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Fela would have sung about the bandits in uniform disrupting the peace

of his people. He would have talked about one mad dog that shot

a commercial motorcyclist because the boy had brushed his car.

 

 

CDs by Fela Kuti

Beasts Of No Nation / Zombie / Army Arrangement / Suffering and Smiling / Vagabond in Power / No Agreement

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Remembering Fela Anikulapo Kuti

(October 15, 1938 - August 2, 1997)

By Hakeem Babalola

 

In the early 70’s or thereabouts, a young man knew something was amiss in the land where one person is allowed to steal a horse while another must not look at a halter. The man opened his “basket” mouth and “talk and talk”. He sang and sang about the pervasive diseases in the land of his birth. The obsessive theme of his struggle was for so long centred on government brutality and insensitivity, injustice, human suffering, corruption and embezzlement. He observed a touch of insanity in the system, a sense of lugubrious drollery everywhere that would not dissipate sooner.

And through a weapon of talent, he warned us in his satirical style about impending doom that likely to engulf his land. He was sure that unless we adopt a simple precept – justice and accountability – his land would be heading toward a tempestuous peril. He was regarded as a prophet of doom, though his saxophone was not a threat to his land, unlike the rumblings of their guns tucked in their tummies and cheeks. Nevertheless, successive governments treated him in a symbolic manner Jesus Christ and Prophet Mohammed were persecuted – simply because of his cocksure attitude.

And so they thought he was mad. Fela Ransome-Kuti (a name he would soon change to more African-like: Fela Anikulapo-Kuti) was born on October 15, 1938 in a country that has potential being among the greatest on earth, but for certain opportunists who have been at the helm of affairs, and audaciously ruined our land. Fela was from Abeokuta, a Yoruba town about 50 miles north of Lagos known as haven for freed slaves.

He was born like any other child but Fela would soon show the difference. He would be Abami Eda (extraordinary creature). He would be a priest – of music; of art and of spirituality. He would be a nonconformist, an iconoclast who will transform a society by living a life meant only for the strong mind.

Fela Anikulapo-Kuti was a brilliant, precocious young man of any subject but chose to speak a bastardized form of English known as Pidgin English. He chose to dress differently and liked to ridicule high culture and established norm of the society. For example, he married 27 wives in one day.

Also, at a time when the Mercedes Benz was a status symbol, Fela in his usual eccentric manner, was reported to have used it to transport vegetables and firewood. He was the son of a distinguished Anglican priest and educator, but chose traditional African religion and medicine. His mother was an activist involved in Nigeria’s quest for independence in 1960.

Young Fela worked briefly for the government before he persuaded his parents to send him to England for further studies. He was expected to study medicine, but the inclination in young Fela directed him toward something more fundamental and profound. Something practical to his existence: Music. Music was his message and his message was through music. Instead of stethoscope, he used saxophone to penetrate the heart of darkness and disguise in Nigerian oligarchy. For instance, Fela talked about [government magic that dabaru (prevaricate) everything; that turns electric to candle; that turns green to white; wey steal money for FESTAC; soldiers that flog civilians for street; government that kills its students; how country go dey make money and people no go see the money] etc.

He formed his band in England, and upon returning to Nigeria in 1963, began playing Jazz with little success. The really meaningful period of his career, the period he built for himself a conscious, messianic image did not begin until 1969, according to Osofisan. It was during this time that his concept for the politically charged Afro-beat came together, after he had heard the Sierra Leonean singer Geraldo Pino. And after he had travelled to Ghana and America, where he encountered the ideas of Malcolm X and later developed a strong interest in politics and civil rights.

Returning to Nigeria for good in 1973, Afro-beat became a huge phenomenon, and by late 70’s Fela and his band – Afrika 70 – were stars throughout Africa. Between 1975 and 1977, the Africa 70 (which later became Egypt 80) recorded 17 albums, including Beasts Of No Nation. His top albums included Zombie, Army Arrangement, Suffering and Smiling, Vagabond in Power and the classical No Agreement, which summed up his life struggle in such altruistic allure [I no go gree…make my brother hungry make I no talk…I no go gree…make my brother homeless make I no talk…]

As his popularity grew, Fela utilized his platform for anti-government agitation. He opened a nightclub called the Shrine or Kalakuta Republic in Ikeja, a Lagos suburb. And in 1977, after he had sung forcefully about civil liberties in what was becoming a military state, he got an “official” response. About one thousands soldiers burned his house to the ground and threw his mother out of the window. Fela and his entourage of wives and band members then went to the ruling junta’s headquarters and placed the coffin of his deceased mother on the step.

He later said he wanted to demonstrate that the power of a dictatorial state was impotent compared to the power of the human spirit. Overnight, Fela became known as much for his politics as for his music.

After military rule ended in 1979, he formed his own party MOP (Movement of the People) albeit jocular. There was nothing unequivocal about him and his style yet his party was not registered .However, there was no question about his undying radicalism for the improvement in the standard of living for every woman and man in his land.

Fela shared a sense of being a minority repressed but not spiritually powerless from the political centre of ruling power and policy making. He was an enlightened minority who described Nigerian rulers as opportunist and “animals” wearing agbada (surplice) and suit.

In the early 80’s, he responded to the rise of conservatives like Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher with the blunt Beasts of No Nation. He posed fundamental questions that United Nations has not been able to answer up till today. Fela wanted to know what exactly [is] united in UN when nations seem to be at loggerheads! That time Iraq and Iran were at war; Lebanon and Israel were at each other’s throat; Britain and Argentina had just finished fighting over the Falkland Island, a mere piece of land; eastern and western Europe was also in conflict. Today, Fela’s question is much as relevant as when he posed it.

Meanwhile, he was becoming a thorn in the flesh of Nigerian government. He was arrested at Murtala Mohammed Airport in 1984 as he was preparing to leave for a U.S tour in what appeared to be politically motivated. He was charged for exporting foreign currency illegally by the Buhari/Idiagbon’s brutal regime. He had served 18 months of a five-year sentence when he was released by the cunning regime of master prevaricator, IBB.

Upon his release, Fela in his usual manner said: “I no go say thank you to any government”. In March 1996, gunmen attacked Fela’s home where the drug squad held him, saying it hoped to reform his character and lure him away from marijuana, but they later released him. On that Fela said indignantly. “I have been smoking for 40 years. It helps my music. People know I smoke worldwide. It is not drug, it is grass”.

His sense of humour never waned. During one of his performances at the Shrine, Fela smoked marijuana heavily, which made him cough repeatedly. Seeing this, the audience quickly offered their sympathy in chorus, “sorry…sorry baba…sorry”. But after regaining his composure, Abami Eda retorted: “Na your papa you go sorry for…when Fela smoke igbo finish and cough, you go say well done baba”.

He was known as well for his yabis (lampoon) both in his songs and on stage. The acclaimed winner of a “free and fair” election, Late MKO Abiola, did not escape the lethal of Fela’s criticism. In fact, he called Abiola a “thief” while categorizing the ITT for which Abiola served its interests in Nigeria as nothing more than “International Thief Thief”. That’s of course is simply a tip of Fela’s acerbic frankness.

Even the present Nigerian administrator, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, did not escape Fela’s peppery barb. If he were to be alive, it would have been impossible for Mr. President to go scot-free from his unpopular and arbitrary policies against the masses. Abami Eda would have used his instrument of existence to talk about the insensitivity of the ruling government over the increase of fuel prices. “The black president” would have opened his “basket” mouth and talked about the plight of Niger Delta people and other minorities. He would have alarmed the nation that governing in our land had become a relay race where one junta passes the baton to another.

Fela would have sung about the bandits in uniform disrupting the peace of his people. He would have talked about one mad dog that shot a commercial motorcyclist because the boy had brushed his car. Fela would have told us – eloquently – the reason why most Nigerians are being pessimistic about the way things are going in our land. Ah, Fela would have opened his [basket mouth and talk and talk]. He would have enlightened us more about Paris Club debt relief. Fela would have probably categorized the ruling Peoples Democratic Party as Peoples Deceiving People. But he has passed on.

If the actions of men are the best interpreter of their thoughts, then, Fela’s life and deeds surpassed ethnic and religious bellicose pronouncements, which are now the manipulative techniques being employed by the “owners of Nigeria” to deliberately warp our minds to cause chaos – and this for their own selfishness. In Fela we shall always find a point of view, which can hardly be defined, but it pervades his songs.

Before he departed on Saturday August 2, 1997 at the age of 58, Fela refused treatment – both western and Nigerian medical services on ground of principle. Not every man is a man. Fela was a man. Abacha and his like-minded coup plotters are not. I’m I getting a bit too melodramatic here? Surely I would rather escape our rulers’ meretricious captivation for the glorious melancholy in Fela’s songs. Fela Anikulapo-Kuti, a leader in the avant-garde of Nigerian musicians, is dead all right but his legend lives on.

Copyright 2007                        mysmallvoice@yahoo.com

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Picture gallery of Fela Kuti’s Queens

In the West Fela Kuti, the creator of Afrobeat, is know by many as “the man who married 27 wives”. On 18 February 1978 he married the entire female entourage of his band in a ceremony conducted by a Yoruba priest. There are many sides to the group marriage, besides the sensational ones, but it would need an essay to explain them. The group marriage lasted until Fela’s release from prison in 1985. Stating that he no longer believed in marriage, he divorced the 12 wives that were still with him. Many, however, remained part of his entourage until his death.

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Fela: From West Africa to West Broadway

 

Edited by Trevor Schoonmaker

A complex figure should always be viewed from different angles. Rather than a chronological biography, “Fela: From West Africa to West Broadway” is a collection of essays and interviews that zero in on different aspects of the complex persona that was Fela Anikulapo Kuti. These include essays on Fela’s spirituality, his relationships with women and his ongoing influence on Hip Hop and Dance music. There are interviews with Fela himself and his son Femi. The essays are all well written. An extensive discography is also included in the book. The essays were collected by Trevor Schoonmaker, an independent curator from Brooklyn, New York. Trevor Schoonmaker is the director of the Fela Project and organizer of “Black President: The Art and Legacy of Fela Anikulapo-Kuti”. An exhibiton that traveled the world from 2003 to 2005. 208 pages, 20 pages with photographs.

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Fela: The Life and Times of an African Musical Icon

By Michael E.Veal

This is probably the closest we will ever get to the complex character of the most controversial musician ever to come from African soil: Fela Anikulapo Kuti. Michael Veal is without a doubt the perfect candidate for writing Fela’s biography. He is an ethnomusicologist from Yale University, has played as a guest saxophonist in Egypt 80 and has spent considerable time in The Shrine. In more than 300 pages he follows Fela’s life in intimate detail. All aspects of his life are covered, including his strict upbringing, his political “awakening” and the creation of Afrobeat. Detailed explanations of Afrobeat music and its lyrics are included. Also included are a discography and 22 pages with photographs. This is the definitive biography of Fela Anikulapo Kuti, pronto. Heads up for Michael Veal for getting us backstage with “The Black President”!

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Story of a Five Note Rhythm

This is the story of a five note rhythm that has changed musical history. Originally carried by slaves from Africa to the Caribbean hundreds of years ago, these five notes have become part of the DNA of modern music – influencing everything from soul and cuban music, to afrobeat and rock and roll. In A Short History of Five Notes for the BBC World Service, music journalist Rita Ray traces the history of the five notes back to their origins in west Africa, visiting traditional drummers in Ghana. She also hears from legendary latin, soul and rock musicians from around the world, including The Animals lead singer Eric Burdon, Cuban jazz pianist Omar Sosa, James Brown's drummer Jabo Starks, and Fela Kuti conga player JB Korantang Crentisl.BBC

posted 15 October 2007 

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Books on Fela Kuti  / Fela Kuti Documentary

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AALBC.com's 25 Best Selling Books


 

Fiction

#1 - Justify My Thug by Wahida Clark
#2 - Flyy Girl by Omar Tyree
#3 - Head Bangers: An APF Sexcapade by Zane
#4 - Life Is Short But Wide by J. California Cooper
#5 - Stackin' Paper 2 Genesis' Payback by Joy King
#6 - Thug Lovin' (Thug 4) by Wahida Clark
#7 - When I Get Where I'm Going by Cheryl Robinson
#8 - Casting the First Stone by Kimberla Lawson Roby
#9 - The Sex Chronicles: Shattering the Myth by Zane

#10 - Covenant: A Thriller  by Brandon Massey

#11 - Diary Of A Street Diva  by Ashley and JaQuavis

#12 - Don't Ever Tell  by Brandon Massey

#13 - For colored girls who have considered suicide  by Ntozake Shange

#14 - For the Love of Money : A Novel by Omar Tyree

#15 - Homemade Loves  by J. California Cooper

#16 - The Future Has a Past: Stories by J. California Cooper

#17 - Player Haters by Carl Weber

#18 - Purple Panties: An Eroticanoir.com Anthology by Sidney Molare

#19 - Stackin' Paper by Joy King

#20 - Children of the Street: An Inspector Darko Dawson Mystery by Kwei Quartey

#21 - The Upper Room by Mary Monroe

#22 – Thug Matrimony  by Wahida Clark

#23 - Thugs And The Women Who Love Them by Wahida Clark

#24 - Married Men by Carl Weber

#25 - I Dreamt I Was in Heaven - The Rampage of the Rufus Buck Gang by Leonce Gaiter

Non-fiction

#1 - Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention by Manning Marable
#2 - Confessions of a Video Vixen by Karrine Steffans
#3 - Dear G-Spot: Straight Talk About Sex and Love by Zane
#4 - Letters to a Young Brother: MANifest Your Destiny by Hill Harper
#5 - Peace from Broken Pieces: How to Get Through What You're Going Through by Iyanla Vanzant
#6 - Selected Writings and Speeches of Marcus Garvey by Marcus Garvey
#7 - The Ebony Cookbook: A Date with a Dish by Freda DeKnight
#8 - The Isis Papers: The Keys to the Colors by Frances Cress Welsing
#9 - The Mis-Education of the Negro by Carter Godwin Woodson

#10 - John Henrik Clarke and the Power of Africana History  by Ahati N. N. Toure

#11 - Fail Up: 20 Lessons on Building Success from Failure by Tavis Smiley

#12 -The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander

#13 - The Black Male Handbook: A Blueprint for Life by Kevin Powell

#14 - The Other Wes Moore: One Name, Two Fates by Wes Moore

#15 - Why Men Fear Marriage: The Surprising Truth Behind Why So Many Men Can't Commit  by RM Johnson

#16 - Black Titan: A.G. Gaston and the Making of a Black American Millionaire by Carol Jenkins

#17 - Brainwashed: Challenging the Myth of Black Inferiority by Tom Burrell

#18 - A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life's Purpose by Eckhart Tolle

#19 - John Oliver Killens: A Life of Black Literary Activism by Keith Gilyard

#20 - Alain L. Locke: The Biography of a Philosopher by Leonard Harris

#21 - Age Ain't Nothing but a Number: Black Women Explore Midlife by Carleen Brice

#22 - 2012 Guide to Literary Agents by Chuck Sambuchino
#23 - Chicken Soup for the Prisoner's Soul by Tom Lagana
#24 - 101 Things Every Boy/Young Man of Color Should Know by LaMarr Darnell Shields

#25 - Beyond the Black Lady: Sexuality and the New African American Middle Class  by Lisa B. Thompson

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Fela This Bitch of a Life: The Authorized Biography of Africa’s Musical Genius

by Carlos Moore


When this book first got published in 1982 it was the first biography of an African musician. The above title is in fact a translation of the French book “Fela Fela: cette putain de vie”. For a very long time this was the definitive book on Fela Anikulapo Kuti. It describes his youth, his spiritual awakening when exposed to the Black Power movement while touring in the US and his many run-ins with the authorities. The book is 288 pages long and nicely illustrated with pictures of Fela and his wives and some traditional African art. An entire chapter is reserved for interviews with several of Fela’s  wives or “Queens”. Some of these interviews are in Pidgin English and might be difficult to follow for those not accustomed to the language. Fela’s wives worked as back-up singers, dancers or DJ’s in The Shrine, his night club in Lagos.

Carlos Moore is a Jamaican Cuban. He is best known for his book “Castro, The Blacks and Africa”. Although certain scholars view some of his statements with skepticism, “Fela This Bitch of a Life” is a fine piece of music journalism. This book is reissued as of May 2009. The book has recommendations by Stevie Wonder and Femi Kuti.

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The Price of Civilization

Reawakening American Virtue and Prosperity

By Jeffrey D. Sachs

The Price of Civilization is a book that is essential reading for every American. In a forceful, impassioned, and personal voice, he offers not only a searing and incisive diagnosis of our country’s economic ills but also an urgent call for Americans to restore the virtues of fairness, honesty, and foresight as the foundations of national prosperity. Sachs finds that both political parties—and many leading economists—have missed the big picture, offering shortsighted solutions such as stimulus spending or tax cuts to address complex economic problems that require deeper solutions. Sachs argues that we have profoundly underestimated globalization’s long-term effects on our country, which create deep and largely unmet challenges with regard to jobs, incomes, poverty, and the environment. America’s single biggest economic failure, Sachs argues, is its inability to come to grips with the new global economic realities.

Sachs describes a political system that has lost its ethical moorings, in which ever-rising campaign contributions and lobbying outlays overpower the voice of the citizenry. . . .  Sachs offers a plan to turn the crisis around. He argues persuasively that the problem is not America’s abiding values, which remain generous and pragmatic, but the ease with which political spin and consumerism run circles around those values. He bids the reader to reclaim the virtues of good citizenship and mindfulness toward the economy and one another.

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Sister Citizen: Shame, Stereotypes, and Black Women in America

By Melissa V. Harris-Perry

According to the author, this society has historically exerted considerable pressure on black females to fit into one of a handful of stereotypes, primarily, the Mammy, the Matriarch or the Jezebel.  The selfless Mammy’s behavior is marked by a slavish devotion to white folks’ domestic concerns, often at the expense of those of her own family’s needs. By contrast, the relatively-hedonistic Jezebel is a sexually-insatiable temptress. And the Matriarch is generally thought of as an emasculating figure who denigrates black men, ala the characters Sapphire and Aunt Esther on the television shows Amos and Andy and Sanford and Son, respectively.     

Professor Perry points out how the propagation of these harmful myths have served the mainstream culture well. For instance, the Mammy suggests that it is almost second nature for black females to feel a maternal instinct towards Caucasian babies.

As for the source of the Jezebel, black women had no control over their own bodies during slavery given that they were being auctioned off and bred to maximize profits. Nonetheless, it was in the interest of plantation owners to propagate the lie that sisters were sluts inclined to mate indiscriminately.

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Pictures and Progress

Early Photography and the Making of African American Identity

Edited by Maurice O. Wallace and Shawn Michelle Smith

Pictures and Progress explores how, during the nineteenth century and the early twentieth, prominent African American intellectuals and activists understood photography's power to shape perceptions about race and employed the new medium in their quest for social and political justice. They sought both to counter widely circulating racist imagery and to use self-representation as a means of empowerment. In this collection of essays, scholars from various disciplines consider figures including Frederick Douglass, Sojourner Truth, Ida B. Wells, Paul Laurence Dunbar, and W. E. B. Du Bois as important and innovative theorists and practitioners of photography. In addition, brief interpretive essays, or "snapshots," highlight and analyze the work of four early African American photographers. Featuring more than seventy images, Pictures and Progress brings to light the wide-ranging practices of early African American photography, as well as the effects of photography on racialized thinking.

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It's The Middle Class Stupid!

By James Carville and Stan Greenberg

It’s the Middle Class, Stupid! confirms what we have all suspected: Washington and Wall Street have really screwed things up for the average American. Work has been devalued. Education costs are out of sight. Effort and ambition have never been so scantily rewarded. Political guru James Carville and pollster extraordinaire Stan Greenberg argue that our political parties must admit their failures and the electorate must reclaim its voice, because taking on the wealthy and the privileged is not class warfare—it is a matter of survival. Told in the alternating voices of these two top political strategists, It’s the Middle Class, Stupid! provides eye-opening and provocative arguments on where our government—including the White House—has gone wrong, and what voters can do about it. 

Controversial and outspoken, authoritative and shrewd, It’s the Middle Class, Stupid! is destined to make waves during the 2012 presidential campaign, and will set the agenda for legislative battles and political dust-ups during the next administration.

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The White Masters of the World

From The World and Africa, 1965

By W. E. B. Du Bois

W. E. B. Du Bois’ Arraignment and Indictment of White Civilization (Fletcher)

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Ancient African Nations

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The Death of Emmett Till by Bob Dylan  The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll  Only a Pawn in Their Game

Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson Thanks America for Slavery / George Jackson  / Hurricane Carter

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The Journal of Negro History issues at Project Gutenberg

The Haitian Declaration of Independence 1804  / January 1, 1804 -- The Founding of Haiti 

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update 14 July 2012

 

 

 

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