This year’s edition of Felabration, the music and cultural festival organised annually to celebrate the late Afrobeat creator and social activist, Fela Anikulapo-Kuti, may have come and gone, but memories of the event will linger in the minds of many people for a long while.
For acclaimed poet and polemicist, Odia Ofeimun; culture activist, Jahman Anikulapo; author and journalist, Kunle Ajibade, among others, Felabration 2018 provided yet another opportunity to tell stories of their individual encounters with the icon.
Interestingly the occasion was the public presentation of a book authored by Lanre Arogundade and titled, Fela: Yesterday’s message as today’s reality. The event was held in Fela’s former residence, also known as Kalakuta Republic, on Gbemisola Street in Ikeja, Lagos.
Calling for the introduction of a special study on the works of the celebrated Afrobeat musician, which he christened ‘Felaology’, Ofeimun disclosed, much to the surprise of other guests, that Fela was one of the factors that inspired him to write poetry.
He said, “I became a poet by responding to people like Fela Anikulapo-Kuti. Anybody who has read The Poet Lied will remember that there is a poem on Fela and Miriam Makeba in the book. We do need to celebrate our heroes, who are laying a foundation upon which are standing to respond to the issues of our time. It was just a matter of responding to Fela as he affected me.”
Ofeimun, who has authored more than 40 works of poetry, political essays and cultural politics till date, also revealed that as a secondary school drop-out working in a factory labourer in Lagos in the early 1970s, he was not only deeply attracted to Fela’s social activism, but also his unequalled bravery and relentless advocacy for the welfare of the average Nigerian.
“Whatever you suffered in the Nigerian society at that time, only one man conclusively gave expression to it in public pronouncements in the way Fela did.
“Fela was prepared to get his bones broken by the authorities in order to give expression to the way people felt about the society. For me, writing about Fela was like learning to grow up. You grow up by identifying the most important forces in your society. Fela was a proper force of nature. He did not depend on what the rest of us wished for him, but he simply cut grounds for himself that related to the most important issues in our society.”
Although Anikulapo described Arogundade’s book (it was really a booklet) as the latest version of what is now known as the ‘Fela story’, which also refers to the swelling pool of literature that focuses on Fela’s life, music, politics and cultural philosophy, he lamented that the musician was not being documented enough.
“We all have our Fela stories. Lanre Arogundade has just written his own version of the story and we have to thank him for it. Fela is one of our most important cultural products, locally and internationally, but we do not document his story,” he said.
Like Ofeimun and the others, Anikulapo recalled how deeply his encounter with Fela had impacted his life. He said, “Fela shaped my life, my character, my perception of life and the way I relate to things in my environment.
“Many years ago, I was the stage-manager for the popular music show known as Lekki Sunsplash. I remember that Fela was billed to perform at 5pm. The previous day, he had a show at Ogbe Stadium in Benin City. After the event, he had to drive all the way from Benin to Lagos that night and finally arrived at 6.am in Lekki.
“For me, that was the first thing to learn about Fela. He was a disciplined man.
Another thing that struck me about him was his humility. In spite of his toughness, he was a very humble man. He was humane, too.
“Before he died, Fela spoke extensively about restructuring. He spoke about it in such a way that seemed to suggest something needed to be done about poverty.
I believe that what he did to me is the same thing he has done to young people. I have seen many young Nigerians dancing to Fela’s songs. It occurred to me that they never met or encountered him, but the music resonated with them.”