So finally last Sunday I discovered why Fela and Afrobeat are more relevant today than during Fela’s lifetime.
It’s weekend, but an exceptionally busy one and, I’m completely famished. To worsen it, I have to drive from Ajah to Ikeja after a long day of work. It’s 10.46pm and I must stop over at a buuka on Adeniyi Jones for dinner before I call it a day.
Unlike what you would expect on a Sunday in a typical Lagos bar or restaurant, this particular one was blasting Fela’s Afrobeat you could hear it so loud right from the entrance and in every corner of the lounge. My usual self would make a quick u-turn immediately – I love it quiet or, at least mild when I’m that tired. I would usually want to return a few missed calls and respond to a few messages while unwinding. But tonight, I’m staying, strangely enough close to one of the full-range speakers…Lol!
That was the first thing that got me thinking: why this strange behaviour of mine when I’m not even a serious fan of Afro Music? Oh wait, maybe I’m not the only one this vivacious music arrests this way? Is there something enchanting or ensnaring about it? I must find answers and, fast before I leave here.
The good thing is, with me, answers are not always far-fetched, provided I’m curious enough. In all honesty, I realized it wasn’t for the music…I need me no loud music tonight, not even my favourite! Funny, but true. To start with, lately, I am becoming more and more aware of social and political happenings around me. I’m getting more analytical of governments and governance at all level. Fela’s music seems to be the perfect soundtrack to my line of thoughts tonight! Fela’s message seems to resonate with the things I’ve been worried about lately. Yes! That’s why I’m seating so close to the loudspeaker tonight at such a high decibel…Abami Eda please give me some yabbings! I needed someone to tell me I’m spot on with my view of today’s government. And yes, Fela did it and will always. It’s good to know you’re not alone!
One would be right to say this is the secret of Afrobeat’s success…sharing the experience of the ordinary man and connecting with him or her at very personal and relatable level. Less than two weeks to the elections and a little doze of Afrobeat can reorientatate you and help you realign your values.
But the main gist isn’t even about why I’m attracted to the music tonight; but rather what makes Afrobeat more relevant today than ever. As I sit listening track after track, from “Zombie” to “Tears, Sorrow and Blood” and from “Lady” to Confusion Break Bone”, something remarkable occurs to me – how his message is more applicable to our experiences today than even in the 70s and 80s, the prime of his career. Could he have been singing about the future? Or the situation hasn’t changed in Africa since then or things changed and got bad again? Take the song “Shuffering and Smiling” for instance: today with the help of social media, everybody pretends to be happy even in extreme poverty. I was thinking about his songs “International Thief Thief” (ITT) and “Authority Stealing” and wandering how big was international fraud in the Fela’s time when there wasn’t emails, cellphones and Internet in Africa? See how easy, sophisticated and huge international stealing is today in government and in business, aided by digital technology!
In 1971 Fela sang the song “Yellow Fever”, warning women about the danger of skin bleaching. I’m laughing now just thinking about how big the issue is today! Everybody wants to look fairer, and it’s becoming really easier and smoother to achieve. If he’s to redo the song today, he’ll probably title it “Yellow Typhoid” or “Yellow Epidemy”, because it has gone beyond just a mere fever.
He sang several songs criticizing and condemning military rulers such as Obasanjo, Buhari, Danjuma and Babangida. Sadly, over four decades later, these guys are still the biggest power brokers in Nigeria today! Wasn’t he right to have called himself “Abami Eda” – the strange one? Isn’t all these correlation and relevance strange afterall? Fela’s songs still remain the most socially and politically relevant music to the African experience of 2019. That’s the secret…the secret why the influence and legacy of his voice has continued to grow stronger and bigger. We all can identify with…we all can relate to the message. It takes only the oppressor to deny the relevance and authenticity of Fela Anikulapo Kuti’s voice. He is the voice of the future that will continue to get louder with each new rising sun.
Ooh but come, I didn’t come here to analyze Afrobeat…let me wahck this semo before the Okra soup gets completely cold!