By Trista diGenova-CHANG

There was a time in my life, not so long ago, when ALL I LISTENED TO was Fela Kuti. The Black President’, they called him, because he was the man who ran – or tried to run – & should have been Nigeria’s president, but tinpot dictators prevented him.
He was too powerful a voice of conscience for them to allow to come to power. They persecuted him, till he remained solely within the sphere of music, but always as gadfly with his scathing lyrics. As he was persecuted by the Nigerian government at every step, he turned to weaponizing music, in I.T.T. – International Thief Thief’ & others. He fearlessly pointed the finger at the real criminals in charge of his country, & the international criminals conspiring with them. He made it known for all to see – and hear – who the culprits were, causing such widespread human misery.
Yet he felt for the “Sufferheads” – the poor & oppressed living in shantytowns & shacks, suffering due to the excesses of their government. It is a situation that resonates today, because we still find ourselves in this predicament: The Oligarchs are vampiristic & bleed us all dry.
In that Year of Nothing But Fela, listened to EVERYTHING I COULD FIND on Youtube by him, & watched all the documentaries about his life story.
Fela was incredibly important as an historic figure. He tried to warn the people through music about the corruption & excesses of not just the Nigerian government, but to all ‘corporatists’ (my term) the world over.
No other music is as perfect; as danceable, it keeps you moving, the movement keeps us fit & fluid & quick on our toes, mentally & physically. It is perfect to work to this music.
He is the ultimate bandleader – almost impossible to take his show on the road, since there were so many players.
Beautiful beats by Tony Allen, probably the best drummer of all-time. Timeless rhythms – this was the Birth of Afrobeat.
Fela’s music has a political consciousness like no other – Unknown Soldier is heart-breaking, telling the story of his mother – single-handedly responsible for bringing Nigerian the vote – was thrown out of the window during an attack by government soldiers, who claimed ‘an unknown soldier’ did such a heinous crime.
His music is Consciousness-raising, moving & amusing – & proud, the epitome of ‘Black Pride’. In Gentleman – with its iconic saxophone that I have listened to countless times (& am getting a saxophone to learn how to play!), he mocks his friend who dresses himself in all the accoutrements of finery; pretending to be ‘A Gentleman’. “I be no Gentleman at all, at all, oh!”
He played all the instruments like a maestro, & his call-and-response was infinitely catchy.
All in all, it was a year & a half well-spent, listening to nothing but Fela Kuti. I never missed the other stuff. With Fela, there is no need to listen to any other music, anyway, since Fela’s music encapsulates every emotion, sentiment, political thought – AND makes us dance!
The King of Soul James Brown, took his trademark funky groove, inspired mainly by Fela Kuti. Beatle Faul McCartney traveled all the way to Nigeria & The Shrine to listen to Fela’s all-night jam sessions. I wonder, is his Shrine still there ? 🙂 I would like to one day visit it; to me, it would be my form of mecca.
Music never had it better than this, & probably will never do so ! It will never get any better than Fela.