It’s that time of the year again- FELABRATION- where we celebrate a man who created the Afro beat music we now celebrate locally and internationally. Without him, there would be no Afro Pop, no D’banj, no Wizkid, no Burna Boy and their likes. Yes, Fela Anikulapo Kuti, the then Omo Jaiye Jaiye of Lagos, the original Turn Up King. He was always the one to call on to have a good time, and this is one of the reasons we gather every year- to have a good time.
But, In the midst of the fun and educational activities that have been on going through the week, it is important not to forget the real reason we are celebrating - Beyond the fact that he is the King of Afrobeat, we are also honouring a man who saw the Nigerian and African society from the other side and knew “a change must come”. A man who became vocal and active about social and political issues, so much so that much of the captivating songs he released either deliberately demonized the characters of our then leaders or made a mockery of their administration. He wanted a change in society so bad that he went as far as presenting himself as a presidential candidate for the nation, an action which at its time was deemed suicide. His registration of course was refused by the government out of prejudice, but it did not deter him from his ambition. He remained to stand as a thorn in the flesh of our then leaders who ruled selfishly as either dictators or incompetent, and ultimately made him a pioneer of democracy and freedom of expression in a country that was in a downward spiral and needed a whistle blower.
He was one of the many men who had to pay the price of that freedom, which we now enjoy as a right in today’s times. He and his family and friends suffered multiple military harassments, physical abuse, emotional torture, and character defamation in attempts to break his spirit and shut him up. Their plans failed though. In fact his many bruises and critics only made him stronger and fueled his desire to change society.
Sometime in 1977, Just after a torture session with the military, Fela had this to say when he was asked if he considers himself a radical:
“A radical is he who has no sense…fights without reason…
I have a reason.
I am authentic.
Yes, that’s what I am.”
This was what he was- a fighter with a reason- and he stood by his convictions until his death in 1997. But the then leaders and even some of his fellow ordinary citizens could not understand him and his mission, so society tagged him an outlaw, a radical and an enemy of the country who “deserved to be hanged”, illustrating the famous quote from Andrew Smith: “we fear what we do not understand and hate what we cannot conquer”.
His spirit was never crushed and he was never conquered, in fact all the hate, torture and criticism only made him stronger and more vocal about issues. He emphasized his strength when he changed his middle name to “Anikulapo”, meaning: “he who carries death in his pocket”
Fela saw Nigeria and Africa in a different light and saw what we as a people could achieve with togetherness and under the right leadership, and he fought for it till his death. Yes some of his philosophies and personal life may have been questionable (marrying 27 women in one day, being an atheist etc) but the truth is he was a complex man on a simple mission- To liberate the people
He lived as a prophet, died as a king and today is celebrated as an immortal for his legacy and convictions- a symbol of hope and the voice of the people, advocating progressive change.
77 albums, 27 wives, over two hundred court appearances. Harassed, beaten, tortured, jailed. A Spiritualist, Pan-Africanist, Composer, saxophonist, keyboardist, vocalist, and energetic dancer. There is No one else like Fela Anikulapo Kuti. An educated man with strong convictions and a vision to fight for, was all that he was.
Long live Fela Kuti- The Immortal. The real “Anikulapo”- He continues to, and will continue to live even after his death over 18 years ago.
His life and legacy should serve as an inspiration to this generation and the ones to come. As we celebrate him it is also important to realize that his work was not finished, he only showed us the path, now we have to follow it. There are still political and social amenities that need to be In place to see our nation make true progress- It is up to us to see the good work Fela started is done and our nation and continent succeeds.
N.B: I personally want to say a big THANK YOU to the Kuti Family and the organizers of this yearly event, and the Lagos State Government for making sure Fela is never forgotten and a part of our culture. I appreciate your efforts and I am sure the immortal man is smiling where he is