WeekendStarter by Oladimeji Abiola: Felebrating the Enigmatic Fela
Sent to the UK in the 1950s to study medicine, Fela Anikulapo Kuti opted for music. He was a non-conformist. He spoke against bad government and infringement of human rights. This made him the man of the people. To the ruling elite and the clergy, he was an irresponsible fella.
In his song Shuffering and Shmiling, Fela denounced the exploitation of the masses by religious leaders. This assertion is valid. Thus, he was generally disliked by many Christians and Muslims. In 1989, his song Beast of no Nation criticized the composition of the UN Security Council. Each member of the Security Council has a veto-power that is is equal to 92 or more votes of non-permanent members.
The songs Look and laugh and Army Arrangement accused Chief Obasanjo of corruption and aiding bad leaders to power. Fela, aka Abami-Eda (Enigma), depicts contract awarding system of the Nigerian government and the non-realization of awarded projects. Fela faulted the judicial system too. He says,
go to court, na big big English. … Case of 1809 na him dem go bring to judge the case of 1980.
To him, language usage in courts was grandiloquent. He mocked the judicial tradition of using precedent in adjudication as archaic.
Due to his anti-elitist stance, Fela, alias Omo-Iya-aje (Son-of-a-Witch) chose Pidgin English to transport his songs. He wanted the man on the street to understand his music.
To be critical, Fela was too Afrocentric about certain issues. He supported any anti-imperialist African leaders, good or bad. Idia Amin of Uganda, a nepotistic, corrupt and brute-dictator was Fela’s hero. He was apparently carried away by the struggle against imperialism, he ignored criticizing African despot so long they shared his anti-imperialist views.
Abami Eda experienced racism in its ugliest form when he studied in the UK. This explains his strict Afrocentrism. I celebrate virtuously Fela’s activism and deep appreciation of African cultural values. I subscribe to his emphasis on the African origin of ancient civilization and the use of traditional medicine.
Fela could be as strange as unpredictable. He pulled out of a deal with Motown, an American Record Company. He said, Motown sounded “Mo ta ohun, the Yoruba translation of I sold my voice. To him, the word Faculty bred cultism on Nigerian campuses.
These utterances are unbelievable but true. Prof. Sola Olorunyomi, a Fela expert confirmed them in his book. Wole Soyinka’s Memoir You must set forth at Dawn confirmed Fela’s view of himself as a reincarnated Egyptian God.
Actually, upon his death, the people deified Fela; he became an Orisa (a deity). Lagbaja’s tribute song to Fela pointed to this, Abami ti di Orisa, i.e. the Enigma finally became a Deity.
Abami-Eda was certainly a hero, celebrated till today. This piece is written in the spirit of the ongoing annual Felabration to celebrate his life and works. As we felabrate, there is a lesson to learn. Criticism of foreign oppressors must not exclude homegrown oppressors.
Some vulgar Afrocentric rants on the social media feel Europeans have no right to criticize anomalies in African society. I disagree. If the criticism is factual, ridiculous updates on social media in defense is unnecessary. Prof. Niyi Osundare described such defense as newsance (nuisance).
Videos of hungry children in Western media are not fabricated. We need not be annoyed they are shown. Many in Africa need help. Arguments abound that such videos portray Africa in bad light and/or used to justify further interventions in Africa. However, many Africans still benefit from the awareness created by these media reports.
The love for African culture becomes problematic when one denies the lapses in African societies because Non-Africans pointed to these ugly sides. Afrocentrism can never be a response to Eurocentrism or any other ethnocentrism. It distorts reality. We should rather put the VIP Vagabonds in Power, Fela’s reference for bad African leaders, on their toes.
If you still don’t know Fela, the words of Harald Sun might help: Imagine Che Guevara and Bob Marley rolled into one person and you get a sense of the Nigerian musician and activist Fela Anikulapo Kuti.