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Fela and his close friend, the author: Carlos Moore. 

There is no point reiterating the greatness of Olufela Anikulapo (“the one who carries death in his pockets”) Kuti. The pioneer of the genre of music called Afro Beat which draw upon, massively, from the rawness of Africa and the anguish of its peoples.

Fela among many other things, was a lover; of music, of women, of good weed, of Africa, of his dignity. He loved! And sometimes, this love would lead him behind cold bars of a cell; would imprint scars on his body as the whips of his torturers – our torturers – tore through his flesh but never his spirit. In a time of few heroes, Fela was the God sent who reminded us of our cowardice, as he always did, though prominently declared in Sorrow, Tears and Blood, decrying our readymade excuses to not fight back, to take shit smeared in our face because of one word: fear.

In 2018, it is worth knowing that we’re still afraid, still cowards not worthy of Fela, whose activism was a rare case of matching up to his artistry. A case could even be made for the latter triumphing.

Among many other things though, Fela was a author, although not directly. Released to acclaim was his biography titled Fela: This Bitch of a Life written by close friend Carlos Moore. Over the years, Moore would pick the words directly from the enigma and also his many wives, bringing to us (at most times), a first person account of Fela and a front row ticket to the glorious and painful relish which was his life.

In honour of Fela’s fuck you! way of life, today’s Top 5 Wednesday wouldn’t be a top five; instead, we’ll double that by presenting to you, ten quotes from Fela: This Bitch of a Life.

1.       “Africa, with her many peoples and cultures, is where the tragicomedy of the human race first fatefully presented itself, wearing a mask at once beautiful and horrendous. The Motherland, the cradle of civilization, acknowledged as the original birthplace of us all, where the body and soul of mankind sank earliest roots into the soil—Africa is, confoundingly, also the most reviled, wounded, and disinherited of continents. Africa, treasure trove of fabulous material and symbolic riches that throughout history have succoured the rest of the world, is yet the terrain that witnesses the greatest hunger ever, for bread and for justice.”

2.       “It wasn’t until around 1946 or ’47 that I began understanding what my mother was fighting for. She was organizing a big protest demonstration with the women of Abeokuta. She was protesting on the streets with the women. And they went straight to see the District Officer of Abeokuta. He was a young white boy; one of those fresh British guys who tried getting arrogant with my mother. She had gone to see him to expose the demonstrators’ grievances. The District Officer must have said something in a disdainful voice, like: “Go on back home.” To which my mother exploded: “You bastard, rude little rat …!” Something like that. Ohhhhhhhhh! What a scandal! It was something heavy at that time. And the news went around like fire, man. The Daily News, the national newspaper then, printed the story immediately. Imagine insulting the highest motherfucking representative of the British imperial crown in Abeokuta. Ohhhhhhhh, man! I was proud. People in Abeokuta talked about nothing else but that incident and “Bere”. “Bere” was my mother’s nickname. And I would just beam with pride.”

3.       “In school I remember we had a newspaper and there was a club formed around it. That was always the system of schools. So I decided to form a club too. Guess what I named it? The “Planless Society”. I was sixteen then and was in Class Four. The rule of the club was simple: we had no plans. You could be called upon to disobey orders at any time. Disobedience was our “law”. We’d take my mother’s car, for example. We loved the night, man. We’d go to Lagos, nightclubbing. Oh, wow, I was finally getting a taste of life, the real life!”

4.       “I went back to Nigeria, but soon after returned to Ghana in ’68. One day I was with a friend sitting down in a club in Accra, listening to soul music. Everybody was playing soul, man, trying to copy Pino. I said to myself: “This James Brown music. … This is what’s gonna happen in Nigeria soon-o.” I saw it so clearly. That’s why I said to myself, “I have to be very original and clear myself from shit.” I was still hustling. Hustling to make bread. “I must clear myself from this mess. I must identify myself with Africa. Then I will have an identity.” That’s what I was thinking to myself. Raymond Aziz, a Nigerian-Ghanaian who was sitting next to me, looked at me kind of pensively.

“You OK, man?” he asked.

I said: “Raymond, you see that my music. I must give it a name-o, a real African name that is catchy. I’ve been looking for names to give it. And I’ve been thinking of calling it Afro-beat.”

He said: “Yehhhhhh! That’s a good name.”

I said: “Thank you.”

5.       “The Biafran war was still on. One day Duke came up with an idea: to release a pro-government record just so we could get some bread, man. I wanted to hustle the Nigerian government to back my band. So I wrote a song: “Keep Nigeria One”. Now, wait a minute-o. You see, it wasn’t my idea. It was Duke Lumumba’s idea. It was he who was putting the money down. You see, Duke had this old woman he would take money from. He went to the old woman and she gave him $2,500. So he got this studio to do this recording and said to me, “Fela, I have to make just one record that the Nigerian government will like, just in case the government will want to back the band.” So we made this tune. It was just bullshit: “Nigeria, we must not fight ourselves we must be like brothers. …” I feel so bad about that record now; I was on Biafra’s side. But it wasn’t my idea. Anyway, nothing came of it.”

6.       “Then one day I was in her house sleeping. We weren’t talking about politics then, just business. I don’t remember what happened exactly. I must have said something ‘cause she said, “Fela, don’t say that! Africans taught the white man. Look, the Africans have history!” I said, “They don’t have shit, man. No history, man. We are slaves.” She got up and brought me a book. She said I should read it. Then she said, “I was in jail for three months, Fela.” I asked her why. She got up, brought a newspaper cutting, showed it to me. She said, “Look, one day, I went to a Black Panther protest rally in Los Angeles and during the protest. …” You see, she was so mad, man. She had gone up to this policeman and kicked this policeman’s ass, man. Whaaaaam! She escaped that day. But when they played back what happened on the television, they recognized her. “

7.       “I was heavy into the book she’d given me to read. It was the first book I’d read since I’d stopped reading all that nonsense from when I was in London. The only book I’d read then was a music history book for my college examination. But this book, I couldn’t put it down: The Autobiography of Malcolm X. It was the first book since the long spell of not reading. This man was talking about the history of Africa, talking about the white man. … Ohhhhhh! I never read a book like that before in my life. After Simon Templar – that fictitious man I’d wanted to imitate – here was a true story, about a MAN! Can you imagine how it took me? Ohhhhh! I said, “This is a MAN!” I wanted to be like Malcolm X! Fuck it! Shit! I wanted to be Malcolm X, you know. I was so unhappy that this man was killed. Everything about Africa started coming back to me.”

8.       Supposedly Obasanjo’s family knew mine. At least, that’s what I’ve been told. But I can’t remember meeting him when I was a child. One of my friends told me I had. He even showed me a picture of Obasanjo visiting my school. He said we’d met at that time. He even told me that Obasanjo would often come to our school to play with us. But I don’t remember him, man. I swear. He’s only a year older than me, so we’re about the same age. We were born in the same town. We went to school at about the same time, he to Baptist Boys’ High School and me to Abeokuta Grammar School. Both schools always had things together, like sports and things like that.

But I don’t remember him from that time.”

9.       “The position of women? Do I see man as being naturally superior to women? Naturally. Why? Well, I wouldn’t say superior. I’d say dominant. Yes, dominant. Dominant is the word I want, not superior. Dominant means that there must be a master. Men are the masters, not women. When you say the “master of the house”, you mean the head of the household: the father, not the woman, man. That’s life, man. Natural life. Life is based on nature. The nature we don’t see now. You can’t ask me “Which nature?” ‘cause you can’t see nature. You understand?

“What I’m saying is that there’s a natural order which says that man must be dominant. Yeah! The advantage is that one has more strength, can carry heavy loads. He can even carry the woman when she is tired. More strength. But the woman is more subtle. She is more passive and that is the way it’s supposed to be, ‘cause that enables her to take care of the house. You can’t have two dominances. One must be dominant and the other passive. Then you have a smooth life. There must always be a leader. Even among spirits, there’s a head spirit!”

10.   “Who was I? It was in America I saw I was making a mistake. I didn’t know myself. I realized that neither me nor my music was going in the right direction. I came back home with the intent to change the whole system. I didn’t know I was going to have … such horrors! I didn’t know they were gonna give me such opposition because of my new Africanism. How could I have known? As soon as I got back home I started to preach. I had decided to change my music. And my music did start changing according to how I experienced the life and culture of my people.”

Buy Fela: This Bitch of a Life here

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