Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Everybody Say Yeah Yeah!

For most young Nigerians at home, Fela Anikulapo Kuti is perhaps one character they would rather not be associated with. I was seriously put off by one “oyimbo wanna be” Nigerian girl I met overseas when she professed her hatred for Fela. For yet another category of Nigerians (the over 35’s) Fela represents the courage, passion and simplicity that most of us lack. Fela is one man that stoke his neck out (more often than he needed to) in defence of the poor and down trodden, this fuelled his legendary Afro rhythm that inspired a nation and captivated the world.

The World? Ostensibly, Felas genre of music – aptly tagged “Afro Beat” is for Africans at home and abroad. However, you would be surprised to learn how popular this charismatic, eccentric artiste is – From experience, i know that one of the few GOOD things I hear about Nigeria from foreigners is about music and football.

In the 1989 as a naive teenager in a crowed dance floor in far away Perth, Scotland, I was stunned to hear those unmistakable “Sorrow, tears and blood” anthem from the 1978 “Coffin for Mr. President“ album. The lyrics “Everybody run, run, run, everybody scatter scatter” could have made sense to the sole African in the club, but I couldn’t help but wonder why, the rest carried on like they could understand what he was saying. My conclusion was that white people would dance to any funky beat regardless of what was being said. That was to change a few years down the line in the then popular South London Nigerian hang out called “Calabar” where I met Fela’s number 1 fan. Arnold... A blue eyed English man who had fallen head-over-hills with Nigeria. Having never visited the country, he learnt how to speak Pidgin English from listening to Fela and hanging out with Nigerians over the years. His passion for Afro Beat appealed to me, as I also have a taste for exotic music far removed from my social and political culture. But I don’t think I could have gone for all Tarrus Riely and Sean Pauls concerts, yet Arnold had not missed any Fela concert anywhere in continental Europe.

Fela Abami eba! Immortalized on Broadway!
In a classic case of a prophet not known in his own kingdom, Fela’s fame outside Nigeria is unrivalled by any other black African musician. Something his son Femi still rides on to date. Like his mother Olufunmilayo before him, The Anikulapo Kuti’s activism runs deep (Beko Kuti is one of Nigeria’s foremost civil activist). There have been several calls for a posthumous award in honour of his fearlessness in his bid to entertain, enlighten and promote our culture. Yet, these have fallen on deaf ears.

Interestingly, the main antagonist Fela sang about throughout his life and their stooges still prowl the corridors of power today. Little wonder why there has been any significant move to honor him. While we wait for our deaf, blind and dumb leadership to rise to the occasion. Other nations and organisation have imortalised this legend - recently Fela’s life and music has hit Broadway.

FELA!, http://felaonbroadway.com/ is the most critically acclaimed new musical of the season, has already received three Tony Awards: Best Choreography, Best Costume Design for a Musical and Best Sound Design of a Musical! Featuring Kevin Mambo as Fela and Grammy award winner and multi-platinum recording artist Patti LaBelle! At the US tour Mitchelle Obama was among the dignitaries at the star studded launch. Read more.


  1. Nice. watched it last week in NYC. A great effort. Will reserve any criticisms. Fela deserves it.

  2. As an undergraduate in Nsukka in the mid 90s, Fela's music inspired me and so many young nigerians. He is a real enigma who also was a renowned prophet who saw into the future. Most of the messages embedded in his songs are just being understood by most nigerians now. He was nija's version of bob marley and even greater than peter torch. His songs are evergreen and will remain so! Nice work at extolling the works of this legend, Eme!

  3. Thanks guys, I will endeavor to see it myself, I wont have to wait like I did for Mamamia to hit the screen - I will like to see what Broadway made of Fela, I heard D'Bange turned down the offer to play Fela. He must be out of his mind - but outside the million he would have made, the work load may have been too much for him.