"Everybody run run run. Everybody scatter scatter
Some people lost some bread, someone just die.
Police dey come, army dey com
Several minutes later, all don cool down brother
Police don go away, army don disappear
Them leave sorrow, tears and blood
My people self dey fear too much
We fear for the thing we no see
We fear for the air around us
We fear to fight for freedom
We fear to fight for justice
We fear to fight for happiness
We fear to fight for progress
We always get reasons to fear
We no want die
We no want quench
Mama dey for house
My pickin dey for house
I get one wife
I get one car
I get one house
Papa dey for house
I no want quench
I want enjoy
So policeman go slap your face
You no go talk
Army man go whip your yansh
You go dey look like donkey
Rhodesia dey do them own
Our leaders dey yab for nothing
South Africa dey do them own
Them leave sorrow tears and blood
(Them regular trademarks...")
I have collected every bit of Fela's album from the Highlife Koola Lobitos years to the shrine and Egypt 80 Band where he entertained civil servants and laborers, after hours. Thanks to MCA Records and Wrasse Records, for remastering the Fela master tapes and making it available anywhere records are sold.
But the African 70 era was his best in showbizness. And his Yabis Nights was a class act, the kind of stuff you see at the Laugh Factory on Sunset Boulevard in West Hollywood. Fela was like any other musician who entertained and had fun doing what he loved--the saxophone and piano--singing about social ills, the Lagos jammed traffics, as in "Go Slow," the bleaching cream and what it did to women as in "Yellow Fever," the road rage as in "Shenshema," the troubled ex-convict wandering the streets of Lagos in search of a job as in "Palaver," the trouble shooter as in "Trouble Sleep Yanga Wake Am," the arugbo, old timer, who never wants to be called a woman as in "Lady," the garrulous market women agberos who would never give up a fight as in "Roforofo Fight," the lab-testing of his feces to find out if he swallowed some weed as in "Expensive Shit," the musical drama as in "Open & Close," and the bluffing, threatening to cause harm as in "Shakara (Oloje)."
It was not until injustice and the military juntas began to usurp power that the Chief Priest as he was known by his admirers took his music to another level criticizing a regime that did not mean well for the entire people in terms of freedom and justice. He spoke out, made hits upon hits denouncing a military dictatorship for its pillaging of the people. Then came "Zombie," the track he unleashed at Festival of Black Arts and Culture (FESTAC 77), that got all hell loose as the military juntas came after him with military tanks. Everything he built in Kalakuta Republic was destroyed. Homeless and desperate, he moved to Ghana to play gigs at local clubs. "Zombie" was still causing commotion wherever it's played, even in Ghana, riots broke out at Accra Sports Stadium in a sold out concert because the military juntas in Ghana would not tolerate more insults from a track that demeans a "government."
However, Fela continued his journey, speaking out for a nation's cultural and socio-political ills landing at one J. K. Brimah's house in Ikeja where a new Kalakuta Republic was born. There, the Shrine came back alive and "Unknown Soldier" was released, a theme on the plunder and demolition of Kalakuta Republic which took his mother's life after being thrown out from the window. Entering the 80s, Fela changed his band's name to Egypt 80 and continued to spread the message.
Elsewhere in the continent, Fela's music had inspired a group of farm workers in Rhodesia when singer Thomas Mapfumo and Joshua Hlomayi Dube formed the Hallelujah Chicken Run Band entertaining off-duty miners, crossing over pop songs with "traditional ideas" and coining the word Chimurenga in their native Shona meaning "struggle." Hallelujah Chicken Run Band's remastered CD released last year can be downloaded or purchased at EMusic.
Of course South Africa did its own too. The legendary trumpeter Hugh Masekela, who once played with Fela spent over three decades in exile denouncing Apartheid. Miriam Makeba, the "Mama Africa" spent half of her entire life in exile demonstrating through her music an evil empire that would destroy all aspects of civil liberties. In Angola there was Bonga Ku Tando, who was on the run from the Portuguese-Angolan regime for the political content of his lyrics and criticism of the government.
In analogy, with all the political confusion that has invaded Igbo land today, the Igbo musician is busy collecting money from gigs singing about nouveau riche and titled persons as empire and anarchy prevails. None of the so-called Igbo musicians have come up with situations emanating from a troubled land, especially AlaIgbo.
It took Fela to stand up against injustice, but ironically no one seems to be paying attention. For sure, "Nigeria Jaga Jaga" by Eedris Abdukareem, made an impact to a point an intolerant president cursed the artist and his family out. But the fact though, he (Fela), is respected and known the world over for his courage. This August, series of gatherings and parties will commemorate the 10th anniversary of his death. The Brooklyn Academy of Music pays similar respect every year.
The coinage of Afro Beat has made Fela a legend as his music spreads across the globe. The Brooklyn-based group ANTIBALAS has adopted Fela's music even with their latest CD, "Security," has every Fela beat in it one would think that's Fela handling the sax and piano. There's also the Chicago Afro Beat Project, an all-white afrobeat ensemble in the windy city, the Boston Afrobeat Society, and many other local groups around the world.
Could someone please tell our local musicians to stop the praises and spraying money in your face and come to terms with reality because we have been conquered? We need some revolutionary songs to lift our spirits not the edifice found on dusty alleys without street numbering.