20 years after Abami Eda lives on

20 years after Abami Eda lives on
March 05 18:50 2018 Print This Article

“Man is here against his will. Where do we come from? What was before us…? When you think you die, you’re not dead. It’s a transition.”

The above extraordinarily brilliant lines aptly capture the life, times and belief of arguably the greatest philosopher to ever emerge from the black race. He was too many things rolled into one. He was a selfless patriot, a relentless social crusader, a brilliant thinker and smart talker, a brave, resilient and unrepentant soldier who kept on fighting for the great causes he believed in despite all the odds against him and at the risk of his life and safety. Twenty years after he joined his ancestors, he has continued to be celebrated, many of the ills he sang and warned Nigerians about are happening at more alarming rate today. Nigeria, having failed to heed his warnings, has retrogressed significantly over the years, making the country to appreciate the man and understand his crusade more. Indeed, as he said in the above quote, he never died, he merely transited.

At a time all the musicians of his generation sang the praises of the high and mighty in politics and business, Olufela oludotun Anikulapo Kuti, the undisputable father of Afro beat music, did the unthinkable, swam against the tide and called out the names of the powerful men and women and ridiculed them for their wicked acts of abandoning the poor and vulnerable and for smiling to the banks at the expense of the long-suffering masses of Nigeria. It was suicidal to openly criticize the military government but Fela did it and the people enjoyed it.

Fela was not only the child of great people – Reverenced Israel Ransome-Kuti and Mrs Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti – he was also the brother of equally outstanding Nigerians – Dr Beko Ransome-Kuti and Professor Olikoye Ransome-Kuti. His father was a revered gentleman and clergy, school principal and pioneer chairman of the Nigerian Union of Teachers while the mother was feminist and social activist. Beko was an activist, doctor and one-time deputy president of the Nigeria Medical Association while Olikoye was a legendary former minister of health. His first cousin is also the iconic first Black Nobel Laurette in Literature, Professor Wole Soyinka. Fela however chose to stake his claim in the global history books through the instrumentality of a hugely successful music career. He was one of the most talented and versatile musicians the world has ever seen. He was a multi-instrumentalist and composer. He was also comfortable with any of the musical instruments. Despite the deep philosophical meanings and serious socio-political message in his lyrics, Fela’s songs were never boring. They were danceable and enjoyable to all and sundry, except of course for those in government. The African Shrine was a beehive of social activities for decades that the great Abami Eda held sway.

After defying his parents to study Music at the Trinity College of Music in London instead of Medicine, Fela started singing mostly love songs and High Life music. But he was exposed to the Black Power movement in Los Angeles, United States by Sandra Smith (later Sandra Izidore) in the early 70s. This changed his orientation, genre of music and his life forever. He then founded Afro beat and focused on the socio-political problems in Africa as the main message of his music and crusade.

He soon became a thorn in the flesh of the authorities. His protest songs covered themes inspired by the realities of corruption and socio-economic inequality in Africa. His political statements could be heard throughout Africa. Kuti’s open vocalization of the violent and oppressive regime controlling Nigeria didn’t come without consequence. He was arrested on over 200 different occasions, including his longest stint of 20 months after his arrest in 1984. Years earlier, soldier had stormed his Kalakuta Republic to beat him, his family and friends, and destroy wherever he lived and whatever instruments or recordings he had. His mother was also killed in the incident. That was in 1977 after he sang Zombie, in which he mocked the modus operandi of the military which makes them to behave like people without brain. Rather than breaking down, Fela bouned back a year later, married 27 wives in one day and released two songs, Coffin for Head of State and Unknown Soldier, further mocking the military establishment for telling fantastic lies and living in the lies. He used the occasion to mark one year of the attack on his household. After the 1984 jail experience as well, he came up with more hit tracks, Beast of No Nation, Confusion Break Bone, Water Light, Food and House and so on.

Fela was known for his showmanship, and his concerts were often quite outlandish and wild. He referred to his stage act as the “Underground” Spiritual Game. Fela attempted making a movie but lost all the materials to the fire that was set to his house by the soldiers in 1977.

After series of illness for which he allegedly refused treatment – may be in fulfillment of his prediction that he would decide the time of his death -, Fela Anikulapo Kuti breathed his last on August 2, 1997, leaving millions of his fans all over the globe in tears and a very big space which no one – not even Femi and Seun – has been able to fill. His brother, Olikoye Ransome-Kuti, announced the following day that Fela died due to complications from AIDS. He was honoured with a lying-in-state in which his remains were encased in a five-sided glass coffin for full public viewing. More than one million people attended Fela’s funeral at the site of the old Shrine compound. The New Afrika Shrine has opened since Fela’s death in a different section of Lagos under the supervision of his son Femi.

No number of events can however be enough to immortalize the giant strides of this extraordinary Nigerian. That’s why stakeholders and his family members came up with the idea of ‘Felabration’ some years ago to remind the world that a certain brave crusader and talented singer once dominated our space and will continue to dominate our hearts. This years edition of the event was memorable being the 20th year since the icon passed away. The action governor of Lagos state, Akinwunmi Ambode, made sure the state took full charge of the events.

The historic event started with a secondary schools debate at Freedom Park, Broad Street, Lagos. On that day, Ambode eulogized the virtues of late Afrobeat legend and freedom fighter, describing him as an enigmatic artiste who used the platform of his art to agitate for social and human rights. Ambode noted that Fela used his music to challenge government and people to explore development through social and economic activities that are rooted in African values.

While insisting that the spirit of Fela was still alive as a movement of social consciousness and justice against oppression, the governor said the late legend made the world sit up and take notice of the energy of African art and music, adding that he will forever be accorded his position in the global hall of fame of artistes.

Talking about the statue that was unveiled for the late legend, the governor said: “This Liberation statue is not an image of Fela but a symbol of Fela’s philosophy. This artwork was created as a form of respect and remembrance to this legend; what he stood for and fought for with his music; his mythology; struggle for freedom; fight for human dignity; social consciousness; courage and Pan-Africanism.

Responding on behalf of the family, Fela’s daughter and social commentator, Yeni Kuti, commended Governor Ambode and the artist for coming up with such a monument to recognise and honour their father in a big way, saying it was a good representation of their late patriarch.

She however cleared the air on the headless statute, saying: “Before people on social media will start to say the Fela has no head or it has no hand and so on, it is art and before you abuse us, let me answer quickly. It is art. How an artist feels is how he feels because if he had put a head and the head did not look like Fela, everybody will say the head did not look like Fela so now you cannot abuse the head because it is not even there. The artist has said it is a spirit and when Fela was alive, he hated statues and so I think this effigy is a good representation of what Fela would have wanted because he did not like statues and that is why at the Museum you will notice that there is no statue of Fela. Everybody wants to do his statue and I have fought against it. So, this one I can accept it and so I want to thank the artist who designed it and also thank Governor Ambode for recognizing Fela in a big way,” Yeni said.

The visual artist who designed the effigy, Abolore Sobayo, said the work was an expression of how he feels about the late Afrobeat legend, saying that it was designed to generate discussion about the emancipation of the people. While justifying the fact that the art work had no head, Sobayo said the design came out of extensive research on what Fela represented through his music, and how to use same to correct some of the things he complained about years ago that are still happening.

“For me as an artist, art transcends beyond beauty or aesthetics. For me, art should generate discourse; art should ask question and art should provoke our thoughts. For me, the creation of the Liberation Statue is to represent the essence of Fela by using his costume. For me, I believe that this should serve as a conscious to our subconscious that twenty years after Fela’s demise, most of the things he talked about are still happening. For me, this work should come to us not just as a beautiful work, but it should come to us as something that will ginger us to start to emancipate our people. Going forward, I have been able to use symbolism as a medium to represent Fela through his costume and to represent his essence,” Sobayo said.

Meanwhile, organised labour, has called on President Muhammedu Buhari to give a posthumous national award to Fela for his patriotism and pan-Africanism as well as his campaign for good governance through music.

The event was attended by notable members of late Fela’s family including Yemi Ransome-Kuti (Head of family), Seun Kuti, Kunle Kuti, Yeni Kuti, Motunrayo Kuti, Dotun Olukoye Ransome-Kuti, Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Femi Falana; veteran Nollywood actor, Pa Olu Jacobs and his wife, Joke Silva; Fela’s first manager, Chief Benson Idonije, among others.
Abami Eda thoroughly deserves all the accolades he is getting. An anonymous author once wrote this of the Afro beat legend: “Fela Kuti! If you haven’t heard of him, you probably need to double check on your Nigerianess. You might want to think he was born into the wrong country, he was indeed a different kind of Nigerian. Most Nigerians are very religious but not righteous. Fela spoke against the imported religions, during a period when most musicians sang praises of those who mattered in society as is typical of highlife musicians so they could get some ‘change’, Fela spoke against what he perceived were the ills in the society he lived in which of cause was perpetrated by those who mattered in the society.”

Fela’s top 10 amazing quotes that capture his belief, music, philosophy and lifestyle
“Music is a spiritual thing, you don’t play with music. If you play with music you will die young. You see, when the higher forces give you the gift of music… it must be well used for the gift of humanity.”

“To be spiritual is not by praying and going to church. Spiritualism is the understanding of the universe so that it can be a better place to live in.”

I just want to do my part and leave…Not for what they’re going to remember me for, but for what I believe in as a man.”

“I will be the master of my own destiny and will decide when it is time for death to take me.”

“My people are scared of the air around them; they always have an excuse not to fight for freedom.”

“Marijuana is my best friend because it is a gift of the creator to Africans. It is a spirit. Marijuana has five fingers of creation…it enhances all your five senses.”

“Music is a weapon of the future. Music is the weapon of the progressives. Its the weapon of the givers of life. With my music, I create change. I am using my music as a weapon.”

“Sex is a gift of nature. Why do men make laws to check it? A law telling you where to Bleep and another tells you when to Bleep.”

“Everything I did wrongly is an experience…to be honest and truthful in all endeavour is an experience, not a regret.”

“A radical is he who has no sense…fights without reason…I have a reason. I am authentic. Yes, that’s what I am.”