“…you see, when my mother & father wanted a baby, they didn’t want me. they wanted a baby, any fuckin’ baby man! Well, here I am now. I came. I believe there is a plan… I believe there is no accident in our lives… I will do my part. Then i’ll just go man!… Just go!”— Fela, (Fela: This bitch of a life)
Sister: Read Fela, it’s a nice book.
Me: You know I don’t like sad stories. Life is sad enough.
Sister: It’s not that bad.
Still I wasn’t convinced to meet Abami Eda* just yet. All I knew about Fela was his ballsy music, harassments faced and atrocities committed on him by the government. To me that was enough, I didn’t need the extra deets. That was a year ago.
I had just finished Butterfly Fish by Irenosen Okojie and was hungry for another African literature but the thought of how time consuming the search might be made me grumble. My eyes strolled to my bookshelf and there it was, the book I had been avoiding, staring back at me. I reached for it whispering ‘to read or not to read’. The voice in my head said ‘you might as well read it and stop being a chicken’. I listened. It was quite refreshing to see other sides to Fela from his young days of ass whooping (which he hated very much) to his adult years and gain access to some of his innermost thoughts. Fela had balls! I duff my hat for him.
With a forward and introduction by Gilberto Gil and Margaret Busby, ‘Fela: This bitch of a life’ is an authorised biography well put together by Carlos Moore ‘based on many hours of conversation’ with Fela, interviews with his close friends and some of his wives or rather queens as he called them. Although the book had a reasonable dose of humour, it was quite emotional to read painful experiences faced by Fela and his loved ones because these weren’t just made up fictitious but rather real life experiences. I loved the layout. It was like having mental conversations with Abami Eda himself, only that you weren’t the one asking the questions answered. Growing up with a mother who was politically inclined (His mother, Funmilola Ransome-Kuti was a strong political activist who helped change situations, especially for women), you’d have thought his struggle for the betterment of the masses, fight against corruption and injustice would have been a part of him from the onset. However, even with such background Fela would only begin to pick interest and see things differently after reading ‘The Autobiography of Malcom X’ given to him by an intimate friend he met in 1969, Sandra Izsadore —the lady who inspired and influenced him—who was an activist at the time in America. In the book, you get to know how he came up with his ideology, handled his household (his small Africa —Kalakuta Republic—which welcomed all), his music and political struggles. Not left out are; his views on religion, education, gender relations, sex & marriage—which he termed ‘dysfunctional and an aberration’. Fela wasn’t a fan of religion nor the ‘suffer in the world and enjoy in heaven’ shibboleth & like Marx who termed religion as ‘the opium of the people/masses’, he saw religion as just another manipulative tool. The interviews with his wives, gave an insight to how each met Fela, their different views about him and how much love they have for him even after the, ‘shattering and brutal experience at the hands of soldiers’ who raided and set fire to Kalakuta in 1977, which was neither the first nor last raid.To think those raids and harassments would have stopped Fela from passing on his message, they lied! I repeat Fela had balls!!
“There are things that are difficult for ordinary human beings to understand, unless you’re metaphysically inclined.” — Fela, (Fela: This bitch of a life)
‘For another 15 years he would be flung from one jail to another enduring a string of horrors likely to have broken any other human’ fighting for what he believed in with little support as ‘the Nigerian masses didn’t defy their oppressors head on even though Fela fought tooth and nail for them’. Like every human, he had his flaws and one might not agree with all his ideas but I respect his struggles and ability to stand for what he believed in until the very end regardless of hardships faced. Not alot would have stood their ground in the face of adversity especially with little support from who they were struggling for. As a true bearer of his name, Fela Anikulapo Kuti — which means ‘He who emanates greatness, who has control over death and who cannot be killed by human entity’— was a great man who even though in the actual sense didn’t have control over death, escaped it so many times. In 1997, he died of natural causes (AIDS) rather than in the hands of the authorities as one might have expected. In the midst of the turmoil and struggles, he found himself. He was that relentless preacher whose legendary music is ever relevant till date. Towards the end of his life Fela delved too deep into the spiritual which in turn affected certain things and even his relationship with others but still that didn’t deter him & till death he was an unapologetic pain in the ass to the government.
Rest In Peace Black President aka Chief Priest of Shrine.
“But when everything is considered, Fela was certainly one of the most remarkably courageous voices of libertarian protest heard on the African continent in the 20th century. his message that solidarity was humankind’s most precious achievement may be the reason why, in this century of global interconnections & concerns, his memory and music refuse to go away.”— Carlos Moore, (Fela: This bitch of a life).
With Love From Ola 💋 xoxo