Can Nigerian Music Transcend Fela?

Can Nigerian Music Transcend Fela?

One Fela Kuti picture routinely turns up on the Internet. Etched in monochrome and set towards a backdrop of stage lights, saxophone suspenders run down a naked torso, two clenched Fela fists tower over a painted face.

It is widely emblazoned on T-shirts and graffiti partitions, recognisable like pictures of Bob Marley, Che Guevara or 2 Pac, as I grew up. If you happen to have been born within the early Nineteen Nineties like me, it's probably the primary Fela photograph you saw.

True to his name, Kuti, which roughly means ‘immortal’, 20 years after his death, Fela remains a visual cultural icon and represents for thousands and thousands of young individuals preternatural cool in fashion and charisma; also rebel, social activism, and, after all, musical genius. In downtown Lagos, Fela’s music plays on from loudspeakers to shuffling feet in small darkish rooms the place a lone fan screeches and beer is cheap; there is a Broadway show in his name. Fela is having a second still. He is acclaimed internationally and instructions a vast cult following among everyday individuals in his home country.

However in Ilesa, an in depth-knit city the place I grew up within the later nineties, Fela’s Afrobeat was rarely heard within the streets, compared to more folks appears like Fuji, juju, highlife, and even gospel music.

Nonetheless, I remember being quietly taken by the very black voice of a defiant man declaring an existential right to speak on ‘J’enwi Temi’. He sang, but principally he chanted ‘o le p’anu mi de’—you can not gag me—and that song possessed a sure esoteric thriller, in a way similar to Angelique Kidjo’s ‘Wombo Lombo’ which equally loved regular rotation on radio at that time. 'J’enwi Temi' was rendered in a language I oknew but barely understood: the lyrical composition was in a familiar Yoruba; however sonically it was jazzy, groovy, infectious, and funky as hell.

I would not come face-to-face with Fela until after university, marking a passage into adulthood. He became the gift that keeps on giving: at evening, while music pulses by means of the speakers, I would hum to the horns, and take my place within the call-and-response. Fela’s rituals had grow to be mine.

Fela survives in Nigerian pop culture as an inexhaustible trove of inspiration and lyrical template. From Burna Boy to Wizkid, any popular Nigerian artist, born in (or just before) the nineties, it appears, should nod to, or directly borrow from Fela. And there lies the Fela problem: he's scaffold and ceiling, patron and parameter.

Fela Kuti is the one everyone admires without critically aspiring to transcend. Certain up to date Naija artists who can not approximate Fela’s musical range or cultural influence, like Orezi in his current 'Cooking Pot' video, choose to Davido AuDio acceptable him.

Suppose this is why it grates to see Nigerian digital dance music sweepingly recognized as Afrobeats—Fela's creation with an 's'. Certainly, the music scene is haunted by the spirit of Fela Kuti, even if much of it should be more appropriately named for a more recent pioneer. It was Terry G who, in his hit tune, 'Free Madness', brazenly declared Nigerian pop music as a widely admitting freestyle session. Fela, however, was an achieved composer and multi-instrumentalist, having studied music professionally, and had stints performing as back-up vocalist with veteran highlife musician, Victor Olaiya; and in addition with the Koola Lobitos band. This already adds up to more rigour, profesionalism, and maybe privilege, than the emerging Nigerian artiste today can afford.

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