In the wake of the recently passed “anti-gay” law by the Nigerian government and President Goodluck Jonathan, there has been much speculation online as to how Fela Kuti, my father, would react. So let us get this clear, and I will also express my own views on the matter.
My father would not support this law. He would know why the law was passed: as a way of distracting the population from the main problems we face today – poverty, lack of electricity and services, corruption, mismanagement, and so on and so forth.
That being said, Fela may have had some reservations about homosexuality itself. Who is to say? No one can speak for him. But Fela would not have had any reservations about upholding and protecting basic human rights. The right to choose your own sexuality and sexual behavior – as long as it is between consenting adults – is one such human right.
It’s a difficult topic for a lot of people in Nigeria to understand as it’s a very new issue that has never been quite public. Our culture and traditions and certain religious values make it more difficult for many to accept or understand, and it will take some time for those people to learn to respect the fundamental human rights of others to express themselves freely. People have said that being gay is “un-African” – I’m not an expert on our history, but I don’t know of any [instance] where the topic is mentioned in our history (I am not referring to Christian orthodoxy that was brought by non-African missionaries).
The gay community in Nigeria will have to be patient and realise acceptance of homosexuality is a gradual process which will take a very long time – especially in the north of Nigeria. But they must slowly put their case forward. They will need a lot of diplomatic support, and they will have to fight the law. They might definitely lose, but they will just have to keep on fighting for their fundamental right to live. There is no other choice.
We have to keep talking about the issue of gay rights, but it’s the government’s responsibility to take the lead to defend people’s fundamental rights. Citizens must have the right to be who they want to be.
Femi Kuti for okayafrica, ablog dedicated to bringing you the latest from Africa‘s New Wave.
One day in February 1977, the military government had had enough of Fela Kuti and ordered that soldiers raid his self-declared independent ‘nation’, the Kalakuta Republic. They burned down the houses of the commune. They beat up the activist and musician severely and raped many women, including his wives. They threw Fela’s mother Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti, an activist and political figure who fought for women’s rights and democracy, through a window. She died months later as a result of her injuries. Fela, carried along by a wave of loss and sadness, later decided to lead a group of his followers to the residence of the head of state at Dodan Barracks with the coffin of his dead mother. His message to the Nigerian government of the day was clear: take what you have made of my home, my country, and give us back what is ours.
Felabration, the annual two-day festival celebrating the now-late Fela Kuti, was held in Lagos this week at a time when Nigeria is in the most peculiar of situations. The country is in bad shape, to be sure, but its ruins are not the same in every home. Some of us have not had our entire worlds yanked from beneath our feet. Some among us have children who do not know a time when our walls saw a coat of paint. Others merely see the worst of pervasive lack on the streets while riding in air-conditioned cars. Our Africa is indeed rising, but with a tide that has lifted some boats and sunk many others. That so many of us are buoyed while most are sinking can distort our urgency, but it is at this time that Nigerians must find the eyes to see the bleeding body that has been dropped at our front door.
With a wildly popular Broadway musical and a movie currently being made of his life, Fela Kuti’s image and music have seen quite the resurgence in the past decade, but I do not think enough has been said about what he tells us about restoring Nigeria. He was defiantly, stubbornly, wholly himself. All parts of himself – Yoruba, Nigerian, African, black, man – coexisted in way that it simply does not for so many of us here, our language heavily-accented by the Western world that influences us. And it’s not like Fela Kuti did not have his musical influences from beyond Nigeria, like Ornette Coleman and Sun-Ra. It’s not like he was not part British himself, with a mother who was by no means conventional.
In an era where so much of our literature is besotted with culturally uncomfortable people like me whose indigenous language is clunky as metal on our tongues, Nigeria’s ever-expanding gap between the rich and poor means that, even if you did speak your language, you still may not be able to easily relate to the majority of the people around you. These are the lines that are drawn that undergird the politics of our time.
This assuredness in his identity freed Fela in a way that mine does not for me, ridding him of any longing to effect change in a nation while casting himself aside in technocratic detachment, striving to be immune to its politics. If you’re sure of who you are, sure of the strength of your core beliefs and values, then you need not fear what your environment may do to you. Best of all, you would not fear being political, and Fela was unabashedly political. He started a political party, Movement of the People. His Kalakuta Republic was an unabashedly political statement. Remarkably, through his music he was able to convey everything from observations on Cold War geopolitics and Nigeria’s military dictatorship (listen to Beasts of No Nation and Unknown Soldier) to heartbreaking storytelling (Coffin for Head of State) and reflective observations on urban life (Monday Morning in Lagos is one of my favourites).
We live in a more global world than Fela did, and I pride myself on not being bound by my Nigerianness. You’d understand, then, my hesitance at the idea that Nigeria is worth dying for. I am an educated self-sufficient young Nigerian who, by accident of family, class and network, can afford a life that a lot of people would be fortunate to have. I’m not filthy rich, mind: the cost of phone calls and internet connectivity still make me cringe; I do not own a generator set so I’m on my own when there are outages; I do not own a car so the cost of transportation in Lagos is a major reason why I hardly ever visit my hometown and adds to the cost of my grocery list every week here in Abuja. Still, I survive – even flourish – in a way a lot of fellow Nigerians do not. I get angry, but I also get tired of being angry. I simply cannot summon the reserve from which to draw on to continue to lash out over and over again.
I often envision Fela in awe, fighting back tears as he led a procession to Dodan Barracks with a coffin containing his dead mother, his steps heavy as he approached the front gate. He must have known that he would end up in prison for a long time at best or be killed at worse, and I do not know where his strength, his faith, his rage, his patriotism came from. I do know that we have to find it and give back this mangled body of a nation for what is truly ours. Just as with Fela, the worst that could happen is that our efforts fail.
Saratu Abiola is a writer and blogger based in Abuja. Connect with her on Twitter or on her blog.
The face of music in Africa is changing. Musicians are seeking alternative routes to the shoddy label of ‘world music’, and finding unprecedented levels of success in the process. There is a growing amount of independent artists who, through their ability to combine global influences with localised flavours, have figured out how to capture a wide-ranging legion of followers.
For this month’s post, I’ve mined some treasure to present the second edition of African musicians to look out for. We chart territory ranging from pop music in South Africa to post-Fela beats in Nigeria. I also got in touch with Brooklyn-based Ghanaian rapper Blitz the Ambassador whose free-to-download offering entitled The Warm Up was released on Tuesday.
Beatenberg – Chelsea Blakemore
Beatenberg comprises three South African lads whose latest single Chelsea Blakemore harvests from their backgrounds in jazz and electronic music to add to their growing catalogue of hauntingly evocative songs. These, in drummer Robin Brink’s words, are aimed at “everyone ready for a fresh South African pop sound.” The lyrics are playfully gutsy – or painfully ironic depending on how receives them. This particular song is named after vocalist/guirarist Matthew Field’s ex-girlfriend. “We’re all tight friends” asserts Brink. Ross Dorkins’ touch of bass adds to the song’s smoothness, making it a potential favourite at the country’s festivals during the upcoming summer. Their full length album will be released by Universal Records in 2014.
Zone Fam – Translate
Zone Fam is a Zambia-based rap group who has done well in penetrating the consciousness of audiences across the continent since their break-away hit Shaka Zulu on em hit airwaves two years ago. With a new single circulating and a new album in the works, it’s exciting times for the quartet comprising Dope G, Jay Rox, Yung Verbal and Thugga. They’ve been nominated for the African Entertainment Awards – a ceremony aimed at honouring “the rich culture of african [sic] art and entertainment” – under the best group category. Their sophomore album is due for release later on in the year. They follow up their party-centric Lobolawith this subdued homage to body language.
Burna Boy – Run My Race
The solid, gliding patterns of Afrobeats have ensured that Fela Kuti‘s legacy continues to exist in modern pop music. While bands elsewhere are taking the Afrobeat staple refined by Kuti, artists on the continent have resorted to panel-beating the danceable aspects of the genre into a new wave of sound referred to as Afrobeats, a sub-genre described by Olufemi Terry as “African pop about women, parties and success” in an article published by South Africa’s Rolling Stone magazine. Commenting on the Kuti/Afrobeats relationship, Terry pondered whether the legend would turn in his grave were he to hear the sound he was linked to this sound.
Burna Boy, the Nigerian-born artist who sang “They say I sound like a combination of Sizzla and Fela Kuti” on My Journey, has decided to embrace comparisons to the latter. He went to the Afrobeat legend’s shrine, the Kalakuta Republic, for the video of one of his latest works. Entitled Run My Race, the song is best experienced in sweaty clubs along West Africa, and increasingly across the continent.
Blitz the Ambassador
“From Tahrir Square to Madison Square the streets are crammed, Revolution will not be televised or Instagrammed,” raps American-based Ghanaian rapper Blitz the Ambassador. He set aside time to chat about how his song Bisa(What [are] you asking?) got made. The result is a fierce socio-political manifesto featuring UK-based rapper TY and Nigerian vocalist Nneka.
“There were only two collaborations that were done in person. One was Nneka. That literally happened accidentally I recorded with her [over the] Internet for the actual album, ” Blitz the Ambassador explained.
“We facilitated that through the internet, it’s a brilliant song! I got to Paris; she just happened to be in town as well and wanted to link up. So I told her I was working and she came through to hang and say hello. She heard Bisa; I’d just started crafting it, and she was like ‘This is amazing, I’d love to jump on.’ I said: ‘Take a shot.’ That’s how the song ended up being made.”