Radio Shrine! Gan! Gan!
If we take an inventory of the year 2013 that has just ended, apart from the demise of Madiba Nelson Mandela and his legendary march to freedom that could serve us as inspiration, Pope Francis’ declaration to the world that: “like the fable of Adam and Eve, we see hell as a literary device” and Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan’s letter to former President Olusegun Obansanjo stating: “that corruption is an issue in Nigeria is indisputable. It has been with us for many years. You will recall that your kinsman, the renowned afro-beat maestro, Fela Anikulapo-Kuti famously sang about it during your first stint as Head of State” these are the major events and declarations that gives me a ray of hope for the years ahead. Otherwise, I find it difficult to jump on the “happy new year” band-wagon like everyone is doing. This is not to be “Opposite People” like Fela sang in a song with the same title, but because we have been waiting too long for happy New Year for all.
Like Femi Kuti sang in ‘The World Is Changing’: “When you see what is going on in the world today! You will agree that poverty is winning the game! More people are suffering! More people are very poor! The suffering people can’t take anymore! The world is changing! Everyone is feeling the pain…!” With so much misery around, can we really look in the eyes of the man or woman standing next to us and say: “happy New Year?” Agreed that the ups-and-downs in the world are part of the natural phenomenon of life, however like the old saying if wishes are reality, I guess the happiness we all looking for every year would have become a daily thing long time ago than a yearly wish that everyone is still looking forward to. Do we continue to wish us a happy New Year generation after generation, or we get organize to fight the cause of our miseries? Do we continue to sit on the wall without taking sides, or we join in the actions of the “Occupy Movements” springing-up around the world?
Fela in a song titled: ‘Original Suffer Head’ sang: “….before we all go Jefa Head Oh! We must be ready to fight for am oh!” Translated in “original English” like Fela would say: “Before we can enjoy the good things of life, we must be ready to fight for them”. If we want to enjoy certain basic necessities of life, we are obliged to fight for them in our today’s world. For example if they have water, light, food and house in France today, it is because the French people in 1789 made a revolution and since then they have organised themselves into various movements and unions to maintain and sustain the gains from their revolution. We all know very well that revolution is not knitting embroideries, it not having dinners and parties – revolution, pacific or otherwise entails lose of lives. In the light of the above, I would like us to search deep in our respective souls and give an answer to the question: what is our collective wish for the year 2014? Do we continue to live in this capitalist system where morality is not capital? Do what I say and not what I do? Do we continue to live in the world described in George Orwell’s classic ‘1984’, where people feel frustrated by the oppression and rigid control of their lives by a small circle of individuals that prohibits free thought, sex and any expression of individuality with the ever-watchful Big Brother? Thanks to Wikileaks and Edward Snowden’s revelations, we know that big brother is watching all of us.
When I talk of ray of hope it is because we have as consolation, religion which has been for long the instrument used to tame the resistance of the people beginning to change its old dogmas. In our today’s world of Information Supper Highway, old dogmas have no other choice but change. Thanks to archaeological and anthropological studies, we know that much of what we have been taught as facts and the “inspired words of god” are not necessarily so, and in many cases they are complete distortions of the truth and/or down right lies. Bob Marley and Peter Tosh, co-wrote a song titled ‘Get up, stand up: stand up for your rights!’ where they sang: “Preacher man, don’t tell me, Heaven is under the earth. I know you don’t know what life is really worth. It’s not all that glitters is gold; ’Alf the story has never been told, so now you see the light, eh! Stand up for your rights. Come on!” Yes come on my dear brothers and sisters, we can have a ray of hope that change is on its way!
Pope Francis confirmed this in his latest revelations: “Through humility, soul searching, and prayerful contemplation we have gained a new understanding of certain dogmas. The church no longer believes in a literal hell where people suffer. This doctrine is incompatible with the infinite love of God. God is not a judge but a friend and a lover of humanity. God seeks not to condemn but only to embrace. Like the fable of Adam and Eve, we see hell as a literary device. Hell is merely a metaphor for the isolated soul, which like all souls ultimately will be united in love with God. All religions are true, because they are true in the hearts of all those who believe in them. What other kind of truth is there? In the past, the church has been harsh on those it deemed morally wrong or sinful. Today, we no longer judge. Like a loving father, we never condemn our children. Our church is big enough for heterosexuals and homosexuals, for the pro-life and the pro-choice! For conservatives and liberals, even communists are welcome and have joined us. We all love and worship the same God. God is changing and evolving as we are, for God lives in us and in our hearts. When we spread love and kindness in the world, we touch our own divinity and recognize it. The Bible is a beautiful holy book, but like all great and ancient works, some passages are outdated. Some even call for intolerance or judgement. The time has come to see these verses as later interpolations, contrary to the message of love and truth, which otherwise radiates through scripture. In accordance with our new understanding, we will begin to ordain women as cardinals, bishops and priests. In the future, it is my hope that we will have a woman pope one day. Let no door be closed to women that is open to men!”
What a shocking speech from a pope! The above declaration confirms what I have reiterated here many times that the information I try to give on this page are given in the main, for the purpose of letting the student, researcher, teacher, and general reader know that much of what they have been taught as facts and the “inspired words of god” are not necessarily so, and in many cases they are complete distortions of the truth and/or down right lies. Such distortions and lies are specifically geared to perpetuate the myth of the “superiority of the great white race over the inferior black race”. In other cases it is to perpetuate the religiously bigoted idea of a “one and only true god” of the Caucasians and/or “Semites” which no other people on the face of the earth had anything to do with its concepts, philosophically, spiritually, or otherwise. However if we take time to decipher the message from Pope Francis, it is consoling coming after almost 2,013 years of brainwashing and pollutions of the human minds. Bear in mind that the effect of Pope Francis frank talk will continue reverberating across the world as the world continues to evolve. Since the arrival of Pope Francis in the Vatican, Catholic cardinals, bishops and theologians have been deliberating in the Vatican City, discussing the future of the church and redefining long-held Catholic doctrines and dogmas.
This should not come as a surprise if we take into consideration the Catholic Church sex abuse cases and the series of allegations, investigations, trials and convictions of child sexual abuse crimes committed by Catholic priests, nuns and members of Roman Catholic orders against children as young as three years old with the majority between the ages of 11 and 14. These cases include anal and oral penetration and have resulted in criminal prosecutions of the abusers and civil lawsuits against the church’s dioceses and parishes. Many of the cases span several decades and are brought forward years after the abuse occurred. Cases have also been brought against members of the Catholic Church hierarchy who did not report sex abuse allegations to the legal authorities. It has been shown they deliberately moved sexually abusive priests to other parishes where the abuse sometimes continued. This has led to a number of fraud cases where the Church has been accused of misleading victims by deliberately relocating priests accused of abuse instead of removing them from their positions. In the light of the above you will agree with me that change is on the way!
Another consolation, coming with the end of the year 2013 is the recognition of Fela’s denunciations of Nigerian leaders as thieves. Like I said in my book Fela - Phenomenon & Legacy, Fela Anikulapo-Kuti in his life-time, was not only controversial he was an enigma and cultural icon. The circumstance of his transition from earth was no less contentious and he has remained the subject of rave reviews, debates, and study even in death. To those who knew him and his countless followers he was in his own right the Black President, a Chief Priest, King, exponent of Black music and culture. However, to a class of elites with Christian and Moslem values (especially those in authority in Nigeria), he was an iconoclast, a hooligan, Indian hemp smoker, trouble-shooter and a “political non-starter”. Some of them articulate and privileged enough to write in journals and newspapers, have described him as an Afro-centric who personified a new counter-culture by the glorification of social rascality. In their criticisms and appraisal of Fela’s several brushes with the authorities in Nigeria, Fela was considered as politically naïve and that he sought transmogrify from his indisputable and phenomenal stage success to a serious minded political actor especially at a most trying period for the nation which had been under military rule with zero tolerance for dissent.
Fela may well not be the best friend or idol of many in the Nigerian establishment especially because he posed a formidable threat to their corrupt and exploitative dispositions. However, this should not diminish his right to hold opinions and make comments on the affairs of his country as I affirmed in my first work: Fela, Why Blackman Carry Shit. His approach may not conform to their norms and possibly was seen as dippy, this does not erase the fact that many of his songs or comments - though biting satires or outright attacks on establishment, they remain profound and or altruistic. They remained pointers to genuine African self respecting ways, to keep our common patrimony as Africans and Nigeria in particular. As expected of a ruthless government that had grown accustomed to being fawned at, deferred to and obeyed unquestioningly by the political and so-called educated elite, they regarded Fela’s comments as a threat to their establishment. Taunted and afraid, of losing their grip on a society that for many years have been deprived of their basic liberties, such government normally does not take Fela’s criticism lying low.
They frequently returned his attacks which at best were verbal with brutal physical suppression applying instruments of state terror the police and the army. In order to understand the reasons behind Fela’s doggedness despite all the harrowing, anguish and tyranny he had been subjected to, I decided shortly after the police attack on Kalakuta Republic in 1974, to get acquainted with this controversial African personality. As a first step to achieving this end, I made attendance at the Friday Yabbis Night and Saturday Comprehensive Show at the Shrine more than a routine but more like a compulsory study time. These sessions opened my mind to the vastness and richness of the African cultural endowment and accorded Fela’s music in my heart a place beyond mere music to a profoundly authentic educational theme. It was almost like an apotheosis, a supreme or ideal example of the kind of wisdom that must propel a society. His unique and uncompromising use of music in disseminating wisdom and the enlightenment of the ordinary man in Nigeria and the Africans in the Diasporas in general unsettled the authorities.
Rather than evaluate the message, the Nigerian authorities saw these as an affront to the established and so took recourse to pernicious measures which were the result of innumerable clashes with the state and its apparatus. So much is been said, written, and I guess there are more to come about the phenomenon that was Fela and his legacy. Without being Felacentric as some critics say because of my regular reference to his songs, apart from Cheikh Anta Diop, Dr. Ivan Van Sertima, and Theophile Obenga, Fela Anikulapo-Kuti is also another personage that have contributed immensely towards African awareness in the last half of the 20th Century and beginning of the 21st Century. Using music as a weapon in his special musical creation called afrobeat, Fela invited Africans and Diaspora Africans to be proud of their African heritage as he sang in Blackman’s Cry and Why Blackman Dey Suffer.
A very important point to note here is that every song of Fela Anikulapo-Kuti from his Africa 70 to Egypt 80 works, are narratives of Nigeria’s contemporary history. From his 1973 Confusion, with his Pan-African solution - critical of what transpires as government on the continent, to his Army Arrangement – a narrative of how the military institution have high-jacked the people’s clamour for freedom and democracy, all of Fela’s songs are nothing but Nigeria’s contemporary history – an actuality today and tomorrow as everyday is a testimony of all what he sang about. Looking back after his death, it is obvious to the writer that he was tired of it all. He had done almost everything possible to stir the conscience of the Nigerian – paying a price that almost cost him his life and everything he had achieved or acquired. At the same time, the Nigerian public ostensibly complacent, failed to stand up for Fela who naturally might have felt or indeed felt abandoned, sloughed off, rejected, despised, by the same public he was championing their cause. The only thing that kept him going towards the end of his life was largely his music and women. Hence, one could understand why he sang songs like Look and Laugh and Condom Scaliwagy.
Look And Laugh, was Fela’s way of saying I have said it all it’s up to you to rise up and fight this oppressive system. The latter song which he never recorded was his statement against the use of condoms in sexual acts. From all indications, Fela can be considered a product of African history and a personified search for an answer to colonialism. For more than three decades, he remained one of Africa’s most outspoken cultural figures. He attacked government corruption in his songs and took on wider social issues with songs like “LADY,” which criticised the use of White Western values and standards for feminine beauty in Africa. However to his detractors, songs such as these were interpreted as anti-feminist or simply “macho”. In this volume I try to use his song titles and situate them in the proper cultural milieu of their rendition, to explain the Fela phenomenon and if possible make the reader understand his message as a legacy. Particularly, since most of the songs are very much relevant to the actual situation today world wide. To realise them, he was aware that his musical career would play a big role hence his slogan: “music is the weapon of the future.”
Today, afrobeat music can be considered on the same level as other musical classics like jazz, and reggae, rich with political messages and cultural interests – the two important reasons behind the success of jazz and reggae music as world classics. Like reggae music did with Bob Marley, and Peter Tosh, the message of Afrobeat music turned Fela into a role model to lots of today’s revolutionary musicians. In life and even after his death, people who did not know Fela well enough have called him a social pervert, who used his popularity to corrupt young girls. He was accused of living a lifestyle that espoused the subversion of family values. If one has his life as example, I guess I owe my well informed situation in life to the education I acquired around Fela. For people like us who knew him, outright condemnations such as expressed above are pointers to what Fela went through in order to become the voice of the voiceless.
This “famous” open letter to Obasanjo by Jonathan should serve as a wake-up call to us all my fellow country people! Rivers State Governor, Rotimi Amaechi, was quoted in one of those blogs saying that political office holders steal state funds because Nigerians do not stone them. What are we waiting for to throw stones at those Fela called “Authority Stealing” Femi Kuti asked about Fela’s legacy and the influence on the public everywhere he performed in Africa and other parts of the world, replied: “There is this warm reception for me and my band, I think that people are getting aware of his legacies it is good the audience are coming to our shows, I can use the opportunity to further expose the extent of corruption in Africa, talk to people in-order to find solutions and means to rectify the problems. For me it is a challenge and I believe as a professional musician, I will do my best to spread the message for the uplifting of the African and underprivileged in the world. This is what Fela’s legacy stands for and I believe in the same values. It is clear that somebody has to do it, and I believe I am just playing my part as an African. The total unity and independence of Africa, the choice to determine our destiny cannot be compromised. Also fighting for the under-privileged is why I took-up the struggle, it is my personal conviction and I sincerely believe in the justness of the cause. To start at this stage, thinking of the warm reception I get as a sign of people getting aware of Fela’s legacy is not very wise we still have more work to do spreading the message”.
In my New Year message to you all out there, I would like to affirm my similar conviction with those expressed by Femi above and like him, would like to remind us that the ray of hope expressed above should not make us sit on the wall as we still have more work to do spreading the message! Radio Shrine! Gan! Gan! Please Pass the Message!