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Sola Olorunyomi

5. Alterity, Afrobeat and the Law

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  • 1 . From the poet’s unpublished collection, “Endsong II.”

And you say God knows about these things?
And you say logic connects these things?
And you say I shouldn’t learn to mourn well?
This is endsong, the cornerstone where they cry

Chiedu Ezeanah1

  • 2 . In the manner of my mother’s constant recrimination to a child playing dangerously.

Watch it, irate child
You don’t learn how to fall into a pit
All it takes is the first step

Mary Olorunyomi2

1As conceived by Fela, Afrobeat is primarily a cultural and political musical practice or—better still—an aesthetics of cultural politics. Its performance is equally characterized by the creation of a liberal cultural space that is admissive of a free discourse of society’s fears, doubts, and inhibitions: be it governance, sex, or the yearnings of restive youth in general. Thus, Afrobeat is not simply a musical rhythm but a rhythm of alterity realized largely in song and musical text, but also in cultural and political action. It incorporates the amalgam ideology of the Kalakuta Republic commune and the creative excess of the Afrika Shrine. In these enclaves, Fela tried to live out some of his dreams—as far as national political authorities would tolerate them. These were for him channels of communication as well as ways of representing distance from the homogenizing ordering of society Incidents whereby Fela contested hegemonic laws were quite diverse and were not often obvious. By ‘law,’ I am referring to normative discursive practices in general—and institutions that support them. This often volatile terrain was Fela’s regular polemical turf, where he tried to re-image the continent in relation to itself and others. Fela’s imagined universe, of which Africa was its epicenter, takes off from an idyllic renaissance Africa with a scribal culture. He makes this manifest through his lyrical narratives. He arrives with an omnibus baggage that testifies against conventional attitudes to education, gender, technology power, life and death, among others, in contemporary Africa. In displacing the colonial narrative of the African story he somewhat substituted it with an Africanist grand narrative that tended to romanticize the continent’s pre-colonial experience, especially in relation to class stratification and internal ideological polarities.

  • 3 . This had less to do with how much members of the household were paid, which was indeed barely on (...)

2Though he challenged the statute books in court, his regular site of struggle was in positing alternative ways of living and actually living in alterity to the norm. In the first place, he created a communal residence, named it “Kalakuta Republic,” and did partake in sharing with ‘brethrens’ and other residents. For the Nigerian state and its prebendalist elite, this was playing dangerously as these symbolic actions portended a humanism it could not afford its own citizens.3 Worse still, to emphasize communality, as in the seventies, in an age when the state canvassed the ideology of private property and members of the political class engaged in fierce primitive accumulation of capital deriving from oil wealth—it was only going to take a while for the state to make a rebuttal of his claims.

3Then, there was his idea of a republic within a supposedly federal republic that was incapable of guaranteeing the primary conditions of republicanism—of a society of equal citizens with equal access, even in its most cynical bourgeois sense, to the means of happiness? Even at that, a linguistic quarrel had been provoked. The semantic field of the quarrel could only be extended when the Afrika Shrine was founded and accorded the reverence of orthodox Islam and Christianity which were the state’s unofficial religions. The political elite in Nigeria continues to encourage the liturgy of these two sects by consciously cultivating both their leadership and congregations, at times by building mosques and churches, even if it is against the expectation of a secular state as enshrined in the constitution. In so doing, the state expects a measure of cooperation from these institutions, part of which includes preaching the ideology of acquiescence.

4But, with Fela, here comes a ribaldry of Afrobeat worship at the Afrika Shrine with a liturgy so decentered, so dynamic, the state could not vouch for it. Rather than the selective acquiescence of “The will of Allah” or the pacifism of “Turning the other cheek,” the chief priest of worship here is riled in anger, as spokesperson of Africa’s ancestors who have asked him to denounce the treachery of the post-independence elite.

  • 4 . He neither appeared this way in public nor on stage while performing as occasionally suggested in (...)

5By appearing in his underwear, though only within his residence,4 and daring to suggest and remind of the ordinariness of life, in a society where over-clothing—and especially military histrionics—served the semiotics of power, he seemed to have been marked for extinction by the state, and his entire career would be dogged by the sheer wish to defend that alterity Then, he smoked marijuana and encouraged society to acknowledge it as a medicinal Nigerian Natural Grass (NNG), and not Indian hemp, thereby confounding the state’s counsels, who, on checking their statute books, could not find any trace of such a phrase—Nigerian Natural Grass! This must be a queer one then, an enigma, a corrupter of youth—the authorities seemed to have reached a consensus.

Fans and Acolytes: Identity and Privilege

6There is a wide spectrum of Afrobeat fans as in their degree and mode of dedication. The fan ranges from the top business executive to the factory worker, student, spiv, layabout and the petty gang leader. For ease of clarification, they can be classified into three broad categories: primary, secondary, and tertiary fans. What is immediately evident in terms of appreciation of Fela’s music is that these different layers of fans overlap across class differentiation, at least in the Nigerian experience, such that quite a sizeable membership of the middle class may commingle with members of the lower classes with whom they have struck a convergence of aesthetic preference.

7The tertiary fan stops short of going beyond emotional dedication. He would procure new Fela albums and follow the progress of the Egypt ’80 Band, both locally and during international tours. Usually he identifies with Fela’s song lyrics, but is not necessarily prepared to attend his performances at the Afrika Shrine. At times, such fans feel pressured by their social position and, in the context of a political economy where the state plays “Lord of the Manor,” they are wary of jeopardizing their interests by appearing to legitimize Fela’s oppositional politics.

8Unlike the tertiary fan, the primary fan does not merely subscribe emotionally to Fela’s aesthetic practice but goes some distance by actively supporting the Egypt ’80 group through his attendance of their outdoor functions. He also ventures to justify or, at least, explain Fela’s practices which, occasionally members of the tertiary group may be defensive about or simply explain away in the regular refrain: “Well, I like his music but not necessarily his lifestyle.” Quite often, members of the primary group punctuate their sentences with such refrains as “Fela don talk am,” “Fela’s talk, no be ordinary eve o,” suggesting a prophetic tinge to Fela’s pronouncements. More than any other set of fans, this group is primarily responsible for a mythic reading of Fela as a folk hero and a historical legend. They not only canonize their idol, they also venture to codify Afrobeat practice. With them, actual and fictive narration, in respect to the folk hero, take the tone of the fantastic. They remind one that it was Fela who once predicted after his divination at the Afrika Shrine that Windsor Castle would be gutted by fire, and shordy afterward it came to pass. In the tone of a revanchist anger I was reminded of Fela’s prediction that those responsible for destroying his Kalakuta Republic would set against each other, and that some would go to jail. “And what about the striking air transport staff,” a battery of voices once asked me, “who had vowed that no airplane would be aided to land in the Lagos airport? Wasn’t it until they heard that Fela was in one of the planes that they quickly called off their strike in order for Fela to have a safe landing? Oh, my brother—believe!”

9This was the most privileged group at the Afrika Shrine. Some of them would rather gain free entry into the Shrine on performance days than pay; not so much because they are necessarily incapable of paying but as a gesture of double-checking on the acknowledgment of their fraternity There were occasions when such fans, on gaining entrance, would then return outside to find some other persons whose bill they could pick. Once inside the Shrine, more often than not, they sit in the rows closest to the stage and indulge in catcalls.

10Yet, there is the last set of the secondary fan who, while adoring Fela, try to maintain a critical distance. When they are close enough in his performance, they attempt and do partake more vigorously in the yabbis banter—a process through which Fela gets the much-needed feedback on his aesthetic and political practice.

11The Nigerian state has been generally more wary of the primary and the secondary fans, as it is through them that the ideology of Afrobeat is often-times expressed in social action, which may include confrontation with the physical coercive apparatus of the state. With them, Fela had challenged the legitimacy of Nigerian laws on several occasions, the most memorable being the 1977 Kalakuta incident when Fela’s number 14A Agege Motor Road residence was burnt down by soldiers from Abalti Barracks, and the “Coffin for Head of State” aftermath, when Fela dumped a replica of his mother’s coffin at Dodan Barracks, then the seat of government.

12The two groups sustain this sense of resistance culture through fan-bonding experience, especially during tours with the Egypt ’80 group. Fela’s communal sensibility further encouraged this as many fans would have their transport fares underwritten by the management of the band. Fans also greet one another in a variety of ways: by clasping each other’s hands in a doubled ‘High-Five,’ with the clenched fist ‘Black Power’ salute, or simply by exchanging gentle clenched-fist-shake, often repeating the motion a couple of times while mumbling “rootsman,” in an apparent syncretism with Rastafarians, and reggae fans. The bonding experience is at times expressed in sharing moments to smoke marijuana, engaging in heated debates on national and international resistance politics, or simply ’moonlighting.’

13Until the Shrine was invaded and occupied by units of the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA) in 1997, it had gathered regular habitués. A really dynamic informal trade sector within the Shrine and in the adjoining streets also flourished during this period. The variety of trade included food vendors, water hawkers, drinking bars and a myriad of kiosks offering for sale cigarettes, marijuana, chewing gum, perfumes, and the like. For traders operating within the Shrine, a mandatory tax of three Naira per day was paid, but by late 1996 and early 1997, the rate had moved to twenty Naira. There was not to be any tax exemption and revenue generated was channeled into the collective pool of “Chop Money.”

14Both at the Shrine and his residence, there were constant habitués who were essentially made up of the primary fan, who may include the general husder, the gambler, the irate student and, to some degree, lower cadres of the Nigerian military and the lunch-time executive who has only made a quick dash down street to ‘drag’ a quick puff of the banned weed. All mingle in a Shrine that attempts to create a leveling culture and, to a considerable degree, all participants aspire toward this new culture code.

15The essential habitué is ideologically syncretic and also somewhat malleable. Because his vision is highly messianic, the character of his consciousness is basically informed by the political hero figure, which in this case is Fela. The habitué hovers between the quest for a private material uplift that is taking rather too long to come and a belief in social change that may not necessarily be backed by any revolutionary organizational strategy.

  • 5 . A similar experience is described by Dick Hebdige in “Reggae, Rastas and Rudies” in James Curran (...)
  • 6 . Ibid. A similar experience of the Rastafarian subculture was equally documented.

16In this dispensation, he rocks ding-dong in some ’imaginative inner dimensions’5 where long-term strategy could become easily expendable, where solutions come in spatio-spiritual dimensions and, usually the energy for change could be deferred to an amalgam god who may come in the garb of Sàngó, Chiwota, Amadioha, Osiris or even more recent ancestors. Between puffs of his marijuana, the habitué muses, “one day go be one day” a phrase with the oblique sense of the biblical judgment day denoting an anxiety for a quick resolution of social crises. In this instance, though, it is a rather secular sense of judgment day when the underprivileged will partake in restructuring political and economic imbalances.6

  • 7 . Theodor W Adorno Introduction to the Sociology of Music (New York: Continuum, 1975), p. 115.

17Fans’reception and reaction to Fela’s performance and music is not necessarily one of an ‘expert’ opinion, at least not in the sense of Adorno’s communis oponio. Their expertise—if it can be so described—emanates from being good listeners and keen observers of Afrobeat’s style over the period. Distinct from a minority fold of experts made up of musicians at home and abroad, music scholars and musically educated enthusiasts, this group operates not necessarily with the full awareness of Afrobeaf s technical and structural patterns. As always happens with such primary fans and, as noted by Adorno, “having unconsciously mastered its immanent logic, (it) understands...the way we understand our own language even though virtually or wholly ignorant of its grammar and syntax.”7

18Our good listener has the capacity for a dynamic and meaningful hearing. The group’s sense of music is dynamic because it is sustained by a historical appreciation of Afrobeat’s motion, detailing all the musical shifts in Fela’s career, and also relating the form to its proper cultural and political contexts. The group’s ability to decode those complex cultural indices that appear to confound outsiders are born of a necessary inner knowledge that can always be assumed of an interpretive community The group invariably developed its own preference of musical registers such that while the expert espoused ‘rhythm,’ ‘harmonics’ and other musical highfalutin, it talked of ‘groove’; while the expert noted an ‘upbeat tempo’, the group talked of ‘heavy vibes.’ For the group, there was hardly any drum ‘throbbing’ but gbedu dey jam. Then Fela responded in pentatonic scales and caught the tonal fancy of the group’s social dialect. Thenceforth, every rhythm became a semantic field, every instrument a speech surrogate subjected to fans’wilful interpretation.

Anarchy and the Republic

19The Kalakuta Republic, in its heyday drew its citizenry from the widest imaginable places. Members of the commune included the undergraduate, the dropout, the repressed but artistically talented youth, the job seeker, the rebelling ward of an elite, and the simply adventurous from such far-flung places as Ghana, Togo, Equatorial Guinea, and Zaire. There were also the black brothers and sisters from the diaspora. All commingled in their individual search for laughter and the desire to break out of institutions of containment. Though they may soon learn to develop a sense of personality partake in the never-ending debate about the African revolution, and even become instant recruits to combat despotic regimes, they have nonetheless subscribed to a new form of institutional containment which Kalatuta was, with its rules and social organization.

  • 8 . From Fela’s correspondence.

20Between Kalakuta I, II and III, there were general rules regulating interpersonal relationships, accommodation, eating, domestic chores, drugs, and sex. Excepting the stop-gap Kalakuta II at Number 1 Atinuke Olabanji Street, where Fela stayed with the commune shortiy after the destruction of Kalakuta I, he always maintained an expansive architecture in anticipation of the demands of an open household. As he puts it, the Kalakuta Republic was created out of the desire to accommodate “every African escaping persecution,”8 and, as a result, bands of youth and children from the neighborhood easily strolled into the compound.

21Apart from these ‘ideological residents,’ Kalakuta also comprised members of his immediate family including his wives and children, some of his singers, dancers and their friends, and a host of domestic staff. On daily administration of the commune, there is the supervisor who ensures that basic hygiene is observed; and he keeps a tab to guarantee that members’conduct does not violate the mnemonic laws of the commune.

22Every member of the commune is expected to perform some domestic chores relating to the collective hygiene as may be defined by older members. Age does not necessarily determine this but at times the length of stay does, or the role set of the individual. There are, however, cleaners whose primary duty is to maintain a healthy environment. Male and female members of the commune live in separate apartments and it is prohibited to proposition any of “Fela’s girls.”

23Theft is highly abhorred and a member who indulges in lying is treated with utter contempt. He or she is considered “not manly enough” to speak the truth. While members may smoke marijuana, gbanna—such as cocaine and heroin—is strictly forbidden as this invites the strictest punishment which may include instant expulsion for “Spoiling African Youths.” It “spoils” in the same manner that “stretching” or “perming” of one’s hair does. It is a product of colo-mentality.

24No one is allowed to park a car in front of the commune in anticipation of picking up any female member as this may suggest that the republic is made up of whores. So also is it a great crime, perhaps the greatest, for any military personnel to enter the republic with his uniform on. And they hardly did except on occasions that they were sufficiently armed to arrest citizens or the republic’s president, Fela himself. Severe penalties greet persons indulging in physical fights, but members may deploy verbal rebuttal and abuse in the tradition of Yabbis. A dictum is coined for this: “Yabis, no case; first touch na offence,” implying that while verbal umbrage can be tolerated, physical assault is sanctioned.

25Quite often, foul language is used between quarrelling persons or groups. And at other times, a feuding group may resort to Fela’s lyrics by improvising its lines in order to gain an upper hand in a dispute. A resident may describe an antagonist as a “follow follow,” meaning that such a person lacks originality or self-reflection. The “Shakara” man or woman is a braggart, while the “mumu” or “ode” is one on the verge of idiocy.

26Though a respondent claimed that “there is no seniority in Kalakuta,” this can hardly be sustained, to the extent that the mode of entry and role played within the commune came to confer a measure of idiosyncrasy credit (a credit earned for a peculiar moral and attitudinal consistency) on some members. This belief might have been sustained by the rather obsessive leveling code of conduct of members, including Fela, who answer to their first names without the appellations of ‘Mister’ or ‘Madam,’ which, by an unwritten law, was considered inconsistent with the republic’s code of conduct. A curious paradox, though, because Fela’s wives were also regarded as “queens”—perhaps in the spirit of an ambiguous postmodern feudal republic!

27In an extreme situation, an erring member may be confined in the in-house “cell,” Kala-kusa, though fine and verbal reprimand were generally the preferred modes of correction. Kala-kusa was more of a designated space than a conscious architecture. In the seventies, it was indicated with twine. Confinement does jeopardize the inmate’s freedom of movement and reduces access to smoke or to socialize. A good rapport with the Kalakuta supervisor may enhance a lenient treatment while serving time. Theft, hooliganism and bad conduct are the most basic reasons for confinement.

  • 9 . Details given by Jide John, one-time supervisor at the Kalakuta Republic.

28The mode of feeding in Kalakuta was always dynamic. While residents survived on a bare stipend, that could be as low as two hundred naira per week at Kalakuta III, there was a more communal approach to feeding at Kalakuta II of the early eighties. Stipends were partly generated from the “Chop money tax” of the informal sector operating at the Afrika Shrine by the late eighties.9

29A near equivalent to this sense of an artistic commune is the Ki-Yi M’Bock Village founded by Werewere Liking in Abidjan. A native of Cameroon, Ms Liking first came to Abidjan in 1975 and a decade later founded the center. The name Ki-Yi is derived from Bassa of South Cameroon, implying a knowledge of the universe. In the context of artistic creation, the micro-village operates as a community in a living and work space equipped with infrastructure for creating, promoting, and diffusing the arts—including recipes from all over Africa.

  • 10 . Cited from brochure of the Kiyi M’Bock company

30Like Fela, Liking’s continentalist vision was inspired by Kwame Nkrumah. She translated this vision into a Pan-African movement on contemporary artistic creation. Her performance attempts to unite in one oeuvre, the creativity of writers, poets, plastic artists, actors, singers, and dancers “with a view to presenting a Utopia of a new Africa that dares to dream for itself.”10 Her sense of total theater is a spiritual replication of the divination night performance at the Afrika Shrine, with its experimentation of associating theater with dance, ritual, puppetry and choreography.

31The day-to-day running of Fela’s band and the commune was based on a variety of organizational structures that overlapped. The different modes of structure and control mechanism do correspond to what Charles Handy (1976) has identified as the power, role, task, and person cultures, or as differently classified by John Child (1984), as the personal centralized, bureaucratic, output, and cultural controls.

32Both within the commune and the band, Fela played the focal role, with other members having to fit in differently in the role set, and taking cues about their duties and obligations from Fela, the player of this focal and substantially melodramatic role. Fela played the role as a counterculture hero, but at the same time resisted the image of the commercial superstar; he was content to be acknowledged as an artist with a strong folk sentiment. He buttressed his role choice through the way he lived and the ideals he preached: an austere sense of dress, the clenched fist ‘black power’ salute, the chain smoke and a linguistic choice that often confounded, among others, were only symbolic testimonies of what he endorsed. This social mode of behavior were grand rules that generally defined the attitude of members of the organization and fans, who could be seen replicating them over time.

33In strict organizational terms, Fela was central to this movement by operating a minimalist bureaucracy and thereby having to delegate power to the different strands of relay authorities such as band leaders and supervisors (in the case of the commune). As a result of the limited bureaucratic practice and an aural-dependent code of conduct, quite frequently there arose conflicting role assumptions. All you had to do to justify your claim, it seemed, was to legitimate your position on an assumption of what Fela’s attitude would be on a particular issue. The centrality of Fela to the structure and the privileges derived thereon, emanated from two sources. As the founder of the group, with the passage of time, he sustained its crests and troughs in the face of state hostility which eventually earned him an ’idiosyncrasy credit’—that stage when members of the group came to offer a freely given devotion and loyalty to him as the central figure. This attitude by members largely derived from what many saw in him as a personality with a deep sense of self-denial and a readiness to share; there was also a knowledge of the fact of one from a middle-class background who had integrated with the subculture and thereby committed a ‘class suicide;’ and a consistent advocacy for human rights that did not suggest a sense of personal gain. Members think about all of this, and in a moment of personal contemplation you could hear a resident or member of the band sighing and exclaiming: “Ah! Fela don try o!”

  • 11 . See Friederich Nietzche’s The Birth of Tragedy and the Genealogy of Morals (New York: Doubleday a (...)

34But such an avowed loyalty by the group—which might include fans and a highly expectant civil population that sought to invest in a messianic figure—created its own contradictions. The first problem that arose was one of an uncritical relationship with this central figure such that rather than be critiqued, his errors were consistendy rationalized, and individuals with dissenting views were invariably tagged ‘saboteurs’ or even ‘agents’—especially since the group’s primary antagonist is the Nigerian state and its coercive agencies. This structure thus sustained Fela’s indulgence and those of members of the group—especially the young women with whom he engaged in casual sex. This way the Nietzchean dictum of God-as-the-supreme-nihilist becomes applicable to Fela—the Chief Priest himself—for, as Friedrich Nietzche states, “when a god climbs to the top of the mountain and there is no path to break and thereby becomes responsible to himself... God becomes the supreme nihilist.”11

35This limited role of the bureaucratic culture in the group, in most parts, derived both from political expediency and Fela’s artistic temperament. He seemed to personify the pure will that found itself hemmed by societal requirements of structure and ordering. And his continual conflicts with political authorities as from his first arrest in 1974 up until 1997, when he died, hardly left room for a different outlook in this free-willing spirit.

36Another side to the group’s mode of organization is seen in the use of the task culture which emphasizes getting the job done. Unlike in the power culture, acknowledgment comes not by a balance of influence as much as in the ability to deliver This is a more representative team culture and influence is based on expert power and individual assiduity to the team; and it is one whose absence is hardly conceivable in group musical production.

37Each of these disparate management cultures have had to be used—either singly or in combination—depending on the particular circumstances in which the organization had found itself. Properly speaking, the flimsy bureaucratic structure that later came to typify the group was, to a large extent, accentuated by the 1977 destruction of Kalakuta Republic. As with the 1984 incident when he was jailed by the Buhari-Idiagbon regime, or between 1996 and 1997 by General Musa Bamaiyi (the head of the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency), these extreme situations exposed the bare bureaucracy base of the organization as external intervention was always resorted to in order to shore up for the absence of this central figure. Since there was hardly room during such events for a properly functioning organizational chart, a new central figure invariably arose. In 1984, Fela’s activist brother, Doctor Beko Ransome-Kuti, took over the band and supervised the commune while Fela’s son, Femi, became the lead singer, de facto. What explained fan and member loyalty to policies enunciated by Ransome-Kuti on behalf of the group, was their sympathy for his activism as a scourge of military regimes, and a human rights advocate. But as always in such situations, he remained an external figure, not having the same ‘sacred’ authority as the displaced central figure.

Folk Hero in the Dock

38Fela’s friend, old confidant, and one-time manager, Baba Ojomo, claims that while he had been detained 39 times, Fela had been detained for several times over. By the last count, Fela had suffered dozens of stitches from assaults by agents of the state and the Nigerian military.

39Fela’s encounter with the ‘law’ also had a legal dimension aside from our treatment of the concept as normative practice. The nature of charges preferred against him ranged from abduction, possession of Indian hemp, aiding and abetting criminals, to contravention of national currency law, disturbance of public peace, and illegal assembly The last charge was an oblique reference to his more direct public political protest. He also dragged a couple of institutions to court, such as Decca, a recording label, over issues of censorship, corporate intrigue, and breach of contract. Once, Fela himself appeared in court as a private prosecutor. All through this process, he hired attorneys who were not only ideologically sympathetic to his cause but practiced a form of legal advocacy that emphasized not only the legalistic but also the political character of cases. The more notable of these lawyers were Mr. Kanmi Isola Osobu, a left-wing activist at some point in his career; Mr. Tunji Braithwaite, a publicist and presidential candidate of the defunct National Advancement Party (NAP); and Mr. Femi Falana, a labor and human rights lawyer, and leftist activist from his student days at the University of Ife (now Obafemi Awolowo University).

40Some of his more celebrated cases were the “expensive shit” affair of April 30, 1974, and the undeclared foreign currency charge of September 4, 1984. But above all, the February 18, 1977 burning of Kalakuta Republic drew, by the sheer magnitude of the loss incurred and the number of persons involved, the widest attention to another site of Afrobeat engagement with the law When Fela was arrested on April 30, 1974, the charge preferred against him was “possession of weeds suspected to be Indian hemp.” Shortly after being granted bail, the police raided his house, searched for weeds of Indian hemp and, apparently got possession of what they thought was the banned substance. Fela asked to verify the authenticity of the weed, but once the police handed it to him, he quickly swallowed everything, which then led to a new arrest. At the police station he was waited upon to produce a stool sample for a laboratory test. This experience would later serve as the basis of the record Expensive Shit.

41On his way to a foreign tour on September 4, 1984, Fela was arrested at the Murtala Mohammed Airport in Lagos, supposedly for failing to declare the 1,600 Sterling in his possession. Subsequently he was tried and Justice Okoro Idogu sentenced him to five years imprisonment. He was released seven months later after the trial judge confessed that he was pressured by the Buhari-Idiagbon regime to jail Fela.

42All of this does not, however, measure up to the incident of February 18, 1977, unarguably his strongest collision with military power, when Kalakuta I was burnt down by soldiers from the Abalti Barracks. Several citizens of his republic were severely assaulted, some of the women were raped, while the sound track of his film The Black President was burnt. His activist mother was thrown down from a one-storey building, and she would die a year later from the shock experienced during the incident. This led to the Lagos state government setting up an Administrative Board of Inquiry headed by Justice Kalu Anyah of the Imo State High Court, with Wing Commander Hamza Abdullahi of the Nigerian Air force as member.

43There were two major build-ups to the burning of Kalakuta. Shortly before this event, Fela had confronted the General Olusegun Obasanjo regime about the Second World Black and African Festival of Arts and Culture (FESTAC). All through the FESTAC event, Afrika Shrine served as an alternative festival and almost took the shine off the official festival. Furthermore, Fela had only recendy released his most acerbic satire of the military, Zombie, which the military establishment and government found most embarrassing as it portrayed soldiers as unthinking figures akin to automated marionettes. In the trial, Nuhu Ottabor, the officer in charge of Abalti Barracks, Warrant Officer 2, Boniface Agor, and other soldiers testified to their reception of the Zombie track sung as:

Vocal: Zombie o Zombie }
Chorus: Zombie o Zombie }(2ce)
Vocal: Zombie no go talk unless you tell am to talk
Chorus: Zombie
Vocal: Zombie no go go unless you tell am to go
Chorus: Zombie
Vocal: Zombie no go come unless you tell am to come
Chorus: Zombie
Vocal: Zombie no go think unless you tell am to think
Chorus: Zombie
Vocal: Zombie o Zombie—Chorus: Zombie o Zombie}
Vocal: Tell am to go straight—Chorus: Na joro jara joro
Vocal: Tell am to turn right—Chorus: Na joro jara joro
Vocal: Tell am to turn left—Chorus: Na joro jara joro
Vocal: Tell am to go kill—Chorus: Na joro jara joro
Vocal: Joro jara joro o Zombie wey na one way }(2ce)
Joro jara joro... oooh}
Quick march!
Slow march!
Turn right!
Turn left!
Join di line! (Chorus repeats
Fall off! Zombie, after
Fall in! each line)
Stand at ease!
Put am for reverse!
Open your hat!
About turn!
Order! }
(Repeat 2ce)
(Chorus till fade, then—) Dis-mi-ss!!!

  • 12 . “Report of the Lagos Government on Administrative Board of Inquiry into the Disturbances at 14A A (...)

44The board of inquiry concluded that the song was inspired by “an attempt to bring the military into disrepute and ridicule.”12 The board further affirmed the version of the troop’s story that Kalukuta caught fire through an explosion of a generator set kept near the commune, and not sabotage work by the troop from Abalti Barracks. The panel thus went ahead to castigate “the use of the word ‘Republic’ by Mr. Fela Anikulapo-Kuti or any other individual to describe his domain within the Federal Republic of Nigeria,” and called for its immediate prohibition. The recommendation continued:

  • 13 . Ibid., p. 21.

The use of this word is not only misleading but, in the circumstances of the instant case under investigation, leaves the impression of a separate and distinct republic proclaimed within the Federal Republic of Nigeria in defiance of the constitution.13

45In spite of evidence to the contrary the board concluded that the soldiers involved in the mayhem were “unknown.” The entire judgment resonated the fact that the government could do no wrong, a maxim that barrister Femi Falana would later describe as belonging to the “imperial maxim of the British imperialist era, a maxim that had been abandoned in 1946, but was applied against a Nigerian family in 1977!”

Rebel Sonic Soulmates

  • 14 . Surfed on “alt.culture:2 Live Crew”; and Houston Baker’s Rap and the Academy (Chicago: University (...)

46Beyond Nigeria’s shores, the stricture between the bard and the law appears unending, even this long after Plato’s The Republic. Beyond the more restrained Kiyi M’Bock experience, three other musical groups whose aesthetic thrusts are as contestatory and defiant of the law are Bob Marley, the French Nique Ta Mere (NTM) and the American 2 Live Crew, Kool Shen and Joey Starr, led by Luther Campbell. Allusions will be presently drawn from two of these experiences as an illustration on the dangers that creative and popular artistic imagination portend for hegemonic social structures. The 2 Live Crew’s encounter with the law, on an obscenity charge after the 1989 album As Nasty As They Wanna Be, is evident of an aesthetic practice that evokes and privileges subcultural forms, as with practices of many other rap groups. In June 1990, a Florida judge noted that As Nasty, including the single Me So Horny, was legally obscene. The ruling was overturned on appeal, partly also due to the expert testimony of Henry Louis Gates, Jr Noting that the 2 Live Crew’s sound is representative of a code of black public knowledge, he alluded to the possibility of missed satire in the Crew’s creative production.14 In an op-ed essay for the New York Times in June 1990, Gates, Jr. noted:

2 Live Crew is engaged in heavy-handed parody, turning the stereotypes of black and white American culture on their heads. These young artists are acting out, to lively music, a parod-ic exaggeration of the age-old stereotypes of the oversexed black female and male. Their exuberant use of hyperbole (phantasmogoric sexual organs, for example) undermines—for anyone fluent in black cultural codes—a too literal-minded hearing of the lyrics.

47To this, Houston Baker would later add that “2 Live Crew is less a causal site of agency than a single point of imbrication in an intricate social (and preeminently materialist) narrative.” No matter one’s divergence from this particular reading, it is evident from other instances of rappers’aesthetics that popular music is capable of articulating the generalized anger of a community’s excluded subculture. For instance, in the summer of 1992, Ice-T’s Cop Killer created a furor, while NWA’s (Niggers With Attitude) F—the Police led to an official letter of protest from the FBI to NWA’s record company Earlier on, the group’s Straight Out’a Compton had given impetus to anti-establishment expressivity In not too dissimilar circumstances, youth anger was echoing in a plea for an expressive space across the Atlantic: one, against a racist American structure, the other, against an indolent and thieving Nigerian political elite. It is precisely this self-assertive tenor, as a familiar youth oppositional attitude, that the young Nigerian fan of the nineties identified in rap music, and came to embrace it as a worthy ideological complement to Afrobeat. In spite of this, however, reggae music and the Rastafarian oudook remain Afrobeat’s fans’closest ideological ally with Bob Marley playing something of a Fela double cast in their imagination.

48On the other hand, Nique Ta Mere (literally “Fuck your mother” in French), was the first incident of rappers condemned by the French law, on the heels of its June 1997 confrontation with the National Front, a right-wing group. Shen and Starr, from Saint-Denis (or little Chicago in the parlance of local folks), used to sing on Parisian metros, putting their signatures on the wall and writing graffiti, to buttress lyrical content, in a tradition that is similar to Afrobeat. They compared police attitudes to a class sense of justice and its lack of humanism. The preamble to their lyrics states:

I fuck and piss on Justice because all the police are fascists. They are the ones who commit assassination. Where are the fucking cops who have been harassing us all the year round? The fascists are not only in Toulon, you’ll see them everywhere, usually, three of them—dressed in blue and driving a Renault 19. They are not far from you, precisely just behind you at the gate. You’ll probably see how am talking about—these people are dangerous for our collective liberty and freedom. Our enemies are the men in blue. They are just waiting for an excuse to beat us up, but surely we’ll piss on them.

49This was greeted with outrage by the French law and establishment. The trial judge anchored the judgment on three counts: disregard of republican morality outrage toward the state, and inciting to violence and crime. On the basis of this, the NTM was banned for six months from performing on French territory after being charged a fine of Cf 50,000, a penalty that fueled greater reaction across Europe and renewed the old debate of artistic liberty A Swiss judge, Pierre Cornu, equally declaimed the NTM’s lyrics as outrageous, citing a parallel provocation in an earlier artist, Renaud, who had sang:

It is about time to end dialogue with the Cops, what we need now are rifles and Molotov cocktails.

50But Judge Cornu’s preference is for Brasseus’s Le gorille, whose lyrics of the sixties merely make oblique references to the alteration of social power and the political economy No doubt, Brasseus could be tolerable largely because he did not challenge the ideological foundation of the state.

51The counter discourse to this, however, was articulated by the mass rejection of this penalty—considered rather severe—kicked off with a mass demonstration in Paris. Drawing a wide collage of subcultural aesthetic alliance that included rappers, reggae artists and the civil population, the alternative voices drew salient parallels to concerts of skinheads which principally incite to hate and general violence without being reprimanded. This, they contended, simply suited the state’s ideological convenience. And, in a rare performance of audience reaction, fans reclaimed NTM’s lyrics:

The police is always asserting the form over the content, moreover if the color of your skin does not conform to their manual, they become a real organized gang...

Reinventing a Continent

52The ‘concept’ of Africa which Fela partook in, like many other discourses on the continent, is varied and multifaceted. Constandy in renewal, the ‘idea’ is neither unitary nor complete. Discursive Africa is as problematic today not only because of its externally defined nomenclature but, as also evident here, consequent upon the subjectivism of how its intellectuals have come to construct it, and inhibitions posed by its structural, material base. Let us first take a look at this nomenclature and its earliest documented constructs.

  • 15 . V.Y. Mudimbe in The Idea of Africa details the evolving forms of African identity For the specifi (...)

53Both anthropological evidence and documented history of the earliest contacts between Africa and the other continents reveal a relationship that can, at the very least, be described as mutually respectful, even if the continent had been variously described. From Africa of the world adas of Gerald Mercator (1595), through Africa of J.W Heydt (1744), Martin de Vos’s sixteenth century Allegory of Africa, or Andreas Schuder’s 1770 painting, Africa, and Cesare Ripa’s 1765 The African Allegory—which linked the continent’s name to Afer, Abraham’s son—we are confronted with a diversity of comprehension of both the peoples and the geography by the accounts of early travelers and explorers. The Greeks once named it Libya, a name that was also used in reference to “any black person in Aithiops,” while the Romans had a province in their empire by the name Africa.15 It is instructive to note that in the latter phase, an element of curiosity of its otherness was already creeping in.

54The work of Alain Bourgeois, a French scholar once resident in Senegal cited by Mudimbe, helps to illuminate the context of this early interaction:

  • 16 . See Mudimbe’s The Idea, p. 20.

It is clear that the Greeks, not only during the Homeric and Classical periods, but also during the Alexandrine period—poets, historians, moralists—knew Negroes far and near, appreciated them without a dilettante’s curiosity without any racial prejudice, on the contrary with the most favorable sentiments and the most flattering terms.16

55Earlier on in the same text, Bourgois had noted:

  • 17 . Ibid., p. 20.

...contrary to many nations concerned with Africa only for her wealth in gold, ivory and manpower, two millennium ago the Greeks looked at Negroes as human beings, with admiration and in brotherly fashion.17

56But even long before Bourgois, Cheikh Anta Diop or even Senghor, Herodotus, a Greek philosopher, had written in a similar vein and would be later disparaged for daring to allude to the possibility of an African influence on Greek culture and civilization. He had stated:

  • 18 . Martin Bernal: Black Athena: The Afro Asiatic Roots of Classical Civilization (London: Vintage, 1 (...)

I will never admit that the similar ceremonies performed in Greece and Egypt are the result of mere coincidence—had that been so, our rites would have been more Greek in character and less recent in origin. Nor will I allow the Egyptians ever took over from Greece either this custom or any other.18

  • 19 . The Invention, p. 10.
  • 20 . Ibid., p. 12.

57In other words, there was an Africa that was related to on its own terms, so to speak, as merely a variant of the Same. And particularly in relation to its arts, which, because of their newness of form to the unpracticed European eye then, they were yet regarded no more than “the mysterious diversity of the Same.” Stricdy speaking, it was not until the eighteenth century as Mudimbe aptly notes, that they entered into the frame of strange—even “ugly” artifacts.19 It was at this point that African alterity became a “negative category of the Same.”20

  • 21 . Ibid., p. 37.

58This was a crucial century in the overall construction of the African identity a moment of firming up ideas and concepts which in the earlier period might only have been tentative and baseless. It was the age of the ‘new’ discoverers, forerunners of colonialism, such as J. Bruce’s expedition into Ethiopia in 1770 and Mungo Park’s journey along the river Niger in 1795. Since disturbed Christian minds would have to be placated (earlier on “In 1562, Francisco de Victoria justified colonial conquests on the basis of Christian trade rights, explaining that it was God’s intent that all nations should trade with each other”21), and colonialism had to be justified, ‘new’ proofs had to be ‘discovered’ of Africa’s pathological inferiority And since Africans necessarily had to be inferior,

  • 22 . Ibid., p. 13.

the technique of Yoruba statuary must have come from Egyptians; Benin art must be a Portuguese creation; the architectural achievement of Zimbabwe was due to Arab technicians; and Hausa and Buganda statecraft were inventions of white invaders.22

59This attitude is replicated in other spheres of colonial interaction and its knowledge base between disciplines as far-flung as the humanities, botany and anthropology It was precisely in this context that Africa started acquiring such synonyms as ‘primitive’ and ‘savage.’ Confronted with the fact of African influence on Greek civilization, an analytical detour had to be made; and this is the focus of Martin Bernal’s work in the first two volumes of The Black Athena: The AfroAsiatic Roots of Classical Civilization. In these works, Bernal probes two conflicting historiographies on Greece: one, an Ancient; two, an Aryan—which he considers a conscious reversal of the earlier model (Vols I&II).

  • 23 . Paulin J. Hountodji’s African Philosophy: Myth and Reality, 2nd ed. (Bloomington and Indianapolis (...)

60It was precisely this epistemological ethnocentricism that Fela would later react to and denounce, beside devising aesthetic canons that foregrounded his claims. But even within the continent, he constantly critiqued in his pronouncements all attempts to make African ethnophilosophy an extroverted discourse. Apart from the more recent publications—from the early nineties onwards—Fela’s personal bibliography on this subject included all of the earlier thinkers and texts cited in this section, even if Nkrumah remained the central inspiration of his concept of Pan-Africanism. He read, assimilated, and entered into polemics on these issues, citing copious materials to the amazement of many scholars in Nigeria and abroad who had not had the benefit of this aspect of the performer’s inclination. And of all of Nkrumah’s works, three texts correspond, albeit in an overlapping manner, to the development of Fela’s conception of an African identity These texts include Consciensism, Africa Must Unite, and Neo-colonialism, The Last Stage of Imperialism. There are suggestions that the concept of Nkrumahism itself is problematic in view of the claim that he did not author some of the works credited to him. Whatever the truth of this claim, what is indisputable is the existence of a coherence—both of logic and content of these works—such as to lead one into agreement with Paulin J. Hountodji’s submission that the central question is “How should one read Nkrumah’s works?”23

61There were obvious discontinuities and even revisions of positions earlier taken by Nkrumah in a manner that saw the African statesman and political thinker in a dynamic development while engaging concerns of the African condition. On the question of violence, we see a fundamental shift in the latter Nkrumah, from a Ghandhi-influenced pacifism to an acknowledgment of the inevitability of revolutionary violence in the context of seizing state power by oppressed classes. Consciensism (1970) represents his clearest thinking on the presumed communal ethos of pre-colonial Africa. Nkrumah’s later works do acknowledge the existence of class struggle in the continent (as evinced in Neo-Colonialism ), although he started off more reluctantly by positing this as a sequel to an external imposition. What Nkrumah was invariably saying at this phase is that the labor-capital relation in Africa was incapable of generating surplus value or, at best, that surplus value could only be externally generated.

  • 24 . Ibid., p. 138.

62He advocated African unity in Africa Must Unite (1963), arguing that a critical element in foisting dependency and neo-colonialism is through the balkanization of states and peoples. Although a position that is not essentially wrong, as a political and an ideological project, he seemed to have underestimated “the differences in political and ideological orientation between the various African states.”24 In recognition of this limitation, he would later develop a handbook that emphasized grassroots and peoples-to-peoples contact since political leaders do not always represent the popular will of their people.

  • 25 . Information from Fela’s correspondence.

63A radical departure here is that Fela has a concept of Africa as a black continent. Even when he tries to move into a non-racial category of Africa, he does not quite get too far from that initial conception. The attempt to transcend the racially based category in his interpersonal relationship is symbolized by his mode of signing his personal letters with the phrase—“best African wishes” rather than “best black wishes” of the seventies.25 He also attempts to grapple with this in his attitude to the negritude movement. According to him:

  • 26 . See Lasisi, B.A. project, 1980.

Negritudists think along the same line as J.K. Aggrey in his theory about the black and white keys of the piano. Negritude does not give the blackman his full expression.26

  • 27 . See Mudimbe’s The Invention, p. 86.

64In spite of this claim, there is still a sense in which Fela is undoubtedly in agreement with certain strands of the negritude movement, such as those represented by Aime Cesaire, Jules Monnerot, Birago Diop and even Senghor, to the extent that they try—in spite of being different hues of socialists—to “determine a strategy for promoting the individuality of African culture.”27 (Emphasis mine.) Thus, theoretically, he agrees on the individuality of the blackman, but rejects those binary postulations of his vocation and potential that preoccupy Senghor’s imagination. This can only be said to be a theoretical concession because, quite often, the implication of some of Fela’s positions places’him in this same negritud-ist mold. The distinction he tries to make between ‘technology,’ and ‘naturalogy’ for instance, has the suggestion that the African (read black) is incapable of quantitative and analytical knowledge, even when Fela as an individual is a self-evident negation of this stereotype.

  • 28 . T Hodgkin in Nationalism in Colonial Africa (New York: New York University Press, 1957,) pp. 174- (...)

65This view remains a verv romantic outlook of the African—a particular type of African who has not agreed to be integrated into the Western maelstrom. And that African was a very simple, non-complex type, one in the Rouseauian African golden age fantasia of “perfect liberty equality and fraternity”28 Hence, his choice is for “naturalogy” not technology the latter being derived from the insatiate lust for profit rather than genuine progress and concern for the human person. But in doing this, he somewhat swings to the extreme of denying universal references of certain knowledge production—of which the African is also part creator—by branding them as “Western.” Ultimately, his is an African that has distanced the self from a society in which he is not in control: This African appears to be overwhelmed by the ‘interference’ factor of colonialism.

  • 29 . See ANA Review, a quarterly publication of the Association of Nigerian Authors, 1995.

66Another rung of the African identity debate is the sort of distinctions made by Ali Mazrui and Kwabena Nketia. Mazrui has, since the mid-seventies, put forth the idea of a supposed triple heritage to which Africa subscribes or is implicated in, by virtue of the prevalence of Western (and Christian), Oriental (and Islamic) and indigenous values in the continent. However, Nketia, like Fela, rebuts this claim, arguing that the African context is better captured by a description that acknowledges only “one heritage,” that is, the indigenous, “and two major invasions,” those are, Western and Judeo-Christian, and, Oriental and Islamic.29 Again, we see here a problem of definition arising from a difference in the paradigms deployed. Is Africa being defined by geography race (read pigmentation), religious values or even language?

  • 30 . In Mahmood Mamdani’s “When Does a Setder Become a Native? Reflections on the Colonial Roots of Ci (...)

67Yet, another strand to this debate is Fela’s conception of citizenshi p in the context of defining an African identity From his perspective, all negro Africans would qualify as citizens of the continent even if colonial intervention had reduced them to ethnic citizens. And as Mahmood Mamdani has aptly pointed out in the case of the equatorial region of Africa, the colonizing forces assumed citizenship while “Natives were said to belong NOT to any civic space, but to an ethnic space,30 Discussed in relation to the post-eighteenth century European colonizing forces, Fela’s position is quite clear: they were neither citizens nor do they belong to an ethnic space—even when they might have usurped citizenship rights as settlers. However, he rejects the qualification of any black African in the continent as belonging to anything less than a civic space; in other words, no black African should be regarded as a native settler, a somewhat contradictory term which could also be based no longer on a racial but an ethnic category as Mamdani suggests. Arising from this, Fela calls for the inclusion of the black diaspora into the Organisation of African Unity (OAU). It is also this reading that informs his support for the Biafran secessionists during the Nigerian civil war—even when he believes in a united and democratic Nigeria. Fela reads the incidence of the araba, when thousands of Igbos were killed in northern Nigeria on the eve of the war, as a classic reading of an Igbo (re)classification as Native Settlers. The Igbo thus became an ethnic stranger —as against a redefined indigenous ethnic citizen, a privilege which the predominant Hausa-Fulani groups extended to non-Igbos during the riots.

68In application to the entire continent, Fela’s position is quite tenuous and an appropriate way to describe it is that he regards non-Negro Africans as Native Settlers in so far as they seek to redefine Africa away from its indigenous values. In relation to Arab Africa in particular, his position is a hybrid of an anthropological and ideological reading. The anthropological stems from Fela’s articulation of the concept of the indigenous, more or less, as those who first peopled this (Africa) land. Ideologically there could hardly be any room for accommodation once such groups also exhibit(ed) extroverted settler mentality by partaking in an ideology of (superior) racial complex, or were implicated in the less-talked-about negro enslavement across the Sahara.

69However, what makes Fela’s position challenging is that he fuses certain animistic structures with a diasporic image of (black) Africa, so that the old ancestors of ancient times were now replaced by a new set of ancestors such as Kwame Nkrumah, Patrice Lumumba, W.E.B. Du Bois, Marcus Garvey and Malcolm X, who are determinate in their thinking and accessible. By bringing together these diverse, identifiable African ancestors to build a common image out of them, he demonstrates a clear preference for the continental to the ethnic ancestor. This distinction between the nationalist and the continentalist underscores his ‘universalist’ conception of Africa, what in the discourse of African philosophy would be described as “unanimism”—that is, an African culture that is unitary and to which all Africans subscribe.

70This explains why Fela never came to terms with the idea of national and regional boundaries in the continent, and the sense of ease with which he intervenes (through his lyrics and physical intervention) in local politics, especially in the West African subregion. This is what the Ghanaian police in the early eighties might not have been mindful of when he was taken in at the Adabraka police station in Accra after he challenged a Lebanese whom he deemed was violating the rights of a Ghanaian trader. Obviously, there were various levels of conceptual confusion between Fela and the Lebanese on the one hand, and on the other, the police. While the police, on this particular occasion, saw in the Lebanese a higher citizen—by virtue of his potential links with members of the Ghanaian ruling class—Fela challenged the Lebanese’s claim to that citizenship not only in respect to Ghana but to the entire continent. However, neither the Lebanese, the police, nor even the trader who was being assisted could understand the basis of Fela’s effrontery since he was not considered a Ghanaian citizen, a prospect which Fela would have considered ludicrous since he was already African which, by his own reckoning, simply meant a variant of the Same. This conception could only have been strengthened if on a casual visit to Ghana (which he did quite often), he is greeted with akwaaba which resonates in his Yoriiba as ekúàbò. Or when another Twi retorts mi ba sesi ya, he immediately recognizes mòún bò ní sisìínyi—both meaning ’I shall be returning shortly’

71This attitude, for him, means that you had cultures with their formal integrity relating across many interactive spaces in a manner that made it possible for them to share ideas, not necessarily until colonialism but through contact predating the colonial moment. He was specific about the indices of that unanimity one of which is cultural values, in terms of the ways Africans live. One of the interesting ironies of his outlook is that while being an advocate for the working class, he takes, quite often, a very peasant view of lived experience. For instance, he would emphasize the choice of a chewing stick to a toothbrush, or eating with bare hands rather than European cutlery which he sees as striving to be as natural as you can get.

72In his thrust toward an aesthetics of the unanimist, Fela compares readily to two other African performing artists, Werewere Liking (as earlier indicated) and Wole Soyinka. With the latter, this comes to bear in Ogun Abibiman where Soyinka’s experimental fusion of a mythical figure, Ògún (Yorùbá—Nigeria), and a more contemporary ancestor, Shaka (Zulu—South Africa), with whom he explores a timeless mutuality of these figures. In addition, Fela also relates the idea of being African to the idea of the original or early man, who is free, unencumbered by conventions and apparatuses of containment. This is the central theme of the track, Africa, Center of the World. His music from Jeun Koku (1971) keeps pointing at that element of authenticity the purity of the human as a person free to act and create. Without asserting it in any clear theoretical frame, he subscribes to solarism and the climatic influence on culture. Oft times, he repeats the “natural” warmth of the African whom he contrasts to the European whom he finds rather cold. He is in this sense attributing a certain happy-go-luckiness to the sun, which puts a sparkle in every situation.

  • 31 . See A.M. Babu’s “The New World Disorder—Which Way Africa?” in Tajudeen Abdul-Raheem (ed.) Pan Afr (...)

73The circumscription of the dream of a self-conscious Africa, arising from the weak nature of its economy led Fela to suggestions of causative factors similar to those once espoused by A.M. Babu in: “the inherited backwardness from the primitive structure of colonial economy failed attempts to formulate policies for restructuring these economies after independence, and a proliferation of weak and self-seeking leadership and coup makers.”31

74In spite of his forays in (political) group organizational efforts, however, Fela is essentially in a strict Bakuninian sense, an anarchist. Not believing in the Other’s grand narrative, he settles for the Foucaultian type single issue, interventionist symbolic actions: challenging individual instances of oppression, standing up for a Ghanaian trader cheated by a Lebanese, snatching the helmet of a ‘rude’ policeman, and commissioning a driver to cruise around town with a Mercedez Benz fixed with a carriage, to convey fuel in order to trivialize a symbol of elitism. This interventionist stance is often realized in his lyrical discourse as the troubadour and quester for truth. It usually comes off as “me Fela I challenge...” as we find in Army Arrangement. Apparently, having frequently succeeded in a lumpen mode of advocacy he elevated the form into a theory of living.

75Anarchism here does not suggest the absence of organization, or as in the everyday usage of the destructive instinct. Fela’s sense of anarchism is simply a commitment to freedom in a specific manner that was not going to make compromises because convention requires him to do so. He was a man who used authority himself and exercised it effectively; people respected and deferred to him and that gave him the freedom to act outside the code he created for his followers. The primary and general fan followed him but Fela was hardly himself a follower, at least not of an immediate, visible authority Those whom he supposedly followed were highly rarefied and not quite immediate. Nkrumah, Lumumba, Garvey Du Bois and Malcolm X were dead. Though there was a mythical conception of authority which Fela relates to, but here on earth—and surely in his republic—he was the boss.

  • 32 . See Robert Norzick, Anarchy, State and Utopia. New York: Basic Books, 1974), p. 334.
  • 33 . VI. Lenin State and the Revolution (Moscow: Progress Publishers, 1985), p. 91.

76In relation to the broad sense of organization of civil society the most he could tolerate was the ‘minimal state,’ one in which citizens ought to be treated as “inviolate individuals, who may not be used in certain ways by others as means or tools or instruments or resources.”32 He shares certain basic ideas with many radical thinkers of the century, in identifying layers of contradictions between labor and capital, imperialism and the developing world, private property and social production, and a timid acceptance of the necessity to abolish the state. Through his examples and precepts, he invariably affirms Lenin’s thesis in State and Revolution that “So long as there is the state there is no freedom. When there is freedom there will be no state.”33 But these are ideas equally shared by anarchists; in addition to Fela’s disdain for structure and organization, even when he created them for contingency purposes. His soul was essentially etched in the lines of anarchism’s polemicist, J.P Proudhon, who had identified some of the state’s domestic ’inconveniences” in the fact that:

  • 34 . See John Beverly Robinson’s translation of J.P Proudhon, General Ideas of the Revolution in the N (...)

To be governed is to be watched, inspected, spied upon, directed, law-driven, numbered, regulated, enrolled, indoctrinated, preached at, controlled, checked, estimated, valued, censured, commanded, by creatures who have neither the right nor the wisdom nor the virtue to do so...That is government; that is justice; that is its morality.34

77Fela needed not to have been self-conscious of theoretical anarchism—either as philosophically deriving from the Hegelian axiom of “negation of negation,” or as a perspective of the necessity for the absence of a central authority—but all the organizations he helped create were aimed at first distancing themselves from authority and disrupting what that authority considered the norm. Ever since his youth, he had hankered after the displacement of central authority when he founded “The Planless Society” and “The Planless Times Publication”—organizations that were promptly banned by the school authorities.


1 . From the poet’s unpublished collection, “Endsong II.”

2 . In the manner of my mother’s constant recrimination to a child playing dangerously.

3 . This had less to do with how much members of the household were paid, which was indeed barely on subsistence level, as a statement symbolized by the very act of his style of living.

4 . He neither appeared this way in public nor on stage while performing as occasionally suggested in the popular media.

5 . A similar experience is described by Dick Hebdige in “Reggae, Rastas and Rudies” in James Curran et. al. (ed.) Mass Communication and Society (London: Edward Arnold, 1977), pp. 427-439.

6 . Ibid. A similar experience of the Rastafarian subculture was equally documented.

7 . Theodor W Adorno Introduction to the Sociology of Music (New York: Continuum, 1975), p. 115.

8 . From Fela’s correspondence.

9 . Details given by Jide John, one-time supervisor at the Kalakuta Republic.

10 . Cited from brochure of the Kiyi M’Bock company

11 . See Friederich Nietzche’s The Birth of Tragedy and the Genealogy of Morals (New York: Doubleday and Company 1956, pp 96-7.

12 . “Report of the Lagos Government on Administrative Board of Inquiry into the Disturbances at 14A Agege Motor Road, Idi Oro, 1977.”

13 . Ibid., p. 21.

14 . Surfed on “alt.culture:2 Live Crew”; and Houston Baker’s Rap and the Academy (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1993).

15 . V.Y. Mudimbe in The Idea of Africa details the evolving forms of African identity For the specific quotation, see The Invention of Africa: Gnosis, Philosophy, and the Order of Knowledge (Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, and London: James Currey 1988), p. xi.

16 . See Mudimbe’s The Idea, p. 20.

17 . Ibid., p. 20.

18 . Martin Bernal: Black Athena: The Afro Asiatic Roots of Classical Civilization (London: Vintage, 1987), p. 100.

19 . The Invention, p. 10.

20 . Ibid., p. 12.

21 . Ibid., p. 37.

22 . Ibid., p. 13.

23 . Paulin J. Hountodji’s African Philosophy: Myth and Reality, 2nd ed. (Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 1996), p. 131.

24 . Ibid., p. 138.

25 . Information from Fela’s correspondence.

26 . See Lasisi, B.A. project, 1980.

27 . See Mudimbe’s The Invention, p. 86.

28 . T Hodgkin in Nationalism in Colonial Africa (New York: New York University Press, 1957,) pp. 174-5.

29 . See ANA Review, a quarterly publication of the Association of Nigerian Authors, 1995.

30 . In Mahmood Mamdani’s “When Does a Setder Become a Native? Reflections on the Colonial Roots of Citizenship in Equatorial and Southern Africa.” Text of 1998 Inaugural Lecture as A.C. Jordan Professor of African Studies, University of Cape Town, Centre for African Studies.

31 . See A.M. Babu’s “The New World Disorder—Which Way Africa?” in Tajudeen Abdul-Raheem (ed.) Pan Africanism: Politics, Economy and Social Change in the Twenty-First Century (London: Pluto Press, 1996), p. 90.

32 . See Robert Norzick, Anarchy, State and Utopia. New York: Basic Books, 1974), p. 334.

33 . VI. Lenin State and the Revolution (Moscow: Progress Publishers, 1985), p. 91.

34 . See John Beverly Robinson’s translation of J.P Proudhon, General Ideas of the Revolution in the Nineteenth Century (London: Freedom Press, 1923), pp. 293-4.

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