By Ayodele Kevin
Over time and space, human civilizations have made heroes of persons and groups who have made telling impacts on the lives of those around them. Their exploits in their fields has seen them walk and make their stay in the hearts of many across different generations. In some cases, such individuals are deified in some form giving them a demi-god status in the eyes of many. In certain ways, such persons are phenomenal. In our present world, persons of the caliber of Messi, Christiano Ronaldo, Michael Jackson, Diego Maradona and a few others have gained such cult following.
In Nigeria, despite our well celebrated and documented differences along ethno-religious ties, one person in our history who has such cult following cut across different, ethnic groups and perhaps global following is the founder of Afro beat sounds in Fela Anikulapo Kuti. Fela is seen by many in a different light. To some, he is a deviant, a negative influence and thus unworthy of being considered a role model, while to others, Fela is the one true prophet Africa has seen, a wanted and needed tyrant, Fela was seen as a friend of the masses. John Dougan aptly described Fela when he asserted thus “It’s almost impossible to overstate the impact and importance of Fela Anikulapo (Ransome) Kuti , or just Fela as he’s more commonly known, to the global musical village: producer, arranger, musician, political radical, outlaw. He was all that, as well as a showman par excellence, inventor of Afro-beat, an unredeemable sexist, and a moody megalomaniac”.
Fela’s following and philosophy grew sporadically during his life and has continued to grow, more than two decades after his death. This soaring popularity and the quest for a new voice, a messiah, a generalissimo and a restoration of hope have seen people look forward to a rebirth of Fela in modern day artists. The successes of Femi and Seun Kuti both Fela’s sons has done little or nothing to quench the desire for a Fela-esque singer. Perhaps, this attachment of hope has seen a lot of persons, mostly Nigerians tag different persons as Fela when little similarities in style are exhibited by such individual. Over time we have had, artists such as Alariwo of Africa, Eedris Abdulkareem, Dbanj and host of others draw comparisons from music lovers to Fela.
Eedris rode on his penchant for singing socio-conscious songs as his claim to fame. Popular amongst his songs which fall into this category are Mr Lecturer 1 and 2, come back home and Jaga jaga which landed him in trouble with the Nigerian government led by Obasanjo. Dbanj was all about his style, the fashion pattern. A lot of young artistes known for their subscription to the use and indiscriminate consumption of Marijuana, cannabis or igbo as locally referred to have also laid claims of attachment to Fela. In recent time, Burna Boy has come to lay claim to being the only true disciple of Fela, the success of his African Giant album which garnered local and international applaud is mostly his claim to this, with an album which included samples of songs credited to Fela and other African musical greats. Burna Boy in his Lyrics touched on different problems facing the African continent making use of the pop fusion of afro beats to deliver his message. What more? Burnaboy cuts a controversial figure, as he is well known for his use and wide endorsement of the Igbo tradition, however, he is as much a divisive figure as Fela was and still is despite his cult following.
However, as David Hundeyin rightly said, it is great disservice to Fela if all we term as his legacies are just socio-conscious songs, sexism, Cannabis smoking and his underwear. Fela remains an institution, Fela is beyond all the things that made him popular. Fela denied himself of a life of affluence, his birth into one of Nigeria’s most privileged families of that period and the great success his craft endeared him to the masses. How many more of our artistes today world have had that audacity? Artists who glorify money and fame? Artists who are not original in their style and approach? Artists who sing of societal ills and yet end up dinning and gracing the occasions of the people responsible for these ills? Fela was more than just an activist; he is a movement, a movement for persons to take back their power through self consciousness, self and societal discovery. Fela perhaps buoyed by the realities of that time was a firm promoter of the African woman knowing their place and staying in that place. This is despite his mother being one of if not Nigeria’s first feminist. He however, is not known to have abused women in anyway. His 27 dancers cum vixens turned wives were known to have stayed peacefully at the Kalakuta republic.
In conclusion, it remains impossible to find a new Fela. Fela is unique; the same way contemporary artists are unique and self made. You can never be another person, you are either yourself, and can be greater, or you try to be someone else and end up a as a nobody. Fela is a deity, an ‘Abami eda’ , not a god as some have equated him to be. However, Fela remains a phenomenon, an enigma and there can only be one him.
Kevin Ayodele Oluwasina is a freelance writer whose interests are in peace and development, social and political constructs. Tweets: @kevinayodele1