October 15, 2015 if Fela were alive he would have been 77 years old. Since his demise we have seen the extraordinary explosion of the brand name FELA with the re-issue of his back-catalogue, a Broadway Musical, and documentary titled Finding Fela, etc. – to mention a few projects designed to immortalise this African icon. With all the euphoria around FELA, eighteen years after his passing, I guess it would be appropriate to asses all the homage with a view to doing justice to the man and his works and the role he played in giving us historic consciousness.
Without mincing words; I would like to underline again that the search for the phenomenon Fela Anikulapo-Kuti can start from his legacy, the film BLACK PRESIDENT produced and personally financed by the afrobeat icon himself. A two and half hour epic film that traced Fela’s evolution from a tea-drinking, sex-shy young colonised African man transformed with a historic and political consciousness, to a marijuana-smoking fighter for social justice.
Principal shooting of the film was completed one day before the Nigerian Army soldiers attack on Kalakuta on 18th February 1977. The original sound-track was burnt in the inferno. The above picture by Africa 70 Photo Agency Photographer Femi Bankole Osunla; was an attempt to immortalise the scene from the film where Fela played himself as a student of Abeokuta Grammar School and Ghana based UK born musician John Collins after the later played the missionary appointed school’s inspector flogged-out of the premises of Abeokuta Grammar School by Fela’s father Reverend I.O.Ransome-Kuti
For the records; Abeokuta Grammar School was owned by the Abeokuta District Council, unlike most other institutions of the same educational orientation owned and run by the missionaries. As a result, he (Reverend Kuti) saw a challenge in front of him to make the school into a model with a standard worthy of emulation by any other institution. In his drive to set a high standard for the school, being an ex-student himself, he saw himself as accountable to his community which entrusted him with the task of transforming the school into a citadel of knowledge.
To this end he never allowed any missionary appointed school’s inspectors to visit his school. The one who tried to visit his school for inspection according to Fela, Rev. Kuti flogged out of the school’s premises after the inspector had insisted despite Fela’s father’s decline of an inspection from any missionary. Reverend Kuti was a disciplinarian with very short fuse and could explode at the slightest irritation; he was a man who expected his students to learn quickly. Unfortunately for the country, those who ended up leading Nigeria to her independence did not possess the kind of vision he had for the country. His political vision was that of mass education, teaching the people how to know and fight for their rights and practicing in every day to day aspect of life, uprightness.
He lost any political impact he would have made as a result of the Nigerian “money politics”. A not too rich Reverend and school Principal unlike his opponents, who were business men, lawyers, who had big business like the United African Company (UAC) behind them underwriting their campaign expenses. Moreover, the demands of his professional calling, did not give him the opportunity to participate full time in partisan political scene. Whatever he contributed politically were done through his wife Funmilayo Anikulapo-Kuti (1900–1978), who herself was no less as dynamic as her husband. All these attributes were presented in the film, to project the personality of Reverend Kuti and his wife Funmilayo Anikulapo-Kuti.
From this brief description; one can see that the film Black President is an epic biographic presentation of Fela’s history by the icon himself. Footage from the film has been extensively used in my ‘Fela Speaks’ video stream despite the original sound track burnt in Kalakuta attack, and you can listen to Fela himself speak in an interview backstage where he talked about his background, his music not for entertainment, and those apart from his immediate family whom he held in high esteem. In my humble opinion, these images are more authentic and representative of FELA, than the cheap display of traditional dances (Hollywood style) from the Broadway show.
From an insider’s knowledge, Fela spent about 1.5 Million Naira to produce the film. At that time; the Naira was exchanged in the currency market at the rate of 60 kobo (the decimal currency of the Naira), to 1 US Dollar. If we take into consideration; todays rate of 1 US Dollar to 200 Naira, we are talking of more than 400 million Dollars investment wasting away. The man himself when he was alive was very aware of his financial potentialities, as we can see when asked to sell his back catalogue. As far back as the early ‘80s; Chris Blackwell of Island Records, shortly after the demise of Bob Marley approached Fela to buy his back catalogue. Fela in return asked for 10,000,000 million US Dollars - which Chris Blackwell thought was a crazy amount for Fela to ask at that time.
Today, with all the Broadway and Hollywood talks around FELA, we know that the brand name plus his back catalogue are worth big money without adding the potentials from the Black President film. Thanks to evolution in technology today, like I posted in the video stream answer to the documentary Finding Fela, the viewer can see our modest attempt to give life to the film with short video clips of songs performed by Fela - we already produced ten of them waiting diffusion.
FOR THOSE WHO READ IN FRENCH, ITALIAN, JAPANESE AND ENGLISH, LANGUAGES HERE ARE PUBLISHED WORKS OF THE MOST TRANSLATED AUTHOR, ASSOCIATE, AND AUTHORITY ON THE PHENOMENON FELA ANIKULAPO-KUTI.