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Sola Olorunyomi

3. The Empire Sounds Back

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  • 1 . This is an excerpt from Remi Raji’s “An underground poem”, in A Harvest of Laughter. (Ibadan: Kra (...)
  • 2 . Excerpts from Obi Nwakama’s “A String Lullaby” for Fela Anikulapo-Kuti.

My body is a temple
Of angry music
Flames in my brain
Itching forms in my blood
—Remi Raji1
Whoever chose the path of stones
Whoever wove the tunes into the clouds,
and made the street jump
in the frenzy of a dance
or made the heads of the Palm sway
In the eternal parable of the wind
let them gather
a timeless wind crossed our path.
Obi Nwakama2

  • 3 . See The Empire Writes Back by Bill Ashcroft, Gareth Riffiths and Helen Tiffin. (London and New Yo (...)

1I shall proceed in this chapter by identifying the stylistic strategies with which Fela consciously canonized indigenous performance modes, against the ‘privileging norm’ of Western musical tradition of Trinity College, London, where he studied in the early sixties. While the influences on him were undoubtedly varied, the Yorùbá-Africa aesthetic universe served as the fountain head of an artistic practice and imagination with which he emphasized difference “from the assumptions of the imperial center”3

  • 4 . See Françoise Lionet’s Post Colonial Representations: Women, Literature, Identity. (Ithaca and Lo (...)

2As a distant echo of The Empire Writes Back (1989), by Bill Ashcroft et. al., and somewhat implicated by its currency in contemporary academic discourse, I use the term ‘post-colonial’ in certain sections of this chapter and book, but my usage is by no means suggestive of an aftermath of colonialism that denies the reality of neo-colonialism, dependence, and imperialism, no matter the subtleties of international finance capital in the post World War II era. The term, for me, is akin to the sense of ’post-contact’; that is, predating the independence of the colonies, as used by Francoise Lionet (1995), as a “condition that exists within, and thus contests and resists, the colonial moment itself with its ideology of domination.”4 While not denying the fact that conditions of marginality do induce their own circumstances for the outburst of creative energy it needs to be added that the cultural ingredients from which this impact was made, in the case of Fela’s Afrobeat, was not always ‘post-contact’ but hewn largely from an ebullient tradition prior to the colonial encounter. Even with its relative timidity at expressing difference, the earlier West African Highlife had signaled the possibility of a plural practice of music.

  • 5 . Op. Cit. (The Empire Writes Back.)

3Moreover, Fela’s choice of pidgin English as a medium of lyrical composition and general use, even if primarily motivated by the desire to reach out, must be seen as a tacit attempt to achieve what Ashcroft et. al. also describe as ‘abrogation and appropriation.’ The validity invested in the form by Fela, as an other’s legitimate medium of communication, in itself constitutes a step at abrogation, while its deviant form of reconstituting standard usage of English language, and reinvesting them with new meanings, amounts to no less than appropriation, a unique way of “de-colonizing the language.”5 Presumably, for example, the English language could not have anticipated the noun ‘gentleman,’ either as a referent of an idiot or an impostor; but this precisely is its lyrical rendition in the track, Gentleman. When Fela sings of “we we” as against “dem dem”, or “suffer-head” as against the subversive “jefa-head” (ITT), he is simply investing a youthful pidgin language with registers that delineate class-laden values and power relations. By retaining a structural similarity albeit partially with standard English as the ‘head’ in ’jefa-head’, he dilutes meaning in a manner that can still afford recognition. The nature of sameness in the earlier ‘dem’ is equally testimonial to this tradition, though at the phonological level with the standard English ’them.’

‘Griotique’

4Expressing authenticity in cultural terms, as he had often done in his political rhetoric, meant tapping into an African folkloric past and taking from these diverse sources aesthetic forms that he transposed into contemporary and an urban context. He was particularly animated about the past due to what he perceived as the absence of an elite-driven indigenous mode of knowledge production in the aftermath of colonialism, which contrasted with other such examples he could confidently cite in relation to selective aspects of pre-colonial Africa. To buttress this past in a single performance like Clear Road for Jaga-Jaga, for instance, he fuses the Peul Gerewol rhythm with the Hausa Gumbe (both, initiation motions), and the latter known as such through Sierra Leone and the Caribbean islands, with other traditional formulae as call and response, wordplay game of abuse and its sense of irony

  • 6 . See appendix section on Call and Response Procedures in Fela Ransome-Kuti’s Shuffering and Shmili (...)

5His call and response technique is particularly involving, as Willie Anku’s examination of Shuffering and Shmiling has shown by his identification of three features of the form: alternating—“where the chorus picks up from the end of the call”; overlapping—“where the call section starts while the chorus passage is not yet ended”; and interlocking—“where repeated chorus passages and the call sections integrate.” The technique itself further reinforces the art-society dialectic in the sense that it defines the communal ethos of many African societies where, according to Anku, the entire community—the chorus—provides a response to, and anticipates the music leadership—the call.6

6This attitude finds greater significance in the general poetic craft of the ensemble, both in its lyrical and instrumental-rhythmic patterns. Then there is also the attitude to poetry expressed by Fela, which largely informs his artistic practice. In a 1982 interview with Lasisi Ehimele Braimoh, he said this much of poetry:

  • 7 . From Braimoh’s “Fela Anikulapo-Kuti: A Misunderstood Poet”, a 1980 B.A. project in the English De (...)

Poetry to me is music. Poetry is an expression which is understood the way the poet wants his audience to understand it. Everyday talking is poetry an everyday occurrence. Who chooses poetry? Is it because some people are well read that they think they can arrogate to themselves the power to pinpoint poetry? No, man, poetry is everywhere. The whiteman makes them difficult to understand by putting for example what they call poetic verse.7

  • 8 . View expressed by Magorie in Anatomy of Poetry. (London: 1955, 1977.)

7Central to this observation are his twih concepts of ‘audience’ and ‘poetic verse’ with which he expressed preference for the free verse tradition and a poetry of communal creation and participation, an echo of a romantic tradition. A sort of modern-day griot, Fela’s inclination is much aligned to Boulton Margorie’s view that the blank verse, “Without a traditional metrical form, has made the reproduction of normal speech rhythm more exact than is possible within the conventional verse forms.”8 Fela’s romantic vision of the poetic craft exhibits an all-inclusive perspective of the arts and the environment we live in as evinced in the same interview with Braimoh. According to him:

  • 9 . See the Braimoh interview.

In about 20 years time, Europeans and Americans won’t be able to walk inside the rain because of atmospheric pollution caused by industrial wastes. What I want from technology and advancement is less difficulty for the human race.9

  • 10 . Ibid. See p. 4 of the same interview.
  • 11 . See F. Kermode, and J. Hollander (eds.) The Oxford Anthology of English Literature. (Vol. I Londo (...)
  • 12 . See Wole Soyinka’s “The Writer in a Modern State,” in (ed.) Per Wastberg’s, The Writer in Modern (...)

8If you must have a balanced artist, he says, you need a knowledge of your environment, and the ability to appreciate suffering and privation. It is only then that “you will have a higher mind; if you don’t see your environment, you can’t be an artist.”10 Relating this perception of the artist’s role in society to the activist art and politics he pursued can hardly be said to be gratuitous. Making poetry accessible to the widest possible publics was for him obligatory in the Wordsworthian sense of writing in “the language of men.”11 There is a sense in which he was partly re-inscribing a tradition of the artist in Africa (and we must presume, in all folk environments), as Soyinka says, “as the record of mores and experience of his society and as the voice of a vision in his own time.”12

9Fela fused this poetic attitude with a particularly traditional satirical mode of story telling; and for the satirist in his context, a tilt towards cultural activism was almost inevitable. As in the griot tradition, such an artist combines both social history and his personal autobiography as a critical launching pad in this process of myth-reading. Preempting the opponent’s rebuttal, for instance, the Yorùbá traditional poet first declaims himself, satirizing his own background including possible physical deformities from which he might be suffering. He further highlights his hidden past, just in case he is in error of such secrecy and then takes on his target. Fela, in BONN, starts by referring to himself as “basket mouth” who is about to start “to leak again o.” Through that self-exposure, he has weaned others from any license of criticism they might have of both his art and the message thereon. Besides the other names alluded to in Colonial Mentality, as examples of cultural self-negation, he includes his own family name too, “Mr. Ransome make you hear, colo-mentality” It is a potent, leveling performance mold by which traditional society ensured that figures of power got an accurate account of the community’s feeling toward them; and this is assured since the bearer of the tale is protected by the season of license during which such an unraveling usually occurs. The context of this mode of performance at the Afrika Shrine, however, takes on an added character, and this is exhaustively explored in the next chapter, along with the immediate folk influences that define the practice.

  • 13 . This suggestion was made by the musician Tunji Oyelana.

10Added to this ambience of the folk artist he recreates is the incorporation in song lyrics of the artist’s compositional techniques. In BONN, he renders in a speech mode: “To play African music, you must be able to produce a real groove, and then you introduce the drum.” Another measure of oral performance technique is exhibited shortly afterward when in the same studio-recorded track he invites the player of the second bass guitar to key in: “second bass o jare.” Sometimes, this compositional device is merely an acknowledgment of the intertextual relationship with ritual practice as in Why Blackman Dey Suffer, where he reenacts a ritual tune, adding a note on its origin: “This rhythm is called ’Kogini kókó, kogini jèjè’, used in some particular kinds of shrines in my hometown, Abeokuta city; it goes like this, ko-gi-ni kó-kó ko-gi-ni jè-jè.” There are suggestions that this particular rhythm is derived from the Oló-molú ritual festival of the Ègbá.13 It is, however, in Look and Laugh that the. bond between artist and audience is given full expression, such as to almost defy the inherent separation of a studio-recorded album. Here, as in Unknown Soldier too, the community is represented by the chorus to whom a plaintive narrative voice explains why he had not waxed any record lately

Since long time I never write new tune
Long time I never write new song
Many of you go dey wonder why
Your man never sing new song
My brother no be so tabi I wan keep quiet
My brother no be so tabi I no wan write new song
For you to think and be happy
I just dey looku and dey laughu
For a long while now I haven’t written a new tune
For a long while now I haven’t written a new song
And many of you [that is the fans] would wonder why
Your man has not sung a new song
My brother it isn’t that I simply want to keep quiet
My brother it isn’t also that I simply do not want to write
a new song
To excite your imagination and aid deep reflection
I am only for now simply observing and laughing

  • 14 . Cite Iranus, Eibl-Eibesfeldt in Ethology: The Biology of Behaviour. (New York: Holt, Reinehart an (...)
  • 15 . Cite Richard Schechner in Essays on Performance Theory. (1977 rpt as Performance Theory. New York (...)

11This concept of laughter, as a reaction to an adversarial circumstance, continues to serve as a powerful aesthetic tool in many cultures. Iranus Ebil-Eibesfeldt suggests that, “in its original form, laughing seems to unite against a third force.”14 Richard Schechner, also in this connection, notes that, “Laughter presupposes, even creates, a ‘we’ that opposes a ’them.’”15 And in Nigeria, the theme of laughter as an aesthetic intervention in socio-political life preoccupies the poetry of Niyi Osundare (Waiting Laughters, 1990) and Remi Raji (A Harvest of Laughter, 1997).

12In the tradition of the Egba folk artist, Fela alludes rather liberally to, and evokes, a sensuous imagery in many of his compositions, even within a serious thematic concern. And beyond the èfè tradition, sexual allegories have always powered on the imaginative subsoil of even the most elevated Yorùbá mythopoesis. Wole Soyinka’s creative rendition of a cognomen of the deity, Ògún, is rendered thus:

  • 16 . See Wole Soyinka’s Idanre and Other Poems. (London: Methuen, 1967, p. 72.)

Ogun is the lascivious god who takes
Seven gourdlets to war One for gunpowder,
One for charms, two for palm wine and three
Air-sealed in polished bronze make
Storage for his sperm16

13From available evidence, this tradition continues to flourish among the Ègbá, and was indeed, part of Fela’s growing experience. The protesting women, led by Fela’s mother, who deposed a ruling Ègbá (Alake) monarch, equally resorted liberally to this allegory as an intertextual formula, even while subverting the phallic symbol, when they sang:

  • 17 . See Cheryl Johnson-Odim’s and Nina Emma Mba’s For Wimen and the Nation: Funmilayo Ransome Kuti of (...)

Idowu (Alake), for a long time you have used your penis as a mark of authority that you are our husband. Today we shall reverse the order and use our vagina to play the role of husband on you. O you men, vagina’s head will seek vengeance.17

  • 18 . See David Coplan’s In Township Tonight! (London: Longman, 1977, p. 23.)

14The bond with poetry is also expressed in acoustics and instrumentation in two principal ways: one, through a musical practice that occasionally derives signature rhythms from notes of folk tunes and songs; and, two, the tendency to make instruments more or less ‘vocalize’ and ‘speak.’ This is quite similar to the experience captured by David Coplan in relation to Zulu music, of which he notes its use of instruments as “an indirect extension of the principles of vocal music.”18 After a while, even when Fela had not set out to give instrumental transcription of songs, this practice came to be associated with many of his easily chantable notes. Given an environment where citizens sought to get even with a thieving elite, many of Fela’s tracks got ‘rewaxed’ through such creative reception of Afrobeat’s interpretive community.

  • 19 . See J.H. Kwabena Nketia’s “The Poetry of Akan Drums.” (Black Orpheus: A Journal of the Arts in Af (...)
  • 20 . Listen particularly to “Weary Blues” by Langston Hughes, and co-produced with Charles Mingus and (...)

15This is, again, a very pervasive ‘talking drum’ musical syndrome of the Yorúbá. As with the earlier example of the ritual sound, “ko-gi-ni kó-kó,” my finding indicates an Ègbá Olómolú ritual drum rhythm with no vocal accompaniment; yet, Fela talks of it as if it is verbalized sound, only because he could decipher the linguistic inflection of the talking drum’s coded tonal text. In this respect, one finds an attitude to instrumentation that gravitates between the signal or speech mode and a combination of the two, besides the more experimental dance mode.19 Yet, a track like Everyday I got my Blues deeply resonates an American soul music experience. With its rather languid pace, yet swift change in vocal tempo, and the constant punctuation in rests, the track evokes a similar structural pattern with some of the Harlem Renaissance poetry of Langston Hughes.20

16Besides, Fela’s genius is quite often exhibited in the poetic quality of his composition. This feature resides in a style that makes the instrumental section convey diverse moods. In an attempt to capture a sense of social decay and chaos in Army Arrangement, a combination of notes both on the keyboard and the horn section is introduced such as to effect an apparent discordance in the chord sequence. This is combined effectively with ensemble stratification as multiple layers of different sections are simultaneously playing off and to rhythm. In BONN, Fela gradually builds the chorus in an ascendant progression, at the height of which rests are suddenly inserted. This forces the beat to revert to a new time line, which is defined afresh by the rhythm guitar—thus creating beauty with such contrast from a maximum rhythm, to a plain hocketing device that nonetheless intensifies expressive effect. At other times, he introduces instrumental chiasmusby reversing the note or scale order, in a tradition that is reminiscent of many West African traditional musical compositions. Then, there are instrumental jam sessions when the entire ensemble appears as if turned into a momentary house of madness; and this is when the symphonic element in his composition is most noticeable. In Army Arrangement, all the wind instruments start blowing to a finale and suddenly the trumpet withdraws into a shorter time line. This is reiterated for a while after which the dissonant notes join the main ensemble, and together they glide into a new movement.

  • 21 . Cite Vic Giammon in “Problem of Method in Historical Study of Popular Music.” (Sweden: Popular Mu (...)

17Does this suggestion of instrumental behavioral pattern imply that music encodes ideology? This is indeed not the intended suggestion, especially if by “encode” we imply inscription in its scalic forms. Vic Giammon has somewhat clarified this relationship by noting that when we make such assumption that music inherently encodes ideology we have only altered the true relationship of music as an art form that is ideologically that is socially invested with meaning. Even these contextual social meanings are neither eternal nor immutable, just as signifier and signified are not fixed, and in the words of Giammon, “meanings are produced because both are part of systems of difference.”21

  • 22 . Margaret Drewal makes a comparison between the Egba Parikoko mask whose extended embroidery she d (...)

18Fela’s attitude to the ensemble is undoubtedly one of an orchestra, and a musical extended family such as the traditional Yorùbá (household) ebí. This is also no less a statement of a projected corporate power and image of the band, in the same tradition of large bàtá ensembles or even the horizontal strength displayed by the Ègbá Párìkókó mask, whose extended embroidery denotes large kinship ties, in the same manner that Margaret Drewal suggests its corollary with verticality, as a projection of corporate power in big cities like New York.22

19In the bid to negate the assumptions of cultural practices of center nations as normative culture, Fela grafts a myriad of Yoruba and other African folk compositional styles and injects into them practices from other parts of the world. The center nations, for Fela, are not only the industrialized countries of the West; he redefines the center-periphery model in cultural terms. This new formulation implicates the source-nations (and regions) of Islamic and Christian influence—two major religions contesting the Nigerian spiritual space—and it is hardly imaginable that a Fela yabbis session would not devote some time to questioning the claims of these faiths and the privileges extended to them by the state. In cognitive-aesthetic terms, he employs registers of Òrìsà worship as an allegory of alternative spirituality and the need for cultural reawakening. The refrains of votaries of the oro cult is an important signifier of silenced cultural options which he often uses.

20An explanation of its contemporary performance and a short background of the cult’s origin might help to further illustrate the point. The annual celebration of the orò festival is geared toward driving off evil, while at the same time celebrating life in a community The festival’s entourage excludes women, as they are forbidden to behold it; and in its regular rounds in a community, the orò exposes deviant traits of members of the community, spotlights taboos, and admonishes their contravention. In doing so, the orò is empowered by a season of poetic license to denounce even the community’s most senior citizens, including the (king) Oba. A testimony to such license was given by a member of the king’s court in Saga-mu, Otunba Julius Olapeju Adekunle Adedoyin when he noted that:

  • 23 . See The Comet, Saturday July 24, 1999, p. 8.

if anybody steals and thinks that nobody knew about it, the oro would expose and castigate the person. Even the last [festival] one that just ended, the [king] Kabiyesi said he listened attentively when they came near the palace.23

  • 24 . Ifa is the Yorùbá system for unraveling past mysteries and foretelling the future; it shares the (...)
  • 25 . In Yorùbá mythology Olodumare is generally regarded as the highest of the divinities.
  • 26 . This is how Wole Soyinka describes this primeval creator of forms.
  • 27 . This is also corroborated by Adeoye C.L. in Igbagbo ati Esin Yorùbá. (Ibadan: Evans Brothers, 198 (...)

21Yorùbá mythology teaches that oro was originally an Ifá diviner24 whom Olódùmárè25 honored, and subsequently became the assistant of Obatala, “god of the plastic arts.”26 At some point in the interaction, oro committed treachery against Obatala and was demoted on account of this. Shocked by the prospects of this demotion, oro broke down and began to express his regret by wailing, to which his votaries would later respond in “éèpa,” “yéèpa,” “yéèpàrìpà.”27 In many Yoriiba folk tales, the chorus of songs could generally take the oro responsorial form, depending on the gravity of the theme of narration. In popular usage, the phrase has come to denote only a degree of anguish.

22With Fela, this ritual code is reconstructed to depict a continent’s betrayal by its post-independence ruling classes. Hence, in a number of his lyrics, we find a profusion of cultic refrains meant to connote the depth of anguish of the man on the fringe who has been victimized by state policy The resort to this device is more representative in Original Suffer Head and Overtake Don Overtake Overtake (ODOO).

23The scandal in African governments’inability to provide basic essentials like electricity without persistent power outages, decent running water, and shelter at the threshold of the millennium is the basis for invoking this mythological yell in

24Original Suffer Head:

Water, light
Food, house
Yee-paripa-o
Wetin do dem

  • 28 . See Wole Soyinka’s Myth, Literature and the African World. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press (...)

25This form approximates what Soyinka calls a ‘choric’ lament, which is better exemplified in his description of tragedy in traditional Yoruba myth as “the anguish of (cosmic) severance, the fragmentation of essence from self”28 If anything, what the Fela narrator seeks is a means by which that severance could be bridged, or at least diminished.

26In ODOO, the refrain comes in the form of “ee-yà,” a lexical contraction of “eeríwo-yà” of the Ogbóni cult, and it is tinged with pathos because Overtake Don Overtake Overtake (ODOO)—which means that the solution has been overwhelmed by the problem. Coupled with his Yoruba rendition of the acronym into odo—a zero state—Africa’s stasis under the grip of its despots can hardly be more graphically depicted.

27In the case of ITT, its general structure is a hybrid between the egúngún alárìnjó dance mask and efe performance. And it is with this structure that Fela contests transnational meddlesomeness in national affairs. It starts off with the íjúbà or homage, paid usually to ancestors and forerunners of the art form. This is followed by a statement of intent, which could also be accompanied with a vow of honesty and truth in the subsequent presentation. The message is then delivered after these preliminary acts of ‘path-clearing.’ Meant to restore the collective health of the community the message, as in an Ègbá èfè satirical performance, could be quite blunt, even if laced with witticism and irony Èfè is biting and does draw venom, during its season of license, like the Udge satirical form of the Urhobo and Akpaja of the Ishan. With Fela, however, there is only one long, eternal season of license, which is unhindered by place or time.

28In the track, Fela starts with a rather rapid incantatory form, similar to ògèdè, usually delivered in a fast but normal voice pitch. Here we have wellu wellu wellu wellu welluwelluwelluwelluwellu. Apparently given the import of the subsequent lyrics, he pays homage to the ancestors and diverse African deities. He invokes their wrath on himself, and calls on these deities to strike him if his subsequent narration departs from the noble path of truth.

Na true I wan talk again o
If I dey lie o
Make Osiri punish me o
Make Edumare punish me o
Make land punish me o
Make Ifa dey punish me o
It is the truth that I am about to tell again
If I ever lie
May Osiris punish me
May Edumare punish me
May land punish me
May Ifa punish me

29This device of invoking ancestors and transcendental essences is particularly significant in the Yorùbá mythic imagination, and its ìjúbà tradition. Even though ìjúbá, which implies paying homage—either to ancestors or forerunners of an art form—is more a feature of the apidán masking tradition, other less sacred and social performance traditions have come to embrace it. With due process observed, the artist launches his tirade, which Fela amply does in this track, at the height of which, like in the èfè tradition, he names the culprits, “like Obasanjo and Abiola” whom he claims are undermining national aspiration by collaborating with transnational interests.

  • 29 . Given that Ògún is symbolized with iron, considered a central ore in industrial production, the d (...)

30When not manipulating the more subtle cultic cultural codes in his composition, he makes direct allusions, through exaltation, to his patron-saint deities and embellishes their attributes in the tradition of oral heroic poetry Hence, in Condom he exalts Yemoja, the Yorùbá river goddess, and Ògún—variously described as god of iron, creativity and patron of the industrial working class.29 Here, he sings:

Great Yemoja
Great Yemoja
Great Yemoja (o mother) yeye o, we greet you
goddess
Great Yemoja
Goddess of all water o, we greet you goddess
Great Yemoja

Further on, he reverts to Ógún:

We greet you o great Ogun o
We greet you
We greet you o great Ogun o
You are di god wey be di enemy of oppression
You are di god wey be di enemy of injustice
We greet you
We greet you, o great Ogun o
We pay homage to you great Ogun
We pay homage to you
We pay homage to you, great Ogun
You are the deity who is opposed to oppression
You are the deity who is opposed to injustice
We pay homage to you
We pay homage to you, great Ogun

31Evidence of traditional forms in Fela’s performance have often been discussed largely in terms of external digression, or, at best, as overt verbal allusion by the artist to such influences. However, as indicated in ITT, beyond cursory allusion to such forms, Fela’s songs are substantially structured ab initio around such motifs as riddle and divination. And as in Underground System (US), it is the structure of àló àpámò (riddle, as distinct from àló àpágbè—which is generically a folktale), that he uses. While also exhibiting attributes of the folktale, àló àpámò is a hidden transcript that thrives on symbolic association and discovery by its players. It is structured around a riddle image that must be decoded. An example of the form can be derived from the poser: “A slim, long stick touches the sky and the ground, what is it?” Or, “What is it that builds a house but would rather live in the open?” The standard answers to the two are “rain” and “a bee.” This structure is equally quite evident in the transposed literary tradition of the Yorùbá diaspora of Cuba. The poet Nicolas Guillén appropriated this form (àló àpámò) in the entire five stanzas of his poem, “Riddles.” Also couched in the form of call and response technique, the first stanza reads:

In his teeth, the morning,
and in his skin, the night.
Who is it? Who is it not?
—The Negro

32This is the precise form the poser is put in US:

We be about fourteen of us
We dey do one club together
When e reach by turn by turn

About fourteen of us
Formed an exclusive club
To take our turns one after another

33But, who are the fourteen “of us” doing “one club together”? Later in the song we come to realize that the reference is to member countries of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS). It is a measure of fidelity to an ancient narrative tradition that he does not specify the members of this club, hence, “about fourteen of us.” Also incorporated in this narrative technique is the èsúsú tradition of the Yorùbá mutual benefit society wherein monetary contribution is made, with each member taking turns to collect the whole, at specified intervals. A member who consciously defaults, having benefited from the pool, is deemed treacherous for violating the trust of the community. The necessity for the evocation of this form becomes clearer once the song reveals the gang up by conservative regimes “Nigeria, Ivory Coast and Senegal”, against the aspiration of the young, radical leader of Burkina Faso, Thomas Sankara, from becoming the Chairman of the regional body Meanwhile, this triumvirate is ‘defaulting’ having benefited from their leadership of the regional body

34While the compositional style of ITT is thought to be generally extensive in depicting ritual motion, BBC is particularly intensive in capturing that critical interface of the diviner’s exploration in mythological space and the return to a more historical time frame. The three basic motions of divination— which involve exploring, encountering/deciphering, and pronouncing—are relived both in the song text and the rhythmic pattern. The moment of exploration in divination is typified by the forlorn look betrayed by the (diviner) Babalawo, who is momentarily ‘lost’ in the journey to the other world as he tries to decipher the ritual script. He may fall into occasional soliloquy with his ritual text, querying it or answering its queries. “What is this my eyes are seeing?” is a familiar way the Babalawo expresses surprise at an unfolding divination. Almost invariably the preoccupation is with “seeing.” Even when he eventually “sees”—that is, deciphers—the message, it could be a process of gradual revelation, during which time a ritual (encounter) dialogue ensues. BBC, as a ritualistically structured song text, starts with a counterculture diviner responding to a highly expectant (community) chorus:

Fela: Wetin my eye dey see
Chorus: Tell us now tell us now
Fela: African eye dey see
Chorus: Tell us now tell us now
Fela: You must find your own
Chorus: Tell us now tell us now
Fela: Traditional medicine
Chorus: Tell us now tell us now
Fela: African medicine
Chorus: Tell us now tell us now
Fela: So you can seeeee
Chorus: Tell us now tell us now
Fela: Di correct thing
Chorus: Tell us now tell us now
Fela: With di correct eye
Chorus: Tell us now tell us now
Fela: Na waho!!!

Fela: What is this that my eyes are seeing?
Chorus: Tell us now, tell us now
Fela: That my African eyes are seeing
Chorus: Tell us now, tell us now
Fela: You must find your own
Chorus: Tell us now, tell us now
Fela: Traditional medicine
Chorus: Tell us now, tell us now
Fela: African medicine
Chorus: Tell us now, tell us now
Fela: So that you can see
Chorus: Tell us now, tell us now
Fela: Properly
Chorus: Tell us now, tell us now
Fela: With a clear vision
Chorus: Tell us now, tell us now
Fela: This is incredible!!!

35What is significant here is not so much that Fela makes lyrical allusion to these symbols, but that he composes the track along this form, such that each phase of the ritual journey is marked with an increase in rhythmic pace and accentuation of tempo. As in the context of actual divination, his revelation comes rather gradually; initially it is cryptic, but later becomes explicit. After this partial revelation of the need for an Afro-centric perspective, he makes, like the Babaláwo after deciphering, a more direct pronouncement.

All African leaders/Na hire dem hire eyes/Na Oyinbo
eyes dem rent/
Dat is di reason why/Corruption dey/Authority stealing dey

All African leaders/Have only borrowed their eyes/
It is the White man’s eyes they have borrowed/ Which
explains why/
There is corruption/ Theft in high places

  • 30 . See M.M. Bakhtin’s The Dialogic Imagination. (Texas: Texas University Press, 1981, p. 15.)

36In broad cognitive-aesthetic terms, Fela exhibits three distinct time-space schemes in his lyrical and visual narratives, which are namely: mythic, mytho-historical and historical. The mythic time scheme appears the most expansive, with an ease of transgression of time and place by characters. It is a world of suspension of concretion and reality in our everyday understanding of the terms, as Bakhtin (1981) argued, even when employing symbolic representation. But with historical time, the time-space scheme is compressed and becomes restrictive. “Concretion and reality take over illusion and fantasy The time-space markers become known, and take the tone of the familiar”30

  • 31 . Ibid.
  • 32 . Ibid, p. 91.

37In grappling with the aesthetics of time and space in literature, Mikail Bakhtin introduced the concept of the ’chronotope’. According to him, a “chronotope is a unit of analysis of texts according to the ratio and nature of the temporal and spatial categories represented.” He further notes that, since time can not be separated from space, we have time-space, that is, the “chronotope” as the “intrinsic connectedness of temporal and spatial relationships”31 as artistically expressed in a narrative event. This concept is quite similar to the mask narrative form in its mutual capacity to enthrone an omnibus narrative viewpoint, while also simultaneously expanding and collapsing time and place. Fela draws from the Yorùbá aesthetic cosmogony whose earliest form of time-space discernible is the adventure chance time. A profusion of this motif abounds in the Yorùbá oral performance fiction, ìtàn, the sort of narrative space explored by the pioneer Yorùbá language fiction writer, D.O. Fagunwa. This form is similar to the Greek adventure time, which “lacks any natural, everyday cyclicity or indices on a human scale, tying it to the repetitive aspects of natural and human life.”32 As described by Bakhtin, in this kind of time, nothing changes: the world remains as it was, the biographical life of the heroes does not change, their feelings do not change, people do not even age.

38With the exception of Alu Jon Jon and Egbe mi o, this appears to be the least represented time-space device explored in Fela’s works. Given the paucity of such a motif, one might be led to the conclusion that this time-space scheme is irrelevant to a modern artistic enterprise which tends to emphasize the contemporaneous. Such a conclusion would however be inadequate since these works under reference reflect a vision of man and his place in the universe. Though their symbolic scheme and resonance derive from an older cultural context, their metaphors are actually in reference to the present.

39Another aspect of this form is the motif of the road which, as also noted by Bakhtin, exhibits such features as surprise, chance meeting and adventure time in a work of art. The road serves as a trope for the Yorùbá, in cognitive-aesthetic terms. Its aesthetic deployment, even in everyday speech, serves as a primed prefix to a wise-saying, rendered as Yorùbá bò, that is, the “Yorùbá retorts or returns.” “Retorts”, in this sense, shares a verb and semantic equivalence with “returns”. In other words, knowledge and discovery are predicated on a temporal and spatio-spiritual journey and a Yoruba casually requests for a moment of reflection by saying moùn b ò, meaning: “I am reflecting”, whose literal rendition comes over as, “I am coming.” Hence, the tradition abounds with tales of exploits and expeditions in quest of knowledge which, in more recent literary history; the hunters of D.O. Fagunwa, try to fulfill. And, invariably they are questers (on behalf of the community) for social redemption. Why Blackman Dey Suffer exhibits this trait with a time-spatial mode that fuses both the mythical and the historical. With Unknown Soldier, only the journey motif is emphasized as the time-space is quite contemporaneous. It is the chorus that brings us into an awareness of this motion with its persistent query:

Chorus: Where you dey go?
Vocal: Make I reach
Chorus: Where you dey go?
Vocal: Don’t ask me
Chorus: Where you dey go?
Vocal: Wait and see
Chorus: Where you dey go?
Chorus: Where are you headed?
Vocal: Let me get there
Chorus: Where are you headed?
Vocal: Do not ask me
Chorus: Where are you headed?
Vocal: Wait and see
Chorus: Where are you headed?

40In the context of the carnage visited on Kalakuta Republic, which eventually inspired this song, the use of the journey motif also serves the purpose of the artist in highlighting the different phases of the military assault, in addition to aiding a sense of narrative suspense. In the intervals, usually punctuated by the chorus, the cantor gives it a dramatic touch by locating the diverse settings—one, in Fela’s house; two—the cast: which comprises band members, Fela’s mother, Beko Ran-some-Kuti, a French man and soldiers; three—costume: which includes guns, helmets, petrol can, matches; and four—the overall mood: described as dangerous and highly expectant. Then, at the height of the tale, the chorus yells: Jagba jagba jagba—Jugbu jugbu jugbu, an onomatopoeic approximation to the sense of violence once the Republic was set ablaze and its inhabitants assaulted.

41Beyond the feature of journeying as a creative motif, the real life time-space (partly explored in Unknown Soldier) abound in tracks such as Zombie, Alagbon Close and Kalakuta Show, where the emphasis is the everyday cyclicity of experience. An aspect of this form is discernible in the fusion of personal autobiography of the artist and the social biography of the African continent. Fela’s personal experience, quite often, serves as a shorthand for narrating the implication of social living, and those of Africa’s larger polity.

42While historical time brings into sharper focus events and persons being narrated, it could hinder an easy transgression of time and place. Fela’s device for circumventing this, as in Shuffering and Shmiling, involves a lyrical fusion of space by suspension of time present. Here we have:

Put your mind out of this musical contraption
before you
Put your mind in any godam church or mosque
Now we are there...

43With this ‘collapse’ of time-space, we are summarily transported away from his venue of performance, to some “godam church or mosque”, where he unleashes his verbal tirade on official religion:

Vocal: Suffer suffer for world
Chorus: Amen
Vocal: Enjoy for heaven
Chorus: Amen
Vocal: Christian go de yab
Chorus: Amen
Vocal: In-spi-ri-tu-heaven-o
Chorus: Amen
Vocal: Muslim go dey yab
Chorus: Amen
Vocal: Allahhu Akibar
Chorus: Amen
Vocal: Arch Bishop na miliki, Pope na enjoyment, Imamu na gbaladun...

Vocal: Suffering in the world
Chorus: Amen
Vocal: In anticipation of enjoying in heaven
Chorus: Amen
Vocal: Christians keep blabbing
Chorus: Amen
Vocal: In-spi-ri-tu-heaven-o
Chorus: Amen
Vocal: Muslims keep blabbing
Chorus: Amen
Vocal: A llahu A kibar
Chorus: Amen
Vocal: An Arch Bishop’s life—is one of ease/ That of the Pope—one of enjoyment/ And so is the Imam’s too

44After this anti-clerical swipe, Fela does not forget the ‘compression’ of time-space, and so the Chief Priest in him, like the raconteur of itan, transports his listener/audience back to their initial listening spot(s):

Now, we have to carry our mind
from those godam places,
back to this musical
instrument before you

45Although I had earlier indicated the ritual structure of ITT, this is by no means the only notable attribute of the track. Indeed, ITT provides the clearest evidence of the diversity of creative time-space. The incantatory motion earlier alluded to and the reflection on time past constitute aspects of mythical time. Hence:

Vocal: Long long time ago
Chorus: Long time ago
Vocal: Long long long time ago
Chorus: Long time ago

46This “long time” of the discursive text is the same basic folk tale formulaic of ’once upon a time... in a very distant land’. From this we get a jump into historical time, which, unlike the last example, can be measured and quantified.

During the time dem com colonise us
Na European man na him dey carry shit

At the point of colonial encounter
It was the European who had the culture of bucket latrine

47The next jump is an intra-historical time transition. This time is from colonial time to post-independence neo-colonial time.

Many foreign companies
Dey Africa carry all our money go
I read about one inside book
like dat dem call im name na ITT

There are many foreign companies
In Africa that have depleted our resources
I read about one
Whose name is ITT

48Fela’s most recurrent motifs are the quester, the aimless balloon (yeye ball) and the beast/monkey These questers, re-imaged after his own stoic resolve, show rare determination. Although a jailbird, the quester of When Trouble Sleep Yanga Wake Am is ready to confront another law enforcement agent in the event of an unlawful arrest, because, it is

Palava e dey find
and
Palava e go get o

49The balloon imagery derives from its being airtight and, therefore, light, which makes it susceptible to being blown around easily thereby giving the appearance of an object that lacks focus. Fela uses this to parody the suspect course on which leaders are steering their nations. Quite often Fela uses it as a repeated theme and, at other times, as an external digression. Hence in ODOO we have,

When I see say our life dey roll
like one yeye ball
Wey one yeye wind
Dey blow for one yeye corner

When I observe the motion of our life
Similar to a random balloon
Which some random wind
Is blowing into some obscure corner

50The aimless back-forth and circuitous movement goes on and eventually leads to:

When our life roll small
E go go knock
Head for stone

After a period of random motion
Our life crashes
Against a boulder

51This is the essence of the message: there is bound to be a collapse, in the absence of some sort of ordering presence in the affairs of a nation. It is the classic case of a rudderless state ship piloted by a leadership without vision.

  • 33 . See Revelations Chapter 17:13.

52The beast as an image of ultimate destruction is found in many cultures and is, in a sense, a universal archetype. In Judeo-Christian tradition, we have a promise of the beast herald of apocalypse: “these have one mind, and shall give their power and strength unto the beast.”33 An interesting Judeo-Christian transposition of the beast image in Western literary thought is captured graphically in John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress where Christian, the archetypal hero, engages in a fierce duel with the beast on his way to the Celestial City Among the Yorùbá, the Ìjálá poets particularly being a guild of hunters, are most prolific in beast narratives, as chilling and gruesome as you could get.

53With Fela, the beast image is explored, first, as a simile and, second, as the essential character of the neocolonial elite, whose hegemonic project is to diminish the humanity and psyche of the governed. This should be resisted, the artist warns in BONN, because:

Animal can’t dash me human
right Human rights na my property

An animal can not offer me human rights
Human rights is my fundamental right

54Some of Fela’s compositions in the immediate aftermath of the Kalakuta incident tend to be quite loose and uncoordinated. One explanation for this by band members, among others, was the difficulty encountered by the band at this point. For one, the band was cash-strapped and there were some difficulties in getting venue for rehearsal and regular sessions, apart from the factor of desertion by some old hands. However, the latter compositions—many of which are yet to be waxed—have the old verve, and indeed bear deeper resemblance, particularly to codes of many West African traditional compositional styles. This latter development will be examined in the next chapter.

55The structure of Fela’s direct musical composition is equally as varied, and a description at this point can only be broad in highlighting the most recurrent motifs. Fela starts a new composition during rehearsal by first working on the rhythm section, which in itself has been preceded by identifying a musical motif, in style and theme. While the lyrical thematic thrust of Original Suffer Head derives from the question of underdevelopment, the rhythmic style is inspired by the traditional Tiv polyrhythmic beat, especially as led by the trap-drum and the two-membrane drums.

56The introduction of Original, for instance, proceeds with the organ (playing tenor), and later rested for the tenor guitar to interlock with the rhythm guitar. As evident in this piece too, his tenor line is almost always ‘vocalizing,’ and also staccato. This structure allows it to serve as a counterpoint that can easily harmonize with the bass which is also structured in a similar fashion. He assigns a speech mode to his bass line, the outcome of which would have been ineffectual if the bass had been clustered. This particular emphasis sharply distinguishes his Afrobeat style from rag, where you have the rag-dub intertwining the bass guitar with the drumbeat.

57On the other hand, the drum pattern of Fela’s middle and late period is evidently syncopated funk, a style largely pioneered through the effort of the master-drummer, Tony Allen. Coupled with this, the Afrobeat hi-hat often comes after the beat, and also works with the clef off-time. Basically its clef has quiver beat, while the sèkèrè comes in crochet beat.

58Back to rehearsal time, Fela would always commence with the horns only after putting the rhythm section together. This is partly informed by the fact that he often gets the appropriate cues for the horns from the harmonies of the rhythm section. While the baritone saxophone serves as root in this section, and sometimes moving from the 7th to the tonic in the minor scale, the alto saxophone usually plays either in the 13th or 4th chord, and the tenor saxophone in 6ths or 3rds.

59The horns are sometimes deployed to do rhythmic holds against which the trumpet(s) and other pieces of this section interchangeably sound counterpoint. Fela sometimes joins this with riffs on solos. A highly percussive African free style jazz, Afrobeat often has a movement of 6th added 4th to 7th as inversions (which is a chord 1-4 popular arrangement in jazz). It is a mode that we can readily associate also with other composers like Herbie Hancock, George Benson and Grover Washington Jr. who strove for some degree of crossover jazz. This hybrid middle ground is essentially Fela’s sense of the jazz crossover in the African context.

The Ora(1)iteracy Tension

60I recall once watching an American movie with my six year old nephew in Lagos who, on sighting the film’s hero sipping a can of Coca-Cola, expressed in pleasant surprise: “Oh, so the whites also drink our Coke.” I find this comment quite instructive in respect to the power of the media in shaping our imagination and dictating, in the most subde of manners, our choice of diction and even articulation. No doubt, a perceptive discussion of the nature of orality must necessarily take into account all of this, and how the age of the multimedia and information technology has significantly altered the pattern and rhythm of speech, reconfigured the tense structure, and diluted our imagination such that even the basic origin of influences, once easily assumed, has now become an exercise for deep, contemplative investigation.

  • 34 . Such trans-generic features of contemporary Yorùbá art is the focus of Karin Barber’s “Literacy I (...)
  • 35 .. This issue was buttressed by leading media practitioners like CBS’s News Consultant, Carl Bernst (...)

61Where is the old orality? And why are scholars still enamored by this mortifying label in reference to the creative process in Africa, as if it were still pristinely oral? Through code-switching, inter-language, borrowings and other such intermeshing processes, the new orality has become mediated, even by the world of calligraphy Primary oral forms get scripted, broadcast, and then creep back into the oral domain, at times so discreedy that language users are unaware that they are partaking in post-literate orality in some kind of secondary orality: Yet, there is the osmosis of oral forms (as exhibited by neo-traditional Yorìbá music and theatre) ‘striving’ to the structure of writing, and written forms (as the body of works of many African writers show) ‘aspiring’ to the ‘condition’ of orality34 Even in substantially literate environments like the United States, the metaphysics of calligraphy still subsists. When in the summer of 1997, the major networks first broke suggestions of an affair between Monica Lewinsky the White House intern, and President Bill Clinton, little attention was paid to these “breaking news.” However, when the Newsweek magazine came on board with the same story item, public attitude became more focused on the issue.35 This feature of finding validation through the print medium is an all-pervasive one, and subsists at the subconscious level as would be presently shown.

62Fela is quick at pointing to the fact that Africa had a scribal culture before its contact with the West, not just through pictogram and ideograph but an ancient alphabetic order whose reason for its loss he defers to ‘a matter for a future symposium.’ What is interesting in his cultural practice to the orality -literacy dynamics—as often formally defined—is his tendency to romanticize the past in a manner that suggests that he is, contrary to his musical and cultural practice, oblivious of the continuity of that past in the present.

63In spite of scoring his own music, he always exhibited the spontaneous ambiance of the folk artist. However, beyond this, his lyrics pay significant attention to the oral-written interface in a manner that somewhat privileges the written. One way he does this is by invoking the authority of the written word as the final arbiter of ’truth’, as we find in ITT when he tries to convince his audience and listener about Africans’environmental awareness prior to the colonial contact:

I see some myself o
I read am for book o

64So also in Perambulator, he contests the claim of the source of (ancient) civilization as having originated not from Africa but Europe, and he seeks scribal justification, hence:

Na we open dem eyes
No be me talk am
Na book talk am
We are the ones who civilized [the Europeans] them
This is not my own conjecture
It is a fact in the book

65In Army Arrangement, he anticipates that those he satirizes might go to court and thereby forewarns them of his own ’legal literacy’:

Make e carry me go anywhere
I go open book for am
Let him (presumably, start a legal action)
I will open the (legal) books

66He takes a common adage, “A fool at forty is a fool for ever”, in Rererun, and justifies it again in terms of calligraphic representation:

Na so di book people dey call am

That is how the book [read as the literate] people call it

67However, in US, where he narrates the death of his ideological soulmate, Thomas Sankara, the appeal to literacy is an attempt to inscribe a historical personage into immortality Another mode of representation is a conception of the oral-written dialectic, represented as fictive-historical account respectively In Rererun he starts off with,

Na tori I wan tell o
History dey inside small

68Underlying this construction, is the presupposition that if the ’tori’, or story he refers to is considered as belonging to the fictive realm, then there is an element of ‘history’ (read as ’the written’) which should justify his claim. The tension between orality and ‘literacy’ is also exhibited in the process of composing a new song. Fela might score his song in musical notation, but not all his instrumentalists can read these notes! Hence, he goes a step further by writing out individual parts and humming them out, therefore relying on their auditory and mnemonic attention.

  • 36 . See Karin Barber’s “Literacy”, p. 6, as indicated above in ed. Stewart Brown’s The Pressure of th (...)

69As earlier hinted in Griotique, and the beginning of this section, the free versifier may ultimately be working under other restrictions, including those imposed by his or her own condition of freedom, and also partly because the poetic tradition is plural in nature. This is an equally important feature of oral rhetorical devices such as parallelism, repetition, the verse line, tonal counterpoint, imagery, improvisation and the like, used in many of Fela’s compositions. It may appear gratuitous to remark that a Fela verse line is rhythm-driven and thereby directed not at visual coherence but at aural reception, only if we overlook the mediation that ‘writteness’ has imposed on musical production such as to render many song lyrics into what Karin Barber in a different context had described as “Aspiration to the condition of Writing.”36

70A close observation of his song text reveals that more often than not, lineation is determined by a co-occurrence with the breath-pause—in the manner that Gentleman and BONN show.

Gentleman:
Africa hot/ I like am so
I know what to wear
But my friend don’t know
He put him socks / He put him singlet
He put him trouser / He put him short
He put him tie / He put him coat
He come cover all with him hat
He be gentleman

71While also in BONN, we have:

No be outside police dey
No be outside court dem dey
No be outside magistrate dem dey
No be outside Buhari dem dey
Na craze world be dat
Animal in crazeman skin

Isn’t the police in the outside world?
Isn’t the court in the outside world?
Isn’t the magistrate in the outside world?
Isn’t Buhari in the outside world
It is a crazy world
Animal in the garb of the deranged

72As with these two examples, most of the lyrics take this pattern revealing an average of seven to eight syllables per melodic line in such instances of adherence to the breath-pause criteria of lineation. Even with the examples cited above, there are exceptional, overloaded lines, and as in such other circumstances, easy comprehension—even by the most ardent fans—become somewhat difficult. Judging by the structural pattern of such lines, a compelling guess for this choice is that the artist is more preoccupied with achieving a semantic wholeness informed by the feeling that such lines represent a unit of thought which, if broken, may compromise a unified meaning. The lines of Army Arrangement amply illustrate this:

If your condition too dey make you shake—
and you still dey no talk di way you feel/
Make you open your two ears very well—
to dey hear di true talk wey I dey talk

If you are still intimidated by your circumstance
and are unable to speak up
Then open your ears and listen to the truth of my
talk

73Even though rendered in one long, almost muffled line each, it will be noticed that each of these lines can be ‘conveniently’ broken into two at the hyphenated points, as indicated above. Like the folk artist that he strove to be, Fela tended to over-narrate. One probable reason for the retention of this line might have been the danger of intruding in a unit of thought whose comprehension could be hampered if not allowed to run on. Aside from this, the latter sections of each of the lines appear to be predicated on the first sections, which take on the character of a subject. Nonetheless, one needs also to note a certain tendency in the artist to over-vocalize.

  • 37 . Cited in Benningson Gray’s, “Repetition in Oral Literature.” (Journal of American Folklore, Vol. (...)

74Another important index of the idiom of oral performance is the use of repetition as an aesthetic device. And as regards its relevance to a popular expressive art as Afrobeat, explanations may not be entirely lacking, but they are oftentimes limited in scope, owing to the tendency to analyze popular art as a bound and fixed text. Beyond the use of repetition as a means of oral improvisation and mnemonic device, with Fela, the form comes to acquire the symbolic status associated with “the theme of repetition” and “repeated themes,” in the parlance of Albert Lord.37 What Lord refers to as the theme of repetition, designates the recurrence of incidents in a single tale or song in a pattern of organization that provides the basic structure of that tale or song. A repeated theme is also a motif or theme and is therefore not a basic feature of an oral tradition. “Repeated themes” however constitute a form of repetition only by virtue of their recurrence from tale to tale or song to song. A similar clarification is useful between the often confusing terms of “formula” and “convention”. Whereas a formula is simply a verbal construction that is repeated within a work or performance, a convention on the other hand is a verbal construction that recurs from work to work in an oral tradition.

75Starting with the use of an apparently harmless street name like “Ojuelegba”, one discovers a gradual encoding and metaphoric transformation that presents us with the images of confusion and total anarchy “Ojuelegba” is the same intersection where vehicles converge but with neither traffic light nor a warden to control road users. This imagery subsequently stuck due to its usage in many succeeding performances where Fela had intensified it as emblematic of national chaos.

76Repetition can be full or partial, and as in BONN Fela uses full repetition to emphasize and intensify the theme of the repeated line. However, this situation is somewhat revised when Fela experiments with partial repetition. In such instances we have the repetition of the line structure, but not all the lexical items as in,

Beast of no nation, egbekegbe
Beast of no nation, oturugbeke

77And in JJD, we have,

The way we dey walk down for here
The way we dey talk down for here
The way we dey yab down for here

78Beyond these two forms, we also have lexical repetition as distinct from lexico-structural repetition and Fela’s device here is the repetition of words within lines that are not structurally identical. Unlike the example above we have,

If something good dey I go sing
Nothing good sef to sing
Nothing good to sing
All the things wey dey—e no dey good

  • 38 . See Olatunji O. Olatunji, in Features of Yorùbá Poetry (Ibadan: UPL, 1984.)

79The constant repetition of ‘good’ here, as with the other situations, is an effective stylistic means to emphasize and intensify the theme of his utterance in an almost didactic order. Elsewhere, the artist taps into the traditional word-play as we find in parallelism and tonal counterpoint which are two particularly effective means of structural alteration in music making. In CBB, “Larudu regbeke” is contrasted to “Regbeke Lau.” What has been done here is the reversal in the second clause of “regbeke” to the position of a head word. Apart from devices like tonal word-play, according to Olatunji O. Olatunji,38 one of the configurations which strikes the listener to Yorùbá poetry is the device which consists of contrastive tones through a deliberate choice or distortion of lexical items. In BONN, both the lead vocal and chorus continually contrast the initial ’Ayakata’.

Ayakata —Ayakata
Ayakoto—Ayakoto
Ayakiti—Ayakiti
Ayakutu—Ayakutu

80These tonal counterpoints may not necessarily lend themselves to a distinctive meaning outside of the context of usage, except occasionally with the head words. In spite of this, however, they give aural satisfaction while also intensifying the sense of the utterance.

Pictorial Narrative

81Beyond the use of the sound track as a medium of communication, the Afrobeat tradition has also been extended via a peculiar discourse on album jackets and sleeves, in the same manner that oral performance ingests into itself diverse artistic idioms ranging from the aural to the visual. Although designed by different artists over the period, what is now associated with the typical Fela album sleeve-look are those body of works done by Lemi Ghariokwu between 1974 and 1990 which undoubtedly constitute a corpus on their own merit. A cross between illustration and cartoon, a basic feature of these jackets is their diverse narrative pattern on the one hand and, almost, a direct extension of the social realism of the song lyrics.

82Since Fela authorizes the form, there emerged a constant dialogue between him and the fine artist, and between the artist and the general context of Afrobeat performance, which is then transferred into pictorial representation in this relay order A sample of such authorization is the inscription on the album jacket of ODOO which reads: “This painting has been sanctified by our ancestors to support the Movement Against Second Slavery (MASS).” And on how the sleeves are finally produced, this is the fine artist’s testimony on a 1974 album,

83Alagbon Close:

  • 39 . Cite Lemi Ghariokwu in Glendora Review: African Quarterly on the Arts. (Vol. 2, No. 2, p. 054)

Having listened ardently to the numerous recounting of the harrowing experience from the man himself and been privy to the various stages of composing the new tune, it was a fait accompli.39

84Shortly after this, he continues:

  • 40 . Ibid., p. 055.

The next two album covers No Bread and Kalakuta Show followed in tow of Fela’s vitriolic statement on vinyl. My No Bread was an elaborate oil painting, a melange of social ills plaguing a developing nation fuelled by the then recently introduced Udoji Bursary Awards for public workers—a fallout of the oil-boom to volume. ‘Mr Inflation is in town’ was one of the warnings in the painting.40

85A quotation on Alagbon Close cover, of the Greek philosopher—George Mangakis, “The man dies in all who keep silent in the face of tyranny”—is an example of how an album sleeve is transformed into an intertextual site for oppositional narrative. On the album cover of Coffin for Head of State, Fela incorporates rebuttals on the military and civilian elite from his “MOP Message”, as part of a collage of newspaper cuttings, claiming that:

It is twenty-one years now since our so called independence. Today we have no water, no light, no food, and house to hide our heads under...WELL TO AN INGLORIOUS CORRUPT MILITARY REGIME, WHICH CHANGES TO A MORE RETROGRESSIVE CIVILIAN GOVERNMENT (Emphasis, Fela’s.)

86Complementary to the general mood of his song texts, the basic feature of representation is pictorial realism: the pictures and illustrations ‘show’ and ‘name’ names in a rare iconicity of resemblance. The sense of resemblance could be specific, as the portraits of Nigerian Heads of State since independence in CBB, who are recognizable and known; or general, as the female features, of Yellow Fever, which though has no specific personal reference, capture without abstraction. As often, however, the pictorial characterization is hardly generic.

87The illustrations may occasionally depict, simultaneously a multiple time-spatial category In ODOO, for instance, we find the prevalence of a mythic ambience buttressed by a perspective which recedes into a rustic and romantic setting, at once enchanting and magical. In combination with the perspective, the ‘realism’ of this mythic space is achieved with a sublime color choice in the background, which is meant to celebrate traditional African values. This background reflects a gentle blue sky from which interlocking hills jut out into a lush, green environment. The landscape sprawls into a podium, where it is hugged to a stop by a giant piano with which it achieves harmony of nature and man. Fela is in front of the piano (in repressed smile) with his “queens,” in the background, donning traditional “Yorùbá attire..Right below the podium and immediately before members of the “Egypt ’80 Band,” is a pre-historic-like brook on which a saxophone and flowers are floating. The dimension and perspective reflect an ambience of the romantic, as the authorizing agency of the sonic in which, it appears, the artist is well pleased.

88In Original Suffer Head, we find a gradual slide from the predominantly mythic discourse of ODOO into a mytho-historical context. Aspects of the historical are ’indicted’, it seems, through contrast with evidences hewn from the mythic universe, and there is a fusion of the other-worldly with the here and now It is with JJD that the artist moves us closer to a historical representation, with more familiar symbols and icons.

89Illustrated by the ’Poatsan Arts Trade Ltd. in Lagos, the dominant colors of Original are red, yellow and green, the conceptual colors of the African continent in Rastafarian imagination. The predominant yellow color to the right side of the illustration is probably used to capture the glitter of opulence radiated by images of profligacy and wealth—luxury cars, fashionable high-rises, an airplane and a private jet.

90This is contrasted to the scenes of poverty and squalor below Here, indeed, is a story of Africa’s poor and the urban ghetto, with its citizens literally chained, a sight reminiscent of the chain gang of the slave trade era. This pictorial narrative of the album’s theme centrally features a map of Africa dressed in black, an interesting irony in view of its intended signifier of darkness, uncertainty—even doom. But this is not even a regular map; it is also a face which wears a look of misery and melancholy Tears of blood cascade down her cheeks, presumably on account of the state of affairs around her.

91This African mask head is burdened by numerous problems, including economic deprivation, symbolized by the ‘UNESCO’ aid attached to it. The depiction of power outage and water scarcity testify to the story of general collapse. Strapped on Mr. Africa’s shoulders is a barrel of petroleum spilling away typical of the culture of waste for which the Nigerian, nay African, public service has become known.

92The sense of desecration in blindfolding the FESTAC mask is made visible by the feeling of sacredness reflected from the mask’s background with a halo of red and yellow glitter. Re-invoking a constant theme of the lyrics, the mask has actually been blindfolded by a Christian-Islamic alliance symbolized with the cross and the crescent.

93Yet, another polemic has been flagged off on the same cover as official policy is somewhat critiqued as Mr. ’Billionaire Rice Importer’, overfed and in a rather arrogant posture, doles out money to the beggarly army of the jobless whose votes he buys. His political party is the “Nazi Party of Uselessness,” and the ballot boxes wear the Nigerian national colors: green-white-green. Beside this opulence we find coffins of dead government policies. However, on the side of the masses we find Fela’s notable saxophone, ostensibly blaring the message of hope.

94The 1977 caricature of Johnny Just Drop (JJD) is a particularly successful intervention in pictorial cultural criticism. With a profuse use of vibrant colors, now emblematic of Fela’s album sleeves, we are confronted with a narrative directed at deriding the African ‘been to’. The ‘been to’ in the Nigerian context is a cultural pervert; he has traveled to the center nations—at times only for a brief period but returns with airs of superiority over his folks. At other times though, a ‘been to’ has stayed far too long to remember the basic social code of conduct of the community he or she left.

95It is this hybrid consciousness that the JJD story tells. This anti-hero literally drops with the aid of the parachute to his ancestral home (later revealed through name tags), but everything about his appearance points him out as a stranger He is dressed in a western double-breasted suit, socks, heavy boots and a bowler hat to match on a very sunny day! The lure is toward the farcical, which is revealed through his tie, draping to his knees, and his profuse sweat.

96In response, the crowd gathered around him stares in consternation, derision and even pity symbolized by Johnny a character with transient identity Judging by his forlorn look, he might as well have dropped from the airplane overhead, and it is instructive to note the verb ’drop’, used in the context.

97In contrast to Johnny, all the other characters here, indicative of the major ethnic groups in Nigeria, are clad in indigenous dress which are well suited for the climate. The hope which the vibrancy of their color choice radiates can only be contrasted to the drab gray and sullen blackness of Johnny’s imposed style. The flip side continues the narrative of Johnny’s drop from an ’Ofersee Hairways’, a linguistic violence committed against the norm—’Overseas Airways’, to indicate the general Afrobeat practice of ribald distortion. He is eventually unmasked as his briefcase bursts open mid-air, and his real names are revealed: Ogunmodede; Chibuzor; Abubakar, names from three of Nigeria’s major ethnic groups: Yorùbá, Igbo and Hausa; Johnny after all, is only but an impostor, a follow follow man! Occasionally as in this case too, words complement the picture in order to enhance better comprehension and this is how this text is concluded with the artist’s comment on the album cover:

  • 41 . See details of album jacket in appendix section on discography

The JJD man is commonsight. He has been to London, he has been to New York, Paris, Tokyo, Hamburg, what have you? He is proud about it! In the hot baking sun, he is the only African man in suit and tie... he is the youngster in smoked denim faded jeans, he is also in high ‘guaranteed’ platform shoes. He is the alien in his country his motherland! Wait until his ‘slangs’ and fonetics! In a nutshell, he is what I have painted on this album cover. He has just dropped.41

  • 42 . This is how Fela describes the neo-colonial condition; he subsequently formed the Movement Agains (...)

98By and large, this is a pictorial representation of dissent, of the contest of values between dominance and marginality And, with a style that buttresses the disjunction of elite policy— through a frugal use of generic characterization, and extensive asymmetric form—what we invariably find is a pictorial extension of Fela’s lyrical temperament. This temperament is at once contestatory and declamatory of views deemed to be tilting the continent in the direction of “second slavery,”42 and a dependent political economy

Welcome to Lagos! Home of Afrobeat (Courtesy Andrew Esiebo)
Plate 1

Kalakuta Republic with the emblazoned logo “Africa ’70,” shortly before it was destroyed by military personnel on February 18, 1977 (Courtesy Knud Vilby)
Plate 2

Fela’s mother, Funmilayo, in hospital after assault on her by military personnel during the Kalakuta incident. (Courtesy, Femi B. Osunla)
Plate 3

Fela in worship session, with an acolyte in crouching position, at Afrika shrine (Courtesy, Femi B. Osunla)
Plate 4

Fela’s Marriage Ceremony, Central Lagos (Courtesy, Femi B. Osunla)
Plate 5

Fela, in cast, after attack on Kalakuta Republic, 1977. (Courtesy, Femi B. Osunla)
Plate 6

Fela (middle) with the Extended Family Jazz Band, Lagos. (Left) Cousin Fran and husband (right) Tunde Kuboye.
(Courtesy, Tunde Kuboye)
Plate 7

A testimony to confrontational art; Fela performing after his brush with military personnel who burnt down his Kalakuta Republic residence in 1977. (Courtesy Femi B. Osunla)
Plate 8

Fela with late President Thomas Sankara of Burkina Faso, at the Afrika Shrine, Lagos (Courtesy Femi B. Osunla)
Plate 9

Tony Allen—world acclaimed master drummer of Fela’s bands between the mid sixties and late seventies. Courtesy, Glendora Review

Barrister Femi Falana, human rights activist and one of Fela’s lawyers (Courtesv, Femi B. Osunla)

Lester Bowie, African-American jazz musician and collaborator with Fela. (Courtesv Glendora Reviav)

Lekan Animasaun (Baba Ani), Fela’s band leader since the late sixties. (Courtesv Glendora Review)
Plate 10

Dancer, as well a maenad in Fela’s ritual parlance, in a 1983 Performance in France (Courtesy, Bernard Matussiére)
Plate 11

“Do not say Indian Hemp; say Nigeria Natural Grass (NNG).”- Fela. (The News magazine, Lagos)
Plate 12

A white cock sacrifice to the soul of Pan Africanism by Fela, symbolized here with a bust of Kwame Nkrumah.
(Courtesy, Femi B. Osunla)
Plate 13

Fela at the Afrika Shrine (Courtesy, Femi B. Osunla)
Plate 14

New Afrobeat acts: (L-R) Femi Anikulapo-Kuti (Positive Force); Lagbaja (Bisade Ologunde); Dede Mabiaku (Underground System).
Plate 15

Femi Anikulapo - Kuti. Afrobeat Ascension (Courtesy: The Observer Music Monthly)
Plate 16

Seun Anikulapo - Kuti. Says: “For Ever Lives Afrobeat” (F. E. L. A.) (Courtesy The Observer Music Monthly)
Plate 17

Notes

1 . This is an excerpt from Remi Raji’s “An underground poem”, in A Harvest of Laughter. (Ibadan: Kraft Books, 1997, p. 61.)

2 . Excerpts from Obi Nwakama’s “A String Lullaby” for Fela Anikulapo-Kuti.

3 . See The Empire Writes Back by Bill Ashcroft, Gareth Riffiths and Helen Tiffin. (London and New York: Routledge, 1989, p. 2.)

4 . See Françoise Lionet’s Post Colonial Representations: Women, Literature, Identity. (Ithaca and London, Cornell University Press, 1995, p.5.)

5 . Op. Cit. (The Empire Writes Back.)

6 . See appendix section on Call and Response Procedures in Fela Ransome-Kuti’s Shuffering and Shmiling by Willie Anku.

7 . From Braimoh’s “Fela Anikulapo-Kuti: A Misunderstood Poet”, a 1980 B.A. project in the English Department of the University of Ibadan.

8 . View expressed by Magorie in Anatomy of Poetry. (London: 1955, 1977.)

9 . See the Braimoh interview.

10 . Ibid. See p. 4 of the same interview.

11 . See F. Kermode, and J. Hollander (eds.) The Oxford Anthology of English Literature. (Vol. I London, Toronto and New York, 1973, p. 596)

12 . See Wole Soyinka’s “The Writer in a Modern State,” in (ed.) Per Wastberg’s, The Writer in Modern Africa. (Uppsala: Scandinavian Institute of African Studies, 1968, p.21.)

13 . This suggestion was made by the musician Tunji Oyelana.

14 . Cite Iranus, Eibl-Eibesfeldt in Ethology: The Biology of Behaviour. (New York: Holt, Reinehart and Winston, 1970, p. 132.)

15 . Cite Richard Schechner in Essays on Performance Theory. (1977 rpt as Performance Theory. New York: Routledge, 1988, p. 243.)

16 . See Wole Soyinka’s Idanre and Other Poems. (London: Methuen, 1967, p. 72.)

17 . See Cheryl Johnson-Odim’s and Nina Emma Mba’s For Wimen and the Nation: Funmilayo Ransome Kuti of Nigeria. (Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1997, p. 83.)

18 . See David Coplan’s In Township Tonight! (London: Longman, 1977, p. 23.)

19 . See J.H. Kwabena Nketia’s “The Poetry of Akan Drums.” (Black Orpheus: A Journal of the Arts in Africa. Vol. 1, No. 2. Ibadan: Mbari Club/Daily. Times, 1968, p. 27.)

20 . Listen particularly to “Weary Blues” by Langston Hughes, and co-produced with Charles Mingus and Feather Leonard. (Polygram Record, Compact Disc Gigital Audio (841 660-2), 1990.)

21 . Cite Vic Giammon in “Problem of Method in Historical Study of Popular Music.” (Sweden: Popular Music Perspective 1982, p. 24.)

22 . Margaret Drewal makes a comparison between the Egba Parikoko mask whose extended embroidery she describes as a semiotic of power in the same sense that skyscrapers in New York would constitute corporate power See Margaret Drewal. Yorùbá Ritual: Performers, Play, Agency. Indiana: Indiana University Press, 1992, pp. 22-23.

23 . See The Comet, Saturday July 24, 1999, p. 8.

24 . Ifa is the Yorùbá system for unraveling past mysteries and foretelling the future; it shares the assumptions of the Pythagoreans of old who regarded the world as knowable through a mathematical combination of figures; the Babal-wo is the male Ifa diviner while the Iyanifa is his female counterpart; they are both oracular priests of Ifa.

25 . In Yorùbá mythology Olodumare is generally regarded as the highest of the divinities.

26 . This is how Wole Soyinka describes this primeval creator of forms.

27 . This is also corroborated by Adeoye C.L. in Igbagbo ati Esin Yorùbá. (Ibadan: Evans Brothers, 1985.)

28 . See Wole Soyinka’s Myth, Literature and the African World. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1976, p. 145.)

29 . Given that Ògún is symbolized with iron, considered a central ore in industrial production, the deity also came to be identified as patron of the industrial working class in Cuba. Hence the ethnologist, Miguel Barnet, informed me in Cuba, that the working class is also on account of this and the deity’s vanguard role in cosmological narrative, considered the children of Ogun.

30 . See M.M. Bakhtin’s The Dialogic Imagination. (Texas: Texas University Press, 1981, p. 15.)

31 . Ibid.

32 . Ibid, p. 91.

33 . See Revelations Chapter 17:13.

34 . Such trans-generic features of contemporary Yorùbá art is the focus of Karin Barber’s “Literacy Improvisation and the Public in Yorùbá Popular Theatre” in Stewart Brown (ed.) The Pressures of the Text: Orality, Texts and the Telling of Tales. (Exerter: BPC Wheatons, 1995.)

35 .. This issue was buttressed by leading media practitioners like CBS’s News Consultant, Carl Bernstein and Larry King during the latter’s programme in the wake of CNN’s broadcast of the incident in September, 1998.

36 . See Karin Barber’s “Literacy”, p. 6, as indicated above in ed. Stewart Brown’s The Pressure of the Text.

37 . Cited in Benningson Gray’s, “Repetition in Oral Literature.” (Journal of American Folklore, Vol. 84, No 333, p. 33.)

38 . See Olatunji O. Olatunji, in Features of Yorùbá Poetry (Ibadan: UPL, 1984.)

39 . Cite Lemi Ghariokwu in Glendora Review: African Quarterly on the Arts. (Vol. 2, No. 2, p. 054)

40 . Ibid., p. 055.

41 . See details of album jacket in appendix section on discography

42 . This is how Fela describes the neo-colonial condition; he subsequently formed the Movement Against Second Slavery (MASS) as a way of raising awareness around the theme.

Table des illustrations

URL http://books.openedition.org/ifra/docannexe/image/524/img-1.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 33k
Légende Welcome to Lagos! Home of Afrobeat (Courtesy Andrew Esiebo)Plate 1
URL http://books.openedition.org/ifra/docannexe/image/524/img-2.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 1,1M
Légende Kalakuta Republic with the emblazoned logo “Africa ’70,” shortly before it was destroyed by military personnel on February 18, 1977 (Courtesy Knud Vilby)Plate 2
URL http://books.openedition.org/ifra/docannexe/image/524/img-3.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 1,1M
Légende Fela’s mother, Funmilayo, in hospital after assault on her by military personnel during the Kalakuta incident. (Courtesy, Femi B. Osunla)Plate 3
URL http://books.openedition.org/ifra/docannexe/image/524/img-4.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 619k
Légende Fela in worship session, with an acolyte in crouching position, at Afrika shrine (Courtesy, Femi B. Osunla)Plate 4
URL http://books.openedition.org/ifra/docannexe/image/524/img-5.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 1,2M
Légende Fela’s Marriage Ceremony, Central Lagos (Courtesy, Femi B. Osunla)Plate 5
URL http://books.openedition.org/ifra/docannexe/image/524/img-6.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 971k
Légende Fela, in cast, after attack on Kalakuta Republic, 1977. (Courtesy, Femi B. Osunla)Plate 6
URL http://books.openedition.org/ifra/docannexe/image/524/img-7.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 936k
Légende Fela (middle) with the Extended Family Jazz Band, Lagos. (Left) Cousin Fran and husband (right) Tunde Kuboye.(Courtesy, Tunde Kuboye)Plate 7
URL http://books.openedition.org/ifra/docannexe/image/524/img-8.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 1,4M
Légende A testimony to confrontational art; Fela performing after his brush with military personnel who burnt down his Kalakuta Republic residence in 1977. (Courtesy Femi B. Osunla)Plate 8
URL http://books.openedition.org/ifra/docannexe/image/524/img-9.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 686k
Légende Fela with late President Thomas Sankara of Burkina Faso, at the Afrika Shrine, Lagos (Courtesy Femi B. Osunla)Plate 9
URL http://books.openedition.org/ifra/docannexe/image/524/img-10.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 989k
Légende Tony Allen—world acclaimed master drummer of Fela’s bands between the mid sixties and late seventies. Courtesy, Glendora Review
URL http://books.openedition.org/ifra/docannexe/image/524/img-11.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 341k
Légende Barrister Femi Falana, human rights activist and one of Fela’s lawyers (Courtesv, Femi B. Osunla)
URL http://books.openedition.org/ifra/docannexe/image/524/img-12.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 181k
Légende Lester Bowie, African-American jazz musician and collaborator with Fela. (Courtesv Glendora Reviav)
URL http://books.openedition.org/ifra/docannexe/image/524/img-13.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 194k
Légende Lekan Animasaun (Baba Ani), Fela’s band leader since the late sixties. (Courtesv Glendora Review)Plate 10
URL http://books.openedition.org/ifra/docannexe/image/524/img-14.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 272k
Légende Dancer, as well a maenad in Fela’s ritual parlance, in a 1983 Performance in France (Courtesy, Bernard Matussiére)Plate 11
URL http://books.openedition.org/ifra/docannexe/image/524/img-15.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 1,5M
Légende “Do not say Indian Hemp; say Nigeria Natural Grass (NNG).”- Fela. (The News magazine, Lagos)Plate 12
URL http://books.openedition.org/ifra/docannexe/image/524/img-16.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 887k
Légende A white cock sacrifice to the soul of Pan Africanism by Fela, symbolized here with a bust of Kwame Nkrumah.(Courtesy, Femi B. Osunla)Plate 13
URL http://books.openedition.org/ifra/docannexe/image/524/img-17.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 1018k
Légende Fela at the Afrika Shrine (Courtesy, Femi B. Osunla)Plate 14
URL http://books.openedition.org/ifra/docannexe/image/524/img-18.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 1,2M
Légende New Afrobeat acts: (L-R) Femi Anikulapo-Kuti (Positive Force); Lagbaja (Bisade Ologunde); Dede Mabiaku (Underground System).Plate 15
URL http://books.openedition.org/ifra/docannexe/image/524/img-19.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 1014k
Légende Femi Anikulapo - Kuti. Afrobeat Ascension (Courtesy: The Observer Music Monthly)Plate 16
URL http://books.openedition.org/ifra/docannexe/image/524/img-20.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 1,2M
Légende Seun Anikulapo - Kuti. Says: “For Ever Lives Afrobeat” (F. E. L. A.) (Courtesy The Observer Music Monthly)Plate 17
URL http://books.openedition.org/ifra/docannexe/image/524/img-21.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 1,7M

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