he was very emotional about his mother being killed in the attack at Kalakuta which was his shrine.
[Kalakuta Republic was the name the musician and political activist gave to the communal compound that housed his family, band members, and recording studio. During the attack on Kalakuta Republic by Nigerian soldiers, Fela's mother was thrown from a window and died after an 8-week coma.]
He took care of about seventy people in his lifetime; in his entourage. Everywhere he went he took them all with him. That is why he very seldom made some money; the promoter couldn’t make money because he has so many people to feed, put in hotels and to travel in planes and cars. It was quite an expensive ordeal to book him. He was an interesting man, I never met anyone like him.
SJM: How did that partnership between you and him form?
Roy: It came because I had an attorney doing business with some Nigerians. My attorney said there was a musician I need to record with. We flew over to Nigeria in July of 1979 and met him; we got along just fine and we hung out for about three days then we decided we were going to do a tour together. I toured Nigeria for seven weeks. I took seventeen people over there with me – musicians, sound equipment and everything. It was a wonderful experience for everyone on the tour. Touring with Fela was one of the ultimate experiences in my musical career.
Roy: I never met anyone like him. They called him black president. He was very aware of the political scene and very outspoken. He would talk about the political, police and military corruption. Everybody loved Fela, they loved his music but he always stirred a controversy because of all the women. He had twenty seven wives. As I recollect, I believe he had intentions to use his women to excite the government. He left to go to school in California back when Stokey Carmichael was talking about black power so when Fela returned to Nigeria he was talking about “black power” and the Nigerians thought he was crazy because everybody was black so he was even more controversial. It was interesting to be with him because I learned a lot of things from him and a lot about Africa. A lot of people think Africa is like what you see in the Tarzan movies and it is nothing like that. I enjoyed it.
SJM: Now, did you go see the Fela musical?
Roy: Yes, I went to see the first showing before it was on Broadway and again before Patti LaBelle joined it. They commercialized it but I thought the first one was the best one. Even the first one didn’t show how Fela really was but it was done very well, the dancing, all the effects and the make-up and everything was very good especially in the first one. I saw the first one then saw the second one on Broadway and was not impressed with it at all and Patti LaBelle was not even in it.
Roy: I heard it was produced by Will Smith and Beyonce’s husband.
Roy: Yeah, Jay-Z. They were the executive producers so I guess they ran it for a while. But I understand it is being shown in various parts of the country. But I didn’t like it after being with Fela for seven weeks; it was incredible. You know, we saw the same show every night.
Roy: He was doing a song about his mother’s death. The song was called “Unknown Soldier.” It was a song about an unknown soldier who threw his mother out of a window and she died as a result.
Roy: Yeah, it’s heavy. So he sang that song EVERY night, incredible. But, I do miss him. It was a wonderful experience for me because I’ve never had that kind of experience in Africa. It was like being on a safari because we were on coaches. It was interesting because it was like an adventure. I became African by the way that they lived. I ate their food and everything. I felt close to the Nigerians.
SJM: Wonderful; sounds like an absolute unforgettable experience.
Roy: Yes, it was quite an unforgettable experience. It was so live, so real, so interesting. I would say to Fela “Fela, I want to go to the bush.” And Fela would say “Roy, you’ve got to live the bush.” He would correct me when I would say things like that and I would feel so stupid (laughing).
Roy: He was so powerful, for instance, I needed to go to the hotel from the airport and the taxi driver told me his fee was about $35 US dollars and I said “oh man, that’s a lot of money why are you charging so much?” He said that was his fee and that’s it. Then I said “well, I’m here with Fela.” He took me to the hotel for nothing!
Roy: That’s what I said “wow!” I even got through at military stops. I said “I’m Roy Ayers from USA, I’m with Fela.” They said “you with Fela, go ahead.” He was so powerful. I never knew a person like him who knew what he knew and did it very well. I’m sorry he died.
SJM: When did he pass away?
Roy: I forget the exact date but he died in 1997.
SJM: You have worked with the who's who of artists such as Erykah Badu, Down To The Bone, Whitney Houston - is there someone whom you would like to record with that you haven’t and why?
Roy: I would like to record something with Quincy Jones. It would be a real pleasure to record and work with him and mess with his brain musically.
SJM: You’ve worked hard in the music industry. How many records have you recorded?
Roy: Oh, it is a great story….My daughter works with me and we counted all the albums but I don’t think we got them all but the number was 86.
SJM: 86 albums!?
Roy: 86 albums or CDs. 86, I’m serious. If you go to www.royayers.net you can see most of them. Most are on major labels but about 10 are on my label.
SJM: Okay. So you’ve done all these albums and done a lot of touring…..have you ever had a “wardrobe malfunction?”
Roy: That’s interesting. Well, today….
SJM: Uh oh!
Roy: If you look at that coat over there (he had a jacket hanging on a door)
Roy: You see that little shiny thing on the bottom on the cuff?
Roy: I lost that [laughing] and it fell on the floor. It was just a small button but I really haven’t had any real problems with clothes or anything but I started using those bands (resistance bands) because I saw that I had a little belly coming out!
SJM: [Laughing because he said “a little belly coming out” using a slight accent]
Roy: It’s horrible. You get to a certain age and you go “what is THAT?” So you try to maintain your balance and look good and take care of yourself.
SJM: Your music has been sampled by the hip-hop industry.
Roy: Oh yeah.
SJM: What are your thoughts on that?
Roy: I think it’s a wonderful thing. I never knew a lot about the artists who sampled my music. One time the publisher needed me to give clearance so they sent me the music and they were using foul language. So I started thinking and wondering if I should let these people do the sample. And I said okay because it was creativity and I don’t want to stop anyone from saying what they’re saying. My song that is most sampled is “Everybody Loves The Sunshine.” Examples are Mary J. Blige, ATribe Called Quest, 50 Cent – I couldn’t believe 50 Cent! I was in an interview and I was asked what I thought about 50 Cent. I said I think he’s a nice rapper, he’s got a nice style and you can understand it but I just think he should cool out on calling women bitches and whores.
Roy: And so about two months later I got a call from my publisher who told me 50 Cent sampled “Everybody Loves The Sunshine” and asked me what I thought about that? I said “My MAN 50 Cent!!!” [Roy laughing hysterically]
Roy: This guy sells about 9 million albums – per album! So when you get sampled it’s pretty consistent money. So I was pretty excited about that – one of my high points. I said “50 Cent!”
SJM: One last question about the music industry. What has been the biggest change, that you’ve seen, in the music industry from the time you started recording in the 60’s to now?
Roy: The biggest change, to me, is a negative one. In the music industry, I’ve seen the record companies drop everybody. And I saw the jazz category drop – completely eliminated. I realized as the days went by that it was going to be important for artists to get their own website, produce, pay and promote their own records to keep the flow going! I have a record out now that is called King of The Vibes. And what I try to do is sell them at the venues to let people know. I think I mentioned it on the stage that I have a new album out. I wrote a song about Obama because I’m concerned that he wins this next election because I believe he is an honest man and he is really a true American. He is really about servicing the American people. If he is trying to pull a fast one, I can’t see it, I can’t feel it so I believe he is honest.
It was fascinating to sit and talk with a music legend such as Roy Ayers. He was full of information and willing to freely share his thoughts with me. But most of all, I enjoyed the laughter we shared that day.
Click COVER for magazine
page layout views