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Fela: Ten years after

 

FOR the lovers of the Afro-beat crooner, Fela Anikulapo-Kuti, August 2 , 1997 will forever remain unsullied in their memory, as the maverick Nigerian singer, composer, and saxophonist, who fused Rock Music with African Rhythm into a blend called "Afro Beat", an African/Afrodiaporic music, crossed over to the great beyond. Exactly 10 years after the demise of the popularly called "one keeps wondering if Africa would ever produce another such radical, creative, outspoken but controversial Music Legend in our lifetime, obviously not undermining the potential of the likes of Mariam Makeba, Franco, Manu Dibango, Chaka Chaka, Papa Wemba, Kofi Olumide, etc.
 
Professor Micheal Veal in his paperback titled Fela: Life And Times Of An Africa has this to say about the popularly acclaimed Black President "Raucous, uninhibited and proud, Fela was one of Africa's most intriguing personalities, for his controversial public persona as much as for his music. It's difficult to say for what Fela, born Olufela Olusegun Oludotun Ransome-Kuti, was best known: his band publicised Afro pop in the 1980s; he repeatedly spoke out against unfair politics in Africa and abroad; his life was abundant with drugs and sex". This undoubtedly encapsulates the fascinating personality of Fela and his contribution to knowledge and humanity. Fela as popularly called by his numerous fans and supporters, rose to the national and international limelight with his unique and distinctive Afro-beat which became the tool with which he continually condemned the Military Junta in Nigeria and across Africa. His bohemian life-style was another point of interest to many of his numerous fans across the globe, ranging from his marijuana smoking (Weed or Igbo), display of under-pants at an open stage performance, his love for numerous women, his down-to-earth attitude, and his unrelenting criticism of bad governance, amidst others. His Shrine was a place of worship to his fans, no wonder he became an idol. He was detained severally by different military regimes from General Olusegun Obasanjo down to that of Abacha and at times imprisoned on trumped-up charges. He has to his credit over 50 albums since he became a dominant superstar of African music in the early 70s and 80s.
 
He was born on October 15, 1938 in Abeokuta, Ogun State of Nigeria into a middle class family where there was enough affluence and comfort for a young man like him, but he chose to break up with his family affluence and wishes, by becoming a band leader and a political catalyst of sort. He started as a Jazz Musician, but shifted to Reggae and Pop while studying at Trinity College, Oxford, England from 1959 to 1962, where he studied Piano, Composition and theory, hence, leading his High-Life to join the Jazz group called Koola Lobitos. He had brief stint in Ghana and later United States of America, when he took his group Koola Lobitos in 1969 to play. He developed special interest in Politics and Civil Rights Advocacy following his meetings with Radical Black Activists like Angel Davies, Stokley Carmicheal and the Last Poets, taking a cue from the footsteps of Malcom X and Martin Luther King Jnr. By 1970, he returned to Nigeria and changed his band's name from Koola Lobitos to Afrika 70, and in 1971, he enjoyed a local big hit with the album "Jeun Koku" (Yoruba word meaning eat and die, for gluttons). Same year, he founded the African Shrine Club which later became the hub of all his activities (Political, Music etc). He sang in "Broken English" a coined-substandard English language, an acceptable and a wider means of communicating to a large audience beyond the Nigerian shores. He styled himself through his music with a particular message of lampooning the ruling elite, taking a swipe at the ruling military junta in Nigeria and across Africa. His music spread like wild fire across the African continent, his popularity grew for his music was that of the common man, articulating their views and demanding for their freedom from their slave masters in power. Without any iota of doubt, Fela reeled out some of the most challenging, abrasive, rhythmic, and awesomely radical music ever produced in the African Continent. Despite persecution, beatings, incarcerations, loss of mother and a lot of property, he refused to keep mute on happenings in Nigeria, Africa and the globe at large. He stormed the world with his hit songs like: "Zombie", "Vagabond in Power(VIP)", "Army Arrangement", "International Thief Thief (ITT)"," Authority Stealing", "Mr. Follow Follow (MFF)"," "Again Excuse O", "Johnny Just Drop (JJD) ", Clear Road For Jagajaga (CRFJJ), "Expensive Shit", "Beast Of No Nation (BONN)", "Confusion Break Bone (CBB)", "Unnecessary Begging", 'Shuffering And Smiling(SAS)', "Coffin For Head Of State",, "Unknown Soldier" Gentleman", Chop And Clean Mouth(CACL), Over-take Don Overtake Over-take (ODOO), "Teacher Don't Teach Me Nonsense (TDTMN)", : 

In 1975, in true reflection and promotion of African Culture, he changed his middle name from Ransome (which is regarded as a slave name) to Anikulapo, his full names then read Fela Anikulapo-Kuti. Fela means (He Who Emanates Greatness), Anikulapo means (Having Control Over Death) while Kuti means (Death Cannot Be Caused By Human Entity). In 1978, to further buttress his controversial status, he married 27 women simultaneously in a day via traditional marriage while he changed his band name to Egypt 80 Band in 1979, promoting the postulation that civilisation began in Egypt in Africa.
 
Significantly, on February 18, 1977, when the corrupt Generals and the Debauched power brokers could no longer tolerate his continuous criticism and what is generally referred to as "Yabis" (abuse) in his parlance, his Kalakuta Republic House at Alagbon Close was razed to the ground by the then Military Junta led by Gen Olusegun Obasanjo It was this that eventually led to the death of his 82-year old mother, Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti, who was thrown out of a first floor window. Do you still remember that popular phrase in his song?  "Dem kill my Mama, dem carry eferybody go inside jaily o". Trust Fela, despite suffering, fractured skull, arm and leg; he revealed his ordeal in his album "Unknown Soldier". He later died in 1997, with a lot of controversies surrounding his death. Two of his sons - Femi and Seun became a chips off the old block, as they are now both powerful in Afro music. Femi now manages the New Afrika Shrine in Ikeja, where he plays every other day to continue his father's legacy while Seun manages alongside Baba Ani, Fela's Egypt 80 Band. Precisely 10 years after his demise, the tempo of Afro music has been on the rise though populated with many artistes now with Lagbaja and Femi Kuti leading the pack, while Dede, Seun, Tamedu, Amala, Alariwo still keeping the flag flying. Significantly, however, none of them has been able to live up to expectation or confidently fill the Fela gap in terms of maintaining the social criticism tempo. Somebody should join me say 21 "Yeeyee" for Abami-Eda, as we remember him 10 years after today.
 
Courtesy: Stephen Alayande -Lagos