Thank you, Fela!
Love him or hate him, Fela must be up there among the saints. His credentials: liberating the minds of people all over the world; prophesying; gifting the world with an unprecedentedly fresh genre of music; preaching about social justice and peace; unqualified love of fellow human beings; and leaving a legacy of artistic excellence.
Yes, he was considered weird, unconventional, even a moral contaminant; however, history will be infinitely kinder to him than to all his traducers and opponents put together.
The world already knows so much about Fela the musical genius who created Afrobeat. It is the less highlighted aspect of Fela - his humaneness, his loyalty to friends and huge intellect - that I remember and celebrate today, 20 years after his death. Everyone who had a personal encounter with Fela has an anecdote to share. I have many. But today, I simply want to highlight the great man’s humanity and single-minded loyalty to friends.
As president of the students’ union at the University of Ife, I had promised the students that my executive would bring Fela to deliver a lecture and thereafter perform live during the students’ union week. Some scuffed at the prospects; how could the students’ union afford Fela’s fees? I knew I had a challenge. I chose to visit Fela after one of our many demonstrations in Lagos against government’s lack of direction
“Ah, Wole! Wetin they pursue you?” Fela asked.
I went straight to the point: “Fela, there’s something very important that I want to see you about.” “Important? Wetin?” By this time, all 40 of my colleagues had managed to find sitting or leaning spaces in the sprawling living room already bursting with some of Fela’s queens, hangers-on, some members of the band, enforcers and others. As usual, Fela ordered food for my comrades from the nearby “Mama Put’ joint. Trays were brought in with plates of piping hot rice, stew and meat.
“Ehen, Wole. I no get time for ceremony. Wetin be the important thing wey bring you?”
“I want you to come to Ife for a lecture and all-night performance. But we don’t have money o”.
Fela stood up and clapped, the type of clap reserved for surprise or consternation. “ID! ID! Come o!” His hard-working manager, Idowu Mabinuori (aka ID) rushed in.
“You hear wetin this Long John Silver come yarn me? Eh-eh (he claps again) Me, Fela, make I carry my band and my queens enter expressway from Ikeja, pass Shagamu, pass Ibadan, to go play for University of Ife free of charge! Eh-eh! This Wole don craze finish!” He clapped again. All his crew nodded in agreement and eyed me with the kind of look that could depopulate a queue.
I gave Fela three reasons he had to come: (a) the need to contribute to decolonising the minds of the academic community via a public lecture; (b) the need to show good example of selflessness by playing for poor students who ordinarily would never be able to afford a Fela show; (c) loyalty to friends.
He debunked the three reasons and then sat down pensively. I continued having eye contact with him. Then he announced: “Na bad luck to get friend like you. If na so I dey play free everywhere, wetin we for dey chop for this house? This na whitemail, not blackmail. Now you go begin say Fela music na for only people wey get money, abi? Yeye man! See your big head! I go c-o-m-e!”
That was all my accompanying students needed to hear. They broke out in a wild celebration. ID whispered to me that the concession I just got was nothing short of a miracle. To cut a long story short, Fela stormed Ife in style and delivered one of the most intellectually stimulating lectures ever heard in Oduduwa Hall in front of thousands of students, lecturers, workers and Ife townspeople. He capped his visit with an unforgettable musical performance which many of us still relish till this day.
Fela was a good man with a loving heart. That is the other side of the weed-smoking, anti-establishment musician you need to know to have a full picture.
Several years later, when Beko Ransome-Kuti, Fela’s brother, called to inform me that Fela had chosen me to be the chief launcher at the unveiling of his new album, “Beast of No Nation”, I accepted with glee, but suggested that Prince Tony Momoh, who was then Minister of Information, be the chief launcher while I would colaunch. Fela launched into his playful tirades and lectured me that he didn’t need government’s money and didn’t want people thinking that Momoh had brought Babangida’s money to launch Fela’s new record. In such matters, you couldn’t win with Fela.
Trust Fela, he also insisted that Femi Falana (PRO during my tenure in Ife) be the MC. And Femi was indeed mercurial as we (Yours Sincerely, Momoh, MD Yusuf, Frank Okonta, Rasheed Gbadamosi et al) launched the album and set the stage for the live performance of: “Many leaders as you see dem/ Na different disguise dem dey-oh/ Animals in human skin ….”
Now that Nigeria is fighting corruption in high places, our refrain might as well be taken from Fela’s chartbuster - Authority Stealing: “Authority stealing pass armed robbery/ We Africans we must do something about this nonsense….”
Thanks for everything, Fela!
Decent work must guarantee minimum and living wages for the workers - wages that are paid as at when and due. Decent work means work that is secured and done by free workers who are entitled to form trade unions and engage in collective bargaining to protect their rights in the world of work. Decent work delivers a fair income, security in the workplace and social protection for families
The World Federation of Trade Unions (WFTU) is the oldest trade union federation established in Paris on 3 October 1945. Today it has 92 million members in more than 126 countries of the 5 continents including Africa.
Thanks to its members of the Presidential Council in particular, Comrade Leke Success, Vice President, WFTU and General Secretary of Hotels Workers Union Nigeria and General Secretary, WFTU, Comrade George Mavrikos who tasked yours comradely with a reflection on “Dignified Work for African Workers”. There are quotable quotes on work for those who still care about dignity of labour. The Yoruba have a poetic saying: ise logun ise - work is an antidote to poverty! The motto of the Northern region under Sir Ahmadu Bello was; Work and Worship, not one or the other but both! John Lenon the musician in the 70s observed that: “Work is life, you know and without it there is nothing but fear insecurity”. Voltaire, the legendary French poet noted that: “Work spares us from three evils; boredom, Vice and need”. “Without Work, all life goes rotten” so goes a received wisdom by, Albert Camus, Algerian born philosopher and author.