Every time I see Govts honour Fela, I chuckle to myself and wish I could be in the room and ask with the utmost seriousness and stentorian voice of a British parliamentarian:
“are you sir recommending Fela to younger generations as a role model?”
Cos it’s really quite funny.
Fela was a bohemian in the most extreme sense of the word; he deliberately set out at some point in his life to be provocative to every form of societal order and was a big irritant to Govts, especially the military – at the federal and state levels.
He was the “Abami Eda”.
This is a Wikipedia link to his life’s story – at least as publicly put out.
But there are so many stories about Fela that are the stuff of legends tied to his mystique and colourful persona. Link is here to fill in the rest but I’ll chip in a few more.
Fela was as normal as any other person but at some point deliberately chose to rebel against societal norms and expectations. Sent to study another course abroad by his parents, he changed course and studied music instead but his music was the quite regular highlife for a while.
Wasn’t until he went abroad to the US and got close to a member of the Black Panthers – a black nationalist/anti-racism platform at the time – that his music got radicalised and Fela found what may perhaps have been his life calling.
Or a calling he willingly took upon himself.
Fela moves from singing “Oni dodo, Oni Moinmoin” popular “feel good” highlife music to more Afrocentric music focused on uplifting the mentality of the African man and calling on Govts, especially military regimes, to govern fairly.
His music was protest/conscious music.
He was born Fela Ransome-Kuti but dropped the “Ransome” and picked up “Anikulapo”.
His father was a Reverend but he chose to return to African Traditional Religion.
He was married to Remi Taylor but in one day, married 27 ladies – most of them his backup singers and dancers.
There was nothing too raw or too weighty, no matter too private, no part of a woman’s body too intimate that Fela couldn’t mention in his lyrics.
Still does my head in to listen to a Fela tune where he’s talking about Govt issues and then he switches to sexual matters and back.
Academic papers have been written about his views on women – both pro-women and anti-women and I tend to agree that he was quite the misogynist but I see it in the larger context of who he was: if everyone liked “ladies prim and proper”, Baba 70 loved the market woman instead.
Some stories told about Fela and which may be mythical but I’ve heard them from many who knew him including Femi Falana:
One was a time he was arrested in an European country for bringing marijuana into the country.
(Un)fortunately, he was having sex when the police showed up.
Baba asked to finish but the policemen refused – so he refused to put on clothing except his underpants and was thrown into a cell like that.
Fela almost froze to death overnight but refused to accept the clothes they offered.
He played onstage next day wearing only underpants.
On another instance in Nigeria I think, Fela was arrested for possession of marijuana which was found in his luggage.
On getting to the station, Baba asked to see the evidence and the wrap of weed was produced – he snatched it, threw it in his mouth and quickly swallowed it.
For the next 2 to 3 days, the police waited for him to excrete the marijuana but Fela had told his mother to prepare vegetable meals for him and so when he eventually excreted, it was a mishmash of veggies…
And who can differentiate ‘igbo’ and other vegetables inside poo? 😂😂
(Apologies for the graphic portrayal in the previous tweet – sure you can tell I admire Fela greatly and I don’t mean to nauseate my dear twitter friends but let’s tell it as it is and be done with it: Fela wouldn’t have had it any other way I think…).
It was after that saga that he released a track called “Expensive S***” – which a contemporary artiste recently titled his own vainglorious track.
Another event was when Shabba Ranks came to Nigeria and visited Fela.
Shabba was a world renowned artiste at the time, from Jamaica
Being a Jamaican, Shabba decided to have some puffs of Fela’s weed – not knowing that African grass grows wild.
Being an African, Baba 70 offered his guests the best variety – in jumbo size.
Shabba had few drags and performed his worst set ever, that night in Nigeria.
A sad event was the death of Fela’s mother after his Kalakuta Republic home was invaded by soldiers under Obasanjo.
His mother was thrown out of the window and she died shortly afterwards so Fela held the Nigerian state responsible and took her in a casket to the seat of power.
“Dem no wan take am/But dem take am” – Fela sang in his track Coffin For Head Of State.
He sang so many songs deriding Nigerian leaders and Govts – from OBJ to Shehu Musa Yar’Adua to Babangida to Abiola whom he called Int’l Thief Thief.
My fave song was his Buhari diss 🌚☺️
He sang about the crazy world we live in – saying he was freer in prison under the regime than outside because freedoms under Buhari were limited.
He attacked Buhari’s penchant for blaming Nigerians with “My people are useless/My people are senseless/My People are indisciplined”
“Which kain talk be that o?” Fela asked,
“Na animal talk”, Fela replied.
“Many leaders as you see dem/Na different disguise dem dey o/Animal dey wear agbada/Animal dey put suit o”
“Na craze world we dey/No be outside Buhari dey?”
He was fearless and reckless – Fela I mean.
He also sang against churches and mosques, against the UN, against apartheid, against the societal phenomenon of bleaching skins to appear light-skinned.
Fela died in 1997 and his lying in state was broadcast live on AIT back then.
Over 90% of his songs are still banned today.
So here’s where I’m going and the irony: in death, Fela has become larger than life and immortal.
Fela has become the man whose Shrine (old one relocated) is now a place to be visited by a world leader like Emmanuel Macron.
His headless statue now stands at Allen roundabout.
Live you best life.
Speak your truth.
Live for the people.
And even if you’re mocked in life and dragged and jailed – stand by your convictions and proclaim them loudly.
If you never find vindication in life, it will surely come after your death – if you spoke loudly enough.
To hold back from speaking truth to power is not a virtue and to speak against the powers that be is not a vice.
Many will say you’re not a patriot or that you’re a hater – they’re the ones that History will forget eventually and have their names deleted from the rolls of honour
Music was Fela’s source of income – he had no other businesses and had so many mouths to feed: but he never held back, even when his music was banned from all radio and TV stations.
Don’t let me go too far before I start dissing your favourite artistes who are unconscious.
Conscious Music is music that awakens the people – and while I agree that entertaining music is good to distract us, it mustn’t take the place of Protest Music that awakens the conscience of the people:
Fela’s music contributed in no small measure to the struggle for Nigeria.
I once heard a Pastor quote Fela (can’t remember what the message was) but truth is: if you sing truth, your music becomes everlasting – because after the shaku-shaku and all that, your fans still go home to terrible conditions.
Fela’s voice wasn’t great but his truths live on.
And that’s not to detract from his musicianship: he was a fantastic composer and a brilliant arranger of music.
In most of his videos, you can see him arranging and finetuning sounds to make sure nothing was missing – the gong, the gbedu, the horns, the dancers – everything.
He was a performer with excellent stagecraft – I wish I could do his one-legged prance for you to see but if you know, you know.
He carried his audience into his music because he spoke their truths but even in faraway European countries, they were always entertained.
But the point of the thread is this: no Govt will ever say “Criticise us and abuse us – we love it” – but it is a righteous duty to be done and the defenders of Govt to be scorned.
At the end of the day, life will honour you – if not now, then later – here or in the hereafter.
I should add: music is an art form of expression, an expression of the artist in society to society.
The music we most identify or connect with are those ones that speak to our deepest feelings and emotions.
Why are Nigerian artistes living in a different blinging reality?
I was really going to just move on from this on that note but the Fela in me (as he/it is in many of us) isn’t agreeing:
Why are Nigerian artistes more conscious of their own daily bread than about the reality of their fans who struggle to buy their music or attend their shows?
Is it because most of them are not truly artistes but just regular people who hung around studios and saw music as a way out of poverty then decided to sing?
Why can’t they stumble as well into singing conscious music that wakes people up not lull them into inertia and fantasy?
I had high hopes for Oritsefemi – Mercies of the Lord and Better were conscious songs, the latter where he sang
“If e beta for every man o/Beta for every woman/If e beta for everybodi/Ajibole (thieving) e no go dey”
Now he sings about Flash, Cash and Ass, like the rest of them.
But to be better than the rest, you must follow the path of the best:
And Fela wasn’t called into singing protest music – nobody could have had a more disciplined upbringing than he did – his two brothers grew to be trained medical doctors.
He called himself into it.
Heroism in any Generation is a blank cheque onto which anyone can write their name.
Fela rose in his generation because he thought more about others than about himself – today, world leaders visit Nigeria and spend more time at his shrine than with Presidents in Aso Rock.
Thread by @DemolaRewaju