Keeping the Fela dream alive

Fela Anikulapo-Kuti

Sixteen years after the death of afrobeat superstar, Fela Anikulapo-Kuti, his legacies live on, writes CHUX OHAI

Exactly 16 years ago, legendary afro beat musician, Fela Anikulapo-Kuti, died in Lagos after a protracted illness. He was just 58 year-old at the time. Even his worst critics believed that he lived a fulfilled life, though it was laced with controversy and turbulence.

Fela may have died of AIDS, but his creative genius is still unequalled and his position as Africa’s most imaginative musician remains vacant to this day. His legacy, afro beat, has been described as one of the most compelling and original music genres that ever existed in the world.

Although the maestro’s fiery pan-African activism, which often landed him in deep trouble with the Nigerian military and other reactionary forces in the past, may have vanished with his death, his music is still a major referent point.

Fela’s voice and music lives on mainly through the exploits of Femi and Seun, his oldest and youngest sons, respectively, on the global stage. The same applies to millions of his dedicated disciples, admirers, and fans around the world, whose individual or collective efforts have continued to ensure the survival of his legacies.

Femi and his brother, Seun, have worked hard enough to carry on from where their father stopped. Both of them are as passionate and politically-oriented as Fela. Last year, Femi was nominated for the Grammy, perhaps the most prestigious and coveted award in the history of the global music industry, for the third time. Although he failed to win the crest, his nomination was sufficient proof that afro beat is still relevant.

Apart from following the footsteps of his late father and Femi closely, Seun has, through sheer hard work, managed to keep alive the afrobeat dream in his own way. The musician, whose youth clearly belies his maturity, seems to be perpetually on a playing tour of various parts of the world with the Egypt ’80 Orchestra, selling Afrobeat and spreading the pan-African ideal to enthusiastic audiences across Europe and North America.

Like his father, Seun seems to be inclined to controversy. A few days ago, he took time off an appearance at the ongoing 2013 Womad Music Festival in the United Kingdom to stir the proverbial hornet’s nest by a posting a statement on his Facebook status.

He had said, “The only religion in Africa with a unified doctrine is the traditional african religion and yet it is the evil one. The imported religion do not even accept among themselves what their god says to do or don’t do and they r the good guys. I am happy I am an atheist!!”

Some of Seun’s Facebook friends quickly took him up on the statement. They reminded him that it contradicted his claims to being a believer in traditional African religious practices.

In a tone that was laced with sarcasm, one of the critics, a Thespian named Ugo Stevenson, told the singer to get rid of the traces of Sango worship planted in him by Fela before declaring himself an atheist.

“Fela was an Ifa priest and he never indoctrinated his children because he believed that to understand Ifa worship they had to be mature enough to choose the right path. His own father, who was a priest of the Anglican Church, did not give him that option. My father did not practise what his father believed in and he never asked me to be what I did not want to be,” Seun replied.

As expected, the conversation gradually progressed into a debate among some of Seun’s Christian and Muslim friends, with both sides coming short of hurling insults at one another.

However, one Gerri Dee, managed to douse the tension when he said, “For me, since all religions are human-made, I take what I like from some and apply them to my quest to be the best human being that I can be on this earth. I don’t know for sure how we got here. I believe in a stronger power, but not sure what it is. Whatever it is, it is too big for humans to understand or to put down in a holy book. Certainly he is not a man with a white beard who watches everything you do.”

The Afrobeat star went on to make another declaration. He said, “I won’t discard my own culture. I study our religion for cultural, not religious, purposes,” he said. Fela would have said exactly the same thing.

Once, reacting to pressure from his fans, friends and relatives, Seun had announced that he would never get married. So far, he has kept his words.

If he were alive, Fela would be 74 in October. Already, there is an indication that he might not be forgotten in a hurry. There have been efforts to preserve his legacies and to ensure that his voice continues to resonate via musicals, such as Fela!, which was produced on Broadway and directed by Tony Award winner Bill. T. Jones in 2009, and Beats of a BArD’s Country, another musical was launched in Finland by the International Cultural Centre in Helsinki last April.

Apart from the annual music and cultural festival known as Felabration, Fela’s  home at 7, Gbemisola Street in Ikeja, Lagos, popularly known as Kalakuta Republic, was transformed into a museum by the Lagos State Government in collaboration with his family.

As usual, the driving factor is the urge to preserve the history and legacies of the self-styled Abami Eda for future generations of Nigerians and indeed, Africans.

Apart from its significance to tourism and cultural development in Lagos State, the museum is expected to go a long way in preserving the history of Fela, his philosophy, music, cultural activism, nuances, and documents.