Fela: This Bitch of a Life by Carlos Moore (2016) African Perspectives Publishing 292 pages R280
Originally published in French and English in 1982, and now resurfacing under the auspices of Rose Francis’ African Perspectives Publishing, Fela: This Bitch of a Life is a study of contrasts and a catalogue of human experience.
Written mainly in the first person and in present tense, the book is a reincarnation – especially for South African readers who had minimal exposure to Fela’s music and thoughts due to apartheid isolation – of the life of an Abiku spirit child born into splitting time zones and shifting tectonic plates; throwing into a head spin geopolitical boundaries, identities, belief systems and lifestyles. Fela died so that the living could appreciate life and even look forward to death.
The book portrays Fela as a man who experienced the double sides of epochs and events such as slavery, capitalism, communism, the Biafra wars, post-colonial dictatorship and Christianity.
The contradictions are too many to list, but to cite a few, he was born to Christian parents, yet his mother held strong feminist and communist views, and was accordingly feted by politicians such as Mao Zedong and Kwame Nkrumah. Fela supported the Biafra wars, while at the same time composed the song Keep Nigeria One “so we could get some bread” and “to hustle the Nigerian government to back my band”. He held patriarchal views coupled with polygamy, yet eschewed liberal views about the independence of women and had reservations on marriage as an institution.
Finally, because he viewed life as just an experience and death as a transition into the spiritual realm, he was an “anti-celebrity celebrity” who did not want to be remembered, yet hundreds of thousands gathered in and around the Tafawa Balewa Square in Lagos to pay their last respects when he died.
Fela’s Kalakuta Republic music shrine has now mutated beyond Nigerian borders. His voice calls beyond his grave for discourse on various social issues of power, knowledge, creativity, artificial geopolitical boundaries and forced nationhood, religion (particularly the ravages of Christianity and Islam on Africanity) and homosexuality.
“Women in general is a subject which calls for a colloquium,” he specifies. Of course, some of the subjects have found voice in various books on his life and times. The one challenge that left the Kemet philosopher Cheikh Anta Diop speechless is Fela’s apocalyptic theory that “ancient pyramids were built through mental telepathy and levitation”. This begets a sequel to the book to examine the topics commissioned by the musical shaman.