Saturday, December 21, 2013

Fela Kuti Pt.2

"Fela Anikulapo-Kuti: The Art of an Afrobeat Rebel" - Randall F. Grass
The Drama Review: TDR, Spring, 1986

“[Fela Kuti] has obliterated the notion of ‘performance’ as something existing separate from life. He extends a traditional African concept of art – especially music – as being an integral component of both ordinary and extraordinary human activity.” P. 131

“Fela came of age during Nigeria’s struggle with the twin specters of colonial suffocation and impossibly romantic notions of independence.” 131

“In 1957 Fela went to study at The London School of Music, where he played hookey from classes in music theory to jam with jazz musicians and others in the international music community.” 134

“Against the background of the flashy, sophisticated technology of the American society that awed him, [Fela Kuti] saw people who were turning to Africa’s cultural treasures for inspiration and wisdom. The Autobiography of Malcolm X in particular convinced Fela to claim and explore his African identity, both personally and with his music.” 134

“Afrobeat amalgamated jazz, the funk of American soul singer/bandleader James Brown, highlife, traditional rhythms, and chanted declamatory vocals. The jazz element surfaced in the solo and ensemble horn work, which was melodically and harmonically more sophisticated than most African traditional music. The choppy, angular guitar and electric bass figures of James Brown – whose communal, rhythmic orchestrations were, ironically, an Africanization of Afro-American rhythm and blues – were utilized by Fela in a far more sophisticated context of African rhythms.” 134-135

Fela's lyrics, in contrast to the humorous, light-hearted moralizing of many other popular musicians, send uncompromising messages of point- ed social commentary, as reflected in such recordings as "Buy Africa," "Black Man's Cry," "Chop and Quench [Eat and Die]," "Fight to Fin- ish," and others. Fela's lyrics retain the personal touch found in the lyrics of African traditional music but, unlike Chief Commander Ebenezer Obey, King Sunny Ade, and other popular Nigerian performers, Fela eschews praise songs.” 135

“Fela writes his lyrics in Yoruba and in pidgin English, the linguafranca of urban Nigerians. He is probably the only major African musical artist to almost always print lyrics on album sleeves. The impact of these re- cordings on post-colonial Nigeria, which was foundering in waves of corruption, sweeping social change, and war, was immediate and profound. Suddenly the urban masses as well as progressive intellectuals and restive students - had a spokesperson, a catalyst for mounting challenges. Like traditional musicians, Fela was a lightning rod for the concerns of society, but unlike them he adopted a confrontational posture. Where tra- ditional musicians might admonish a chief or clan member with oblique satire, Fela would make naked accusations and blunt calls to action.” 136

“Much of Afrika 70's performances during the early '70s took place in Fela's own club, the Shrine, located in the Surulere section of Lagos. The name of the club reflected Fela's intention that it be more than a night- club; it was meant to be a place of communal celebration and worship, a rallying point of pan-African progressivism. Although many people at- tended to enjoy the music and the loose ecstasy of the rebellious hemp- smoking crowd, just as many were there to partake of Fela's vision of a new African society. Instead of ethnic or "tribal" communalism, as in traditional society, Fela's new society was pan-ethnic and pan- generational.
Afrika 70 performed on a stage at one end of a square, open-air court- yard edged with the flags of all African nations. A heaving mass of people crowded the dance floor. Performances began after 9:oo p.m., and, as with most African popular musical groups, lasted for many hours with few breaks. There weren't any formal introductions or other trappings of showmanship; the band simply began to play.” 137

“Fela focused his lyrics on themes such as economic empowerment (‘Buy Africa’), corruption (I.T.T., International Thief Thief’), colonial mentality (‘Yellow Fever,’ ‘Johnny Just Drop,’ ‘Gentleman’), urban chaos (‘Go Slow,’ ‘Upsidown’), and police brutality (‘Expensive Shit,’ ‘Trouble Sleep, Yanga Go Wake Am’). It was not uncommon for a performance to be stopped for a prayer or the pouring of libation to ancestral spirits, reflecting Fela’s increasing involvement with the traditional Yoruba Orisha religion. Fela would cajole, exhort, joke with and jeer at his audience, who, though replicating the Afrobeat pulse in their dancing, hung on his every word. The Shrine encompassed a little community, temporary perhaps, but one that expressed Fela’s concept of a liberated African society.” 139

“[Fela Kuti’s] communal household, dubbed Kalakuta Republic, encompassed much of his Africa 70 organization, which included not only his wife and children but also musicians, DJs, artists, equipment managers, and other workers, many of whom were young people who had run away from home of school. Kalakuta was often a refuge for dropouts – at the very least a teenager would be given some pocket money. Some would become members of the household and get allowances and jobs. Fela’s lifestyle was relatively simple: it encompassed eating, sleeping, rehearsing, performing, hemp-smoking, and love-making. The Nigerian press blossomed with photos of Fela standing in his underwear, blowing his saxophone in his yard; of bare-breasted young women lounging about; of insolent teenagers blowing clouds of hemp smoke. It’s difficult to overstate the impact of such unabashed flouting of convention in a decorum-conscious African society.”

Clashes [between Fela’s boys and the authorities] grew more violent until finally, in 1977, Kalakuta was burned to the ground in a full-scale attack by the military. One of Fela’s boys clashed with soldiers and fled to the Kalakuta compound. Soldiers surrounded the house, demanding that Fela hand over the man. When he refused, the soldiers charged, and Fela charged the electrified fence encircling the compound. But the power supply was cut off, and soldiers poured onto the grounds. Fela and his extended family were beaten; many of the women were raped. Musical equipment, master tapes, and films were destroyed; finally, the house was set afire, and Fela was temporarily imprisoned.
In the melee, Fela’s mother was thrown out a window. Her broken hip marked the beginning of her physical decline, leading to her death several months later. When she died, Fela took her body to the barracked quarters of Head of State Olusegun Obasanjo. The procession was depicted on the jacket of Coffin for Head of State (Kalakuta, 1981), an album that vilified Obasanjo.
When Fela was released from jail with all charges against him dropped, he sued the government. An inquiry blamed an ‘unknown soldier’ for the Kalakuta destruction. Fela went into self-imposed exile in Ghana.” 139-140

“In a television documentary, Music Is a Weapon, produced in 1981 by Stefan Tchalgalchieff, Fela delivered his artistic credo:

Yes, if you’re in England, you sing of enjoyment. You sing of love or … who you’re going to bed with next! But my society is underdeveloped because of an alien system imposed on my people. So there’s no music for enjoyment, for love, when there’s such a struggle for people’s existence. So, as an artist, politically, artistically, my whole idea about my environment must be represented in the music, in the arts. So art is what’s happening in a particular time of people’s development or underdevelopment. Music must awaken people to do their duty as citizens and act.” 140, 142

“For Fela, the paramount struggle for Africans is the battle against Western cultural imperialism. He wants Africans to reclaim an African identity by re-discovering their traditional religions (he has requently reviled both Christianity and Islam), traditional methods of healding, and indigenous lifestyles. In some realms, this is a simple matter. It is easy to prefer an agbada to a three-piece suit or pounded yam to French fries. But if one accepts television, telephones, automobiles, and other Western technology, there are social consequences.” 143

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