Fela: Looking Back to the Presence of an Essence

Editor’s Note: Last week marked the 25th anniversary of the death of Afrobeat maestro, Fela Anikulapo. This slice of life, which is a throwback, is a tribute.
BY PITA OKUTE

There is a sense of poetic justice in the way and manner of Fela’s death. Yet, it could not have been any less shocking if he had been found guilty and executed for coup plotting or armed robbery. Like an errant toughie, he dared to live at the extremes, proudly blowing smoke and boastful chants at anyone and anything.

 

This Fela was a consummate artist and it’s so tempting to wax lyrical about him, but I shall do my best to restrain this pen.

 

While I ruminate on all this, snatches of VIP- Vagabonds in Power- play at the back of my mind. And I hear again, K.K. Yope’s nasal intro of the great Fela. The bumpy, yet measured rhythms take over and the lyrical power of this much neglected composition fills me with awe. My “wonderment” continues even as I recall that K.K joined the Great Star Trek a few years ago.

 

Still, I remember that other day back in ’85 when Fela was in jail and Beko was managing the band. After the press reported that Beko had fallen out with his nephew, Femi, Dele & Co. came to The Canal to tell their own side of the tale.

 

Bangles and necklaces jingling all over, the newly formed Positive Crew looked so much like a circus show. Truly, they did not make any great positive impression then, but Femi was allowed a marathon interview at which Ely Obasi presided.

 

“E don’ beg me,” * happened the same year too and the gates of prison were thrown open the following year, I think, to let free Ebami Eda, “the dreadful one”.  Kolosa Kargbo reporting Fela’s triumphal entry back to Kalakuta Republic told us how the man easily demolished a tray full of steaming rice. Such an elephantine appetite was belied by Fela’s stomach, so we could only attribute it to a most potent “appetizer”.

 

 

But really, the drift of my gist tends to a play of tragic connections. Ely, Kolosa, K.K, Hakeem Ikandu, Ifeanyi Nkennor, Emma Egesse … fine writers all, who broached the Fela mystique at several points in their careers are not around now, to hear, from this side of the theatre, the last engaging solos of the man who sneered at life and called it a bitch, then claimed to have death in his pocket!

 

If life is a piece of music, Fela conducted his with a prankish disdain for the finer points of composition and interpretation. Yet, every one of us, writer, musician, vagabond in power or very important personality, must approach the final moment when the baton swings- one last time. Not being a musician, I am undecided whether Fela bowed out in a triumphant flourish as becomes the best of composers, or if he exited in the discordance of genius groveling for attention in a cheap flirtation with “undue rascality”. Ah, but there are examples from all over the world to suggest that Fela was not so unique in his excesses.

 

Back to the mystic notes of death. Anyone who has “death in his pocket” should have life with him too. And more likely in the same place, since life and death are forever entwined in a ballet that defies every known musical scale. Is Life a bitch? Death must be worse and a real son of a gun too. A reading of obituary notices should convince anyone, easily!

 

Chewing over these things, I have a mind to cool the pace of my speeding thoughts with a cool drink- the kind that offers winning chances for a variety of prizes. By so doing, I’m forced to remember Churchill Ifode who passed on some time ago. He was one of the finest PR men I’d ever known- the kind of professional who really cares about and understands image making. And that is something, Fela never really understood!

 

Anikulapo? Try again! It’s death that has us in the pocket and there’s nothing you or me can do about it. Besides, the Master has said, “those who live by the sword…”

 

Note:

*Famous claim by Fela, that the judge who sent him to jail for currency trafficking had apologized to him during a visit to his sick bed at the Maidugiri hospital. This led to a review of his sentence by the new military government. Fela was freed and the judge dismissed!

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