|Fela and the many women|
Fela, born on 15th October 1938 into a vortex of revolution; he was fed and nurtured on it. This invariably became his being - his very essence it was as if he Fela, the Abami Eda, the "one touched by divine hand", was destined for the role he was later to play - the Avenger of his mother's adversaries for what he came to consider a national rebuff and disgrace of his mother - by the Alhaji Tafawa Balewa Federal Government (1960- 66). A classical Oedipus inacted all be it with a different stroke. Fela's confrontation with authorities in Nigeria therefore, was an Egba feud played out on the national arena. A plot deep rooted like the kind of stuff political dynasties are made of - the struggle for power and control.
Mrs. Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti it was, it is recalled who mobilized Egba Women against taxation without representation - the fall out of which resulted in the temporal exile of the Alake of Egbaland, Oba Oladapo Ademola II, in 1948. She was one of the women pillars of the N.C.N.C., the National Council of Nigeria and the Cameroons and champion of Nigeria's independence. But not sooner was independence secured was Mrs. Kuti removed from political limelight (while people expected she would be given a political responsibility) and reduced to a back stage spectator. There were some public out cry. People felt Mrs. Kuti was unfairly treated by those in government and that it was a revenge. It was not long before the charges of victimization of Mrs. Kuti by the government surfaced and fingers pointed towares Sir Adetokunbo Ademola, the first Chief Justice of Nigeria, son of the dethroned Alake of Egbaland and a bosom friend of the Prime Minister. Also, Dr. N'namdi Azikiwe who deligthed in serving the crown of England by becoming the Governor General and later President of the Federal Republic and with whom she had worked incessantly and untiringly over the years raised no infringement flag on her behalf at least as far as the public could see. This event catapulted the feud from Egbaland to Lagos, the national center. It was easy to make conjectures about why Mrs. Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti was not rewarded with some political appointment for all her efforts and contributions. A theory of conspiracy was founded but the new political class in power acted as if all was well with everyone in the political landscape. Undoubtely Mrs. Kuti herself could not have been impassionate about all this. Some time or another she would have vented her resentment and condemnation of those she held responsible. This must have rubbed on Fela, hearing it over and over each time she was in London during the early sixties, when Fela was a student. Or it could also have been a mother-son-conversation no one was privileged to. If that sounds a bit far fetched and speculative, those who were at the burial and heard Fela's children Yeni, Femi and Seun say what their father, Fela, hated most and that they intended to honour - namely that Abiola and Obasanjo must never be President in Nigeria, will think differently. And Mrs. Kuti was no lesser a Fela, her son, who must have listened to his mother's invectives and opprobriums on her detractors.
However, what was without doubt was that Fela was passionately attached to his mother. He derived his motivations and strength from her. In such a relationship between mother and son, it is not uncommon that he may have vicariously internalised his mother's hurt and pains. The Kuti's have a code of conduct that abhors hypocrisy and pretence which they value above all else. They believe in the adage that, human make things happen and to never pass the buck if you can help it.
Whatever it was or planned, the seed had been sown: For Fela, it was just a matter of time and all things falling in place for the eventual confrontation with the foes of his mother. Those who new Fela from the early sixties in London watched as he metamorphosed from an cool and clean non-smoking, none-alcohol drinking teetotaller at the inception of the Koola Lobitos (1959-69) into Igbo belching revolutionary and a man of the people. All through his transformation, Fela bidded his time and searched for the appropriate message and weapon for his campaign. It was not until his trip to the United States of America in 1969 where for the first time he was to come to grips with political action in the normal course of his daily work - music brought him in contact with the Black Panther for Defence and opened his eyes to the struggle of the masses and the oppressed. Met a mentor, the beautiful Miss Sandra Daniele, read books on Black History. One book which motivated him greatly was "Black man of the Nile", Dusty Johnson gave him, written by Professor Ben Johanan, the Ethiopian. Fela learned fast and by the time he returned in 1970 to Nigeria, he had found the power of music and the weapon with which to send across his message Social Justice - black civilisation and history. Music in a way, has always been a source for social criticism. But never has any musician explored it like Fela. Hitherto music had remained ceremonial at the end of community or social events revolving around the life cycle of birth, coming of age, marriage and death; and group work. Never had anyone used it for socio-political struggle like Fela. His first hit Jeun Ko'ku released not too long after the end of the Nigeria/Biafra war was not ony timely it was appropriate and relevant.
Jeun Ko'ku in Yoruba could be interpreted in many ways.
1: It could mean "eat and die" simply like that or
2: could be directed at those sit tight politicians and soldiers in office refusing to let go while squandering the purse of the nation. A view popularly held at that time. It was an instant success.
Nigeria had just fought a successful major modern war and had emerged a united nation with a large military and potential for a rapid technological development. There were vocal expressions for change. And for Nigeria to capitalize on the gains of the war by charting a revolutionary development for Nigeria. Not long he released Mr. Who are you? Supposedly aimed at the then Lagos State Governor. But now Fela's music was like magnet, pulling all the progressives together - stirring peoples political consciousness and awareness. A national tour was arranged to get Fela further exposed to the people under the aegis of the Chris Okoli Promotions. Following the successful outcome of that tour and Fela's return to Lagos, a radical left wing organization known as the Nigerian Association of Patriotic Writers and Artistes - NAPWA - was founded including such members like Akin Ogunmade-Davies, now late, Wole Bucknor, Rasheed Gbadamosi, Bayo Martins, Kanmi Ishola Osobu, also late, Olu Akaraogun, Naiwu Osahon, Lindsay Barrett, Oladele Bank Olemoh, late John Chukwu, Frank Okonta, and others, it formed a Think Tank around Fela for the ideological development of Pan-Africanism with his Afro Beat Music, organize mass rallies and publicity strategy which made sure Fela was constantly in the news. It worked. In no time Fela had become a national household word in Nigeria. Afro Beat was played on the airwaves in Nigeria, Africa, Europe, and America gaining world attention. Contracts for international concerts were starting to flow in. Due to his influence foreign artistes like Ginger Baker, Paul McCartney, made recording Trips to Nigeria.
In 1974 Fela appeared with the great African American blues singer guitarist, B. B. King, in a joint promotion between the Music Foundation of Nigeria and the United States Information Service, at the Mobolaji Johnson Sport Center, Yaba. In 1976, John Darnton, an American journalist, who was at the time living in Lagos, wrote a column on Fela for the New York Times. The Nigerian government was unhappy with the article and Mr. John Darnton was promptly and unceremoniously whisked out of Nigeria. At the same time Fela was getting more defiant and popular. He had the Nigerian audience in his hands. He was at the peak of his creativity. Prolific and genial, he released more and more records, one following the other: Confusion, Lady, Shakara, No Poi, Yellow Fever, Eko Ile, Zombie, etc. Emboldenend by success, money, power and fame. Fela took on all the trappings of the super star having declared his house on Agege Motor Road "Kalakuta Republic". Fela now rides on the back of a donkey to performance in the Shrine across his house bringing all traffic from both ends of the main road to a standstill until Fela has finished crossing the road. Also, at this time, Fela was noticeably edgy, haughty, and reckless, allowing touts to openly display trays of Nigerian grass (Igbo) on the main side walks in contradiction of the law. Strange things begun to happen in Kalakuta, but first Remi, Fela's wife had to leave the house. Unseeming girls and crowd now surrounded him. There was definitely a change in the man. In retrospect it was as if Fela had ultimately decided "the time had come" - to fulfil his heart mission. This sure was for Fela a personal affair that no one needs to be involved. Both the tactical and operation plan of it he held close to his heart concealed from the world. It seemed clear that apart from the purely social struggle and Pan-Africanism that bound him with his intellectual co-equals, Fela must have had a hidden agenda they did not know. To keep on the charade he had to put on a mask, shutting himself off his former associates and confidants and reneging on professional associations and colleagues who held him in high esteem and surrounded himself with sycophants, yes, Sir, men and women, who were in no way compatible with his level and upbringing.
As chairman at one such meeting, he was requested to lead the meeting with a prayer. Fela bluntly renounced the suggestion and said:"For me, o, I do not pray" then stood up as he was walking away he retorted:"Na poor people dey form union" and left. Behold, that was the last attempt to form the National Union of Nigerian Musicians.
In Kalakuta he set himself up as the imperial Pasha of the commune.
Though everyone may call him Fela, but no one contradicts Fela. When he held court in his "State", his judgement was absolute. There was no other place to appeal above him. Once, when I attempted to mediate his ruling he said:"Santi, if you want to come back into this house, do not put yourself in my matter, I beg".