Nige­rian pop mu­sic:

In the shadow of Fela Kuti

Sunday Express - - ENTERTAINMENT -

FELA Kuti was known as “the King of Afrobeat”. Krizbeatz calls him­self “the King of AfroDance”, the Nige­rian mu­sic that has got mil­lions danc­ing across Africa and the world.

For Fela, as he is still known to fans, mu­sic was of­ten a lifethreat­en­ing fight against cor­rupt mil­i­tary dic­ta­tor­ships that ruled Nige­ria in the 1970s and 1980s.

For the tal­ented Krizbeatz, a child of the cap­i­tal­ist and demo­cratic 1990s, mu­sic is a game.

But the self-as­sured 22-yearold mu­sic pro­ducer — real name Chris Alvin Sun­day — still takes his in­spi­ra­tion from Fela when he’s at his mix­ing desk.

“I stud­ied House Mu­sic in South Africa but I’m a Nige­rian. Afrobeat is what I grew up lis­ten­ing to. Afrobeat is who I am,” he told AFP.

In 2016, Krizbeatz pro­duced the hit “Pana”, which has had close to 53 mil­lion views on YouTube and been down­loaded 10.5 mil­lion times on Spo­tify.

In it, the singer Tekno Miles de­clares his love for his sweet­heart and prom­ises to drive her to the church in a Porsche.

Some feel that 20 years af­ter his death in Au­gust 1997, Fela would surely turn in his grave to hear the new gen­er­a­tion cel­e­brat­ing de­signer la­bels, lux­ury cars and cham­pagne.

But Krizbeatz says Nige­rian mu­sic is first and fore­most about the beat.

“If you talk about a Nige­rian song, you talk about the beat be­fore any­thing else,” he said, grab­bing an electric gui­tar to record a few notes on a loop on his com­puter.

“You hear it and you just want to dance and be happy, be­fore you can lis­ten to the lyrics.” ‘Butts and boobs’ Ab­dul Ok­wechime or­gan­ises the week-long “Fe­labra­tion” fes­ti­val of Fela’s life and work, end­ing at the week­end and held ev­ery year around the mu­si­cian’s birth­day.

He is less than im­pressed with the turn that lyrics to­day have taken.

“They talk too much about fem­i­nin­ity, the sen­su­al­ity of women,” he com­plained.

“We have lost protest mu­sic, mu­sic to wake up to, to make you aware of the so­ci­ety, and our so­ci­ety is ill,” he said, as he took vis­i­tors around Fela’s com­mune, dubbed Kalakuta Repub­lic in La­gos.

The mu­si­cian lived at the com­mune — which he once de­clared an in­de­pen­dent repub­lic — with his fam­ily, band and 27 wives.

“Now they (mod­ern mu­si­cians) talk about butts, they talk about boobs... the sex­u­al­ity of women, that’s what they talk about now,” said Ok­wechime.

Nev­er­the­less, Fela’s mu­sic and in­flu­ence is still im­por­tant.

Even Nige­rian megas­tar Wizkid — the first Afrobeats artist to head­line a sold-out show at Lon­don’s Royal Al­bert Hall — opened his his­toric con­cert there in Septem­ber with Fela’s 1972 epic, “Lady”.

Other artists pay trib­ute in dif­fer­ent ways.

At his Borno Win­ners Em­pire stu­dio, in the upmarket La­gos sub­urb of Lekki, Adekunle Gold is wear­ing tra­di­tional dress and record­ing his sec­ond al­bum.

Around him is his band, The 79th El­e­ment, named af­ter the atomic num­ber for gold.

The singer says he has cre­ated a new sound, mix­ing mu­si­cal styles in­spired by Nige­rian Afropop, In­dian har­monies and Ghana­ian High­life, but un­der­ly­ing it with per­cus­sion and vo­cals like Fela in his heydey.

“Fela is no more but he’s still within us. He’s leg­endary,” said Gold. “If I’m on stage and I don’t hear that sound, I feel that some­thing is miss­ing.” Hopes, dreams and money Un­like Fela Kuti, artists no longer risk prison for speak­ing out, as the in­ter­net and so­cial net­works have brought greater free­dom of ex­pres­sion to Nige­ria.

For African mu­sic spe­cial­ist Ban­ning Eyre, from on­line ra­dio and mu­sic mag­a­zine Afropop World­wide, the new Nige­rian scene is “hope­ful and as­pi­ra­tional”.

“Young peo­ple in Africa, they know the prob­lems. It’s their daily life, that’s what they think about all day!” he said.

“They don’t want to hear about it when they go out or when they lis­ten to the ra­dio.”

But for Eyre, the loss of so­cial and po­lit­i­cal en­gage­ment is in large part due to piracy and the fact that artists can­not make a liv­ing from sales of their al­bums.

“The Nige­rian mu­sic in­dus­try had to cre­ate a new eco­nomic model be­cause of piracy,” he said.

“They get spon­sor­ships for their videos, for their con­cert events, with pri­vate com­pa­nies... that are of­ten the same com­pa­nies who have deals with gov­ern­ment.

“They want to make money, they want to make a lot of money, so they won’t go against the sys­tem that feeds them.”

Tekno has ap­peared on In­sta­gram pos­ing in front of the lat­est Bent­ley car.

But at an an­nual Oc­to­ber 1 In­de­pen­dence Day con­cert he struck a dif­fer­ent note, as the only per­former to launch into a semi-protest song, crit­i­cis­ing end­less power cuts and cor­rup­tion.

Dressed in a green vel­vet suit, his arms cov­ered in tat­toos, his song “Rara” got a rous­ing re­sponse from the au­di­ence too.

Many in the crowd at the glitzy event, where tick­ets cost 100,000 naira ($277, 235 eu­ros), sang along to its cho­rus blast­ing “plenty greedy man” and calls to make Nige­ria a bet­ter place — per­haps caught up in the song’s catchy beat.


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