Can Nigerian Music Transcend Fela?

Can Nigerian Music Transcend Fela?

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

It is extensively emblazoned on T-shirts and graffiti partitions, recognisable like photographs of Bob Marley, Che Guevara or 2 Pac, as I grew up. If you happen to were born in the early Nineties like me, it is likely the first Fela photo you saw.

True to his name, Kuti, which roughly means ‘immortal’, 20 years after his dying, Fela stays a visible cultural icon and represents for tens of millions of younger individuals preternatural cool in fashion and charisma; additionally riot, social activism, and, in fact, musical genius. In downtown Lagos, Fela’s music performs on from loudspeakers to shuffling toes in small darkish rooms the place a lone fan screeches and beer is reasonable; there is a Broadmanner show in his name. Fela is having a moment still. He's acclaimed internationally and instructions an enormous cult following amongst everyday people in his dwelling country.

However in Ilesa, a detailed-knit town the place I grew up in the later nineties, Fela’s Afrobeat was not often heard in the streets, compared to more folks feels like Fuji, juju, highlife, and even gospel music.

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

I would not come face-to-face with Fela till after college, marking a passage into adulthood. He became the reward that retains on giving: at night, while music pulses through the speakers, I might hum to the horns, and take my place in the call-and-response. Fela’s rituals had turn out to be mine.

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

Fela Kuti is the one everybody admires with out critically aspiring to transcend. Sure modern Naija Vibes artists who can not approximate Fela’s musical range or cultural influence, like Orezi in his current 'Cooking Pot' video, select to acceptable him.

Suppose this is why it grates to see Nigerian digital dance music sweepingly identified as Afrobeats—Fela's creation with an 's'. Certainly, the music scene is haunted by the spirit of Fela Kuti, even when a lot of it must be more appropriately named for a more current pioneer. It was Terry G who, in his hit tune, 'Free Madness', overtly declared Nigerian pop music as a widely admitting freestyle session. Fela, then again, 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 likewise with the Koola Lobitos band. This already adds up to more rigour, profesionalism, and perhaps privilege, than the rising Nigerian artiste right now can afford.