When in 2013, in the midst of similar or worst circumstances than existed in the time of Fela, the newly touted ‘Afrobeat King’, Femi features on a track titled ‘Jaiye Jaiye’, it pains me.
‘Respect to Fela Kuti
Me no play with my claro*, na my duty’
-Olamide, (2013) Gimme Dat
*Claro: Marijuana / màrrə wàanə/
That’s it, a lyric from the new club banger, ‘Gimme Dat’ by Ice Prince. He features some heavyweights on it like Olamide and Burna Boy. Nice song.
I, like you, nodded and bumped to it. Very wrong interpretation of character though. I have a problem with musicians who reduce the corpus of Fela’s music to just one (trivial) part of his persona. It could be those, like Olamide, who reduce him to a dutiful hemp smoking musician. Or it could be the joker at a recent MTN Project Fame audition, who came to the stage wearing a (dirty) pant and showing his phallus for the world to see. All these provide good entertainment value.
My fear is that these erroneous interpretations of Fela would drown his voice. It has happened before that the memories of authentic radicals have been watered down, and morphed into marketable icons. So now, a member of the Generation Z (people born from 1995 upwards) would see Fela as a pant wearing man whose ‘duty’ was to smoke claro and sing catchy tunes.
There are extraordinary insights to be learned from the time and life of Fela, but half-baked lyrics and materialist messages will silence these. I was opportune to attend the Felabration Public Lecture that held in 2011. During the colloquium, a pertinent question was asked, ‘What is Afrobeat?’ Hear now, Afrobeat was not defined by trumpet blasts, drum beats or sounds of the shekere. Afrobeat is simply a message-any message that agrees with Felaism, the ideology, is Afrobeat.
Felaism is holding on to the ideology and philosophy of Fela without pretense. Fela lives in your heart if you believe in fighting for the oppressed, struggling to liberate the people-not afraid of whatsoever challenges may come your way. Felaism is not about the recreational use of marijuana, and for the records, Abami Eda never wore pants on stage.
In the 1970s, Fela abandoned a life of ease and took up residence in the heart of one of Africa’s most sordid slums, sharing the hardships of the poor whom he called ‘My Brothers’. Fela made perhaps the most powerful statement any social reformer would make in rejecting the very things that the post-Independence elites stood for: material greed, individual selfishness, class snobbery, puritanical mores and submission to the standards laid down by the West.
Fela went down in 1997 still railing against crass consumerism and the homogenous aesthetic pop music which induces passivity. He was all about music which had an eminent cause. So when a crop of musicians who lack content try to misconstrue what existed and is pure, it pains me. So when today-in the midst of a State Of Emergency , student protests in Olabisi Onabanjo University, Ife with (claimed) loss of lives, immanent corruption-Femi Anikulapo Kuti starts to sing about big houses and cars, it pains me.
When in 2013, in the midst of similar or worst circumstances than existed in the time of Fela, the newly touted ‘Afrobeat King’, Femi features on a track titled ‘Jaiye Jaiye’, it pains me. ‘Jaiye Jaiye’ is a Yoruba term which means ‘chop life, chop life’, a call to hedonistic living. I won’t bore you with details of the song but its lyrics go thus, ‘Aiye ni Miami…Ferrari, Versace, Ferragamo, Bugatti…Mo fe l’owo bi Adenuga’. This kills the music [message]. This will bring about the disappearance of Afrobeat as we know it, in favour of a harmless pop genre drained of ideological substance.
Osisiye Tafa is a content specialist, freelance writer and regular at Fela’s New Afrika Shrine. He has been published on The Guardian, Thisday, Businessday, Bella Naija among other. His interest spans music, cooking and animal husbandry.
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