Remembering Fela: The Chief-Priest of Afrobeat
If it was divined to the preacher man, Right-Reverend Israel Oludotun Ransome Kuti, that his son Olufela would live to become what he turned out to be, he would have debunked such news as false prophesy. Olufela would go to London and study medicine just like his brothers Beko and Olikoye. But we all know what happened. He did go to London but studied music in The Trinity College of Music where he formed his first band Koola Lobites, horning his craft as a trumpeter.
Fela was not new to rebellion. First he dropped the family name Ransome, saying it was a slave name and re-christened himself Anikulapo, meaning, He who carries death in his pouch. And of a certainty he lived out his new name to the letter. His life was littered with escapades with death and its threat by a hairsbreadth.
Even though he famously crooned, water no get enemy, his enemies were many and powerful, from Heads of State to political leaders of his time. His lyrics did not come with any euphemisms. He sang it as it was, chronicling the hard times his country people faced in the hands of bad leadership which had him arrested over 200 times and a 20 months stint in jail that had international bodies calling for his release.
He was one of the first to declare a sovereign state independent of Nigeria and he created his own political party, Movement of the People, where he ran for presidency, promising to mop the nation clean. Though his political movements and ambitions were termed “naïve” by his first cousin, Wole Soyinka, the Nobel Laureate, Fela had quite a following that congregated in his shrine where he termed himself, The Black President or the Chief Priest of the shrine.
His streak of activism was clearly gotten from his mother, Funmilayo Ransome Kuti, one of Africa’s foremost feminists and human right activists. But Fela is not in the good books of many feminists. Most of his lyrics portray women as mere “mattresses” for men to lie on. Just as he was unashamed of his bikini briefs which he wore in public and his ever present roll of joints, he was unashamed of his stance on polygamy. Why sneak around and cheat on your wife when you could bring your concubine home and marry her properly? His 27 wives admitted that he hit them when they erred him but were quick to say that they enjoyed living with him. A clear case of suffering and smiling?
He debunked European colonialism and its white values such as abstinence, monogamy and organized religion in songs such as “Teacher don’t teach me nonsense” and he described democracy as nothing but the demonstration of craze.
The cause of his demise remains unproven even though it is said that he died allegedly of the complications of HIV/AIDS.
No African artiste till date has been immortalized as Fela and none has been as brazen. The younger disciples of Afrobeat make less socially conscious music and no one wants to court death as closely as Fela did.
Rarely do you find a star come on board and define the era of music. Rarely does a star reach the apex of creating a genre that has withstood the test of generations, colors and creed. The legend of Fela has done that over and over again.
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