August 3, 2015, will be exactly eighteen years, since Nigerian Afro-beat and jazz sensational King, Fela “Anikulapo” Kuti passed away. Born Fela Ransome-Kuti, in 1938, the man who became an international star, due to his weapon of social critic music, changed his middle name “Ransome” because it’s an English name to “Anikulapo” to represent him as a true African.
“Anikulapo” a Yoruba word meaning “I have death in my pocket” Because despite all the beatings and torture he had from successive military governments and imprisonment, he survived to play his music against those he called “Corrupt Politicians.” I watched Fela, playing live in the late seventies at Tema Community Center in Ghana.
As he lectures about his music to the audience, many understood him as someone who never seeks for trouble, as many thought he was very troublesome. Fela was a man of justice, like a soldier without a gun, he tried his best with his music to eliminate corruption in Nigeria and Africa generally.
Fela believes that music is the weapon of a social fight for the future. He used his music to talk to the audience and criticized both home and international figures, for ruining his country and Africa, for their selfish gain. To him democracy is “democrazy”, United Nations is “United Nonsense” and International Telegraph and Telecommunications is “International Thief Thief.” against Mushood Abiola.
In his lifetime, as an accomplished musician, Fela’s songs are too numerous to count. He played great tunes like Shakara, African Lady, Go Slow, Water has no enemy, Suffering, and Smiling, Coffin for Head of State, Chop, and Quench, “Epanude eshishimbo” – Close your mouth, the fly is coming into it” and a host of others. He is embraced by a family of scholars, mainly lawyers, and doctors. He was to study medicine himself abroad. To the shock of his family, he returned with musical instruments.
There is no corrupt head of state or politician, who escaped the judgement of Fela’s music. He played almost against every Nigerian head of state he thought was building treasures abroad, like Olusegun Obasanjo, who was then a military head of state in his time. The late chief Mushood Abiola and late Yaradua, all had their beatings with his music. He suffered many hardships in the hands of military governments of Nigeria. He was imprisoned many times and his whole house (Shrine) was burnt down to ashes. He was beaten so mercilessly that everyone thought that was the end of his life, yet he came back to hit his enemies with his songs.
His mother, a strong advocate of women freedom, was thrown out of the window by the soldiers that came to burn down his house. The case went to the court but he lost it. According to the judge, those that burnt down his house were unknown soldiers. That was the reason he played the remarkable tune “Unknown Soldier” against the military government. “If truly there is “Unknown soldier in Nigeria, then surely we have “Unknown Police,What ever” He said.
His love for women and marijuana, seem to play his real life legacy. His sexual appetite was fantastic. He once married 27 women. For some, Fela was a prophet, some said he was a hero and one of the world’s best musicians, while others thought he was just a Whateverthey say, Fela’s ultimate legacy will be the lasting imprint he leaves on Nigeria’s socio-political history and million of fans he has across the world.
Is true that a prophet is not honoured in his own country? In fact, a musician like Fela shouldn’t be forgotten, because he played a significant role to steer his country from economic disaster through his music. A man of vision, the fear of Fela about how his country will collapse for ordinary citizens to suffer, is exactly what has taken place in Nigeria. Nigeria can’t turn back the clock. Whoever in power and other Nigerian leaders should take Fela’s achievements into consideration, to build a statue and name a street after him for his honour, especially in Lagos State. He was a great man.
Read about my interview with Seun Kuti and the live performance of his brother Femi Kuti in ‘The Passion Of Reggae And African Music.’
The writer: Joel Savage and Femi Kuti, one of the sons of Fela Kuti.