2 August 2016
Fela is 19 years gone in the grave.
Legendary songwriter, lyricist, composer, arranger, master saxophonist and doyen of instrumentalists, Fela was born in Abeokuta on October 15, in 1938 as Olufela Olusegun Oludotun Ransome-Kuti and died 19 years ago, today on August 2, 1997 as Fela Anikulapo-Kuti.
Pioneer of the Afro-beat genre of music, Fela was popular among fans in within and outside Africa for his satire, fearlessness and erudition and was feared, particularly by Nigerian regimes, civilian and military alike.
Fela’s music was always laden with opprobrium for those in governance – a stance which led him into jailhouses several times.
He was often dismissed as “L’enfant-terrible” in his hey days as he was always full of derisive language for those in power, even at the international level.
In one of his international hits, Fela derided the United Nations as a union of beasts in his solo album “Beasts of No Nation”, released in 1989 in which he also condemned the global body as “bad society”.
In it, he condemned the UN for claiming that governments must guarantee human rights for their citizens.
Fela then queried why the super powers in the global body were not giving equal rights to other member nations of the UN. “Animal can’t give me human right” was one of the choruses in the album.
In the Mid-1970s, Fela decided to marry 27 wives in a single day, the spouses being his stage dancers, most of whom had run away from home to take “refuge” in Fela’s “Shrine”.
Fela popularised the open smoking of Indian Hemp in and around his “Shrine” (the name of his nightclub) leading to constant raids in the area by law enforcers.
In one of his many battles with the military government, then headed by retired General Olusegun Obasanjo, soldiers raided his home at “Moshalashi” area of Mushin in Lagos, and in the face-off that ensued, his aged mother, Olufunmilayo Ransome-Kuti, was thrown through the window of the story building and she died as a consequence.
The action of the then military government raised a lot of criticism leading to the setting up of an inquiry, the pronouncement of which was that it was an “Unknown Soldier” that was the culprit.
Fela immediately dashed to the studio to wax the album “Army Arrangement” in 1985 in which he referred to Nigerian soldiers as Zombies.
Rather than burying his mother, Fela took the corpse in a coffin and deposited same at the Dodan Barracks, then the seat of the Nigerian government, headed by Obaaanjo.
Also when President Muhammadu Buhari was Minister of Petroleum under the military, there was an allegation in the media that N2.8 million of Nigeria’s oil money was missing.
An inquiry that was set up declared the allegation as unfounded, but not convinced, Fela headed to the studio again and waxed an album in which he described the entire investigation as a ruse.
He then sang about “Authority Stealing” in which he lambasted all the dramatist personae, including the military Head of State, for declaring that the money was not missing.
Perhaps one of his most popular hits was “Sorrows, Tears and Blood” released in 1977 in which he expressed curiosity about the resilience of Nigerians in the face adversity. In it, he seized the opportunity to liken Nigeria with the “Ojuelegba” intersection in Surulere, Lagos.
Part of the intersection and exchange was constructed by a team of army engineers led by his townsman, but adversary, Olusegun Obasanjo. it was then an opportunity for Fela again to hit at the Head of State.
In spite of his love for women, Fela did not spare the womenfolk in his musical crusades as the satirist sang in condemnation of the use of bleaching creams by women in 1986. Chorus line was “Who steal my bleaching? Teacher, my stupid bleaching, teacher, I buy am for market………”
In 1979, Fela also descended on his townsman, late business mogul, Moshood Abiola, who then was the Africa head of the International Telecommunications and Telegraphs (ITT), an international communications company that was executing contracts in Nigeria.
Then Nigeria’s telephone system was highly-unreliable, leading Fela to coin another name and deride the company as “International Thief-Thief” for the company.
Fela rose to stardom early, perhaps because he pioneered the rendition of songs in pidgin English as early as the 1960s when his band was named Fela Ransome-Kuti and his Cooler Lobitos.
The band later metamorphosed to the name Fela Anikulapo-Kuti and His Egypt 80 band
Some of his famous quotes were: `my people are scared of the air around them; they always have an excuse not to fight for freedom.” ,“The secret of life is to have no fear.”, “With my music, I create change…I am using my music as a weapon.”, “I must identify myself with Africa, then I will have an identity.” ,“Music is a weapon of the future/music is the weapon of the progressives/music is the weapon of the givers of life.”