Music is an integral part of human culture that entails deliberate arrangement of sounds in particular way to achieve a specific kind of sounds with melodious or rhythmic effect. Music can be a great source of pleasure, a carrier of great message, a reminder of the past or a vehicle to express people’s aspirations, desires and hopes. While music can be considered as mirror held up to reality or mirror reflecting the everyday experience of a people or society, it can also be seen as ‘hammer with which to shape’ that reality. Music when merged with socio-political activism becomes a very strong weapon used to fight the perceived ills of a society either moral decadence or political tyranny or oppression by the musician, whose identity become that of a warrior, whose mastery of his/her craft made subject of love and adoration and at the same time subject of hatred and victimization by the powers that be.
Fela exemplifies without iota of doubt quintessential political artiste i.e the kind of music artiste who deploys his talent to address socio-poltical ills of his society and the world at large. Fela was a man who walk the talk. Fela was the pioneer of Afrobeat music through which he mirror the Nigeria society and Africa at large, beginning from the 1970s. Fela did not only reflect the reality of the Nigerian society with his Afrobeat, he also sought to shape that reality using his Afrobeat as the tool, although, not without great cost to himself most especially, and of course his family, friends, band members, wives, etc. Fela mounted a great socio-political activism through the platform of the musical genre he created.
To understand Fela’s countenance or his modus operandi as music artiste and socio-political activist, Hugh Masekela’s quote as quoted by Tejumola Olaniyan is apt:
Other socially militant artists always spoke truth to power in poetic prose, often veiling their song protests in language that has slightly hidden meaning wherein their targets did not necessarily feel directly accused for the suffering they brought to defenseless children, women and terrified men all over the world. However, Fela Kuti neither minced his words nor did he modify his attacks on power-drunk, murderous, political leaders in his country Nigeria or other parts of the world such as the apartheid in South Africa. His attacks were direct, singing honest, fearless and downright riveting. He accused corrupt heads of states and their acolytes to squirm with hate filled discomfort and guilt.
Fela’s commentaries most times tend to cover the entire African continent, as such afrobeat is a genre that can be closely linked to Pan-Africanism. In a way Fela sought avenues to bring about realization of the Pan-African aims and objectives the most important of which were unity and liberation of Africa from the chokehold of European imperialism and domination by campaigning massively for the unification of Africa through his music. Without fear of being wrong, Fela’s afrobeat can be regarded as a true Pan-African tune or music for it encompassing approach towards Africa’s state of affairs at the time.
20 years down the line Fela lives on in our minds and hearts.
Below are some of Fela’s notable songs:
Jeun Ko Ku (Chop and Quench)
Why Black Man Dey Suffer
Sorrow, tears and blood
Suffering and smiling
Beast of no Nation
Teacher Don’t Teach me nonsense
and several others.
Some books about Fela:
Fela: This bitch of a life by Carlos Moore, Fela: The Life and Times of an African Musical Icon by Michael Veal, Arrest the Music!: Fela and His Rebel Art and Politics by Tejumola Olaniyan, Fela: From West Africa to West Broadway by Trevor Schoonmaker, etc.
Excerpts taken from my unpublished first degree long essay.