Kalakuta was a creation of an Iconic rare-breed par excellence, whose enduring legacies has left an indelible Footprint in the sands of Africa and the Worl&dacute;s political times and consciousness.
This narrative apart from the well known battles against the establishment, is also an attempt to emphasise the roles played by the different characters that shaped the actions and policies of a Die-hard Pan-Africanist, who had an uncanny ability to read and predict exactly, outcomes of diverse political and economic actions of the ruling Elite' years ahead of most of his fellow countrymen.
He dared the high and the mighty, the military governments and their western collaborators. He sang his way through the hearts of European and American cities using his music as a weapon in the demand for fairness, equity and love and the unity not only for the Black in his home country Nigeria, but the whole of Africa.
That he had like every other human being, his shortcomings or weakness especially with the opposite sex is normal and also depicted in this narrative. Suffice to say his dreams, wishes and aspirations for the African continent and blacks all over the Diaspora.
Interestingly as the reader would find out, the more potent enemies he had were within his own rank and file. From kids who carried grudges on behalf of their mother, through women who desperately wanted to have kids from him, staffs who secretly aided drug dealers knowing full well that he abhorred the use of such, up to relatives, staffs and friends who betrayed his trust. The intention of the writer having being schooled by the great one himself on issues of truthfulness, sincerity fearlessness and political foresight is to depict Kalakuta as it really was, without comas, bias, hard feelings or colouration.
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By Uwa Erhabor
AuthorHouseCopyright © 2012 Uwa Erhabor
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Chapter OneFela: Roots, Radicalism, Music, Mysticism
Kalakuta in India literary jargon means Black Dog, and in Yoruba mythology, it is the symbol of resistance and bravery in the face of adversity. The enigma who transformed this phrase into a political phenomenon was born on October 15, 1938 as Olufela Ransome-Kuti to Reverend Ransome Kuti, a School Head-Master and Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti, a political activist from the Egba tribe in Abeokuta South-west of Nigeria. Fela grew up in a Christian home with rules and regulations dictated by a very strict Father, influenced as it were, by western colonial beliefs and doctrines.
Despite this background, Fela's world was that of a nonconformist from childhood to the chagrin of his father but to the liking of his mum. He got an accomplice early in life in his younger brother Beko, who understood quickly that he had been saddled with a Radical for a brother, and therefore, the ultimate obligation to protect and defend him always.
It started in their school days at Abeokuta Grammar School. Whenever Fela committed an offence and their Father asked who did it between him and his brother, Beko would refuse to give away his brother Fela, preferring to share the burden of punishment with him. This was a standard procedure in their family home then; this bond was to grow even stronger in their adult life.
Beko was already studying in England to become a Medical Doctor before helping his beloved brother Fela secure admission into the Holy Trinity music school also in England. Contrary to the wide spread belief that his parents sent him to England for Medical studies.
Fela unlike his younger brother Beko who had a house bought for him by his mother lived in a Boarding-house apartment which also accommodated other friends and Nigerian students including the late senator Victor Akan. As Fela recalled, "we worked hard on our studies during the week and celebrated with parties almost every weekend".
So it was on one of those weekends that they had gone to their regular Club and in came this pretty girl that "shone like a thousand stars relegating every other girl in the club to the background". Every one of them except Fela had flirted with her in the Club until she agreed to go with them to their boarding house.
Initially when they got to their Boarding-house he had lost every hope because the first apartment they went to was that of Victor Akan which was always kept very clean and tidy. So it was a big surprise when she suddenly turned, looked at all of them and pointedly asked Fela "where is your own apartment?"
A pleasantly surprised Fela could only manage to stutter "eh, em, em downstairs". There was more surprise at Fela's apartment when she donned an apron and simply cleaned the dishes and the whole apartment. That girl then was a certain Remi Taylor who would later become Fela's wife and mother of his first three kids.
After completing his Music studies in England, Fela returned to Nigeria and took up a job with Federal Radio Cooperation of Nigeria as the music Programme Director. His family connection was first put to bear in getting him an interview to become the music director at the Nigerian Navy. But Fela intentionally got late to the venue of the interview because he did not want anything to do with the Military.
The birth of Afrobeat
While working with the FRCN Fela occasionally did jam sessions with other musicians. Playing just his Trumpet with a white Handkerchief in his hand like the Great musicians he had heard and read about or admired in the world of Jazz music like Dizzy Gillespie, John Coltrane and Miles Davis and at the same time gradually putting together his own Band. So when he left the FRCN he had enough collaborators to start the Koola-Lobitos with Benson Idonjie as his first manager.
Although he had good musicians in his Band like the great Tony Allen, Lekan Animashaun, Ingo Chico while he himself was a perfectionist, initially his music was more western inclined. It took a simple question from his mother to change all that. "Fela why don't you use African Rhythm in your music instead of this Oyinbo, Oyinbo you are playing", his mum had asked him. He said he had thought about what she asked him all night and the next day he started experimenting with it, and in no time because of his rare gift as a music Genius he started churning out one hit after the other bringing about the birth of a refreshing mix of heavy Bass, Jazzy Drums, Tenor guitar, Rhythm Congas, Rhythm guitar, Tenor guitar, rhythm piano, unparalleled Horn-sections, call and Backup singers, laced in African rhythms. He called it Afro beat.
The birth of a Pan-Africanist.
The idea of going on a musical tour in the United States of America was first muted in the late 60's by a friend of Fela's manager, Idonjie, who had thought at the time that Nigeria already had a Musical star that could easily meet up with international standard hence the need to go to the states for the big break. But funny enough was the youthful exuberance of going on a wild ride without taking into consideration the fact that things could go wrong. First they had no Tour Agency with a clear-cut Tour plan; and this leads to the second problem of having few or no Promoters. And thirdly, they had one-way tickets which summed up together a perfect recipe for a catastrophic Tour.
Predictably, when Fela and his then unknown Koola-Lobitos band got to the States, it took just a couple of shows and few weeks to face the reality of their situation. At the point in time, the Civil-Rights movement in America was already assuming dynamic proportions. So while his musicians were working in factories to raise the travel fares back home, Fela had to live with an Afro-American girlfriend Sandra Izsadore, who belonged to the Black Resistant movement then, called the Black Panthers. She it was that supplied Fela loads of Pan-Africanist oriented books that completely animated his political mindset. Fela spent most of his time devouring books he got from Sandra on World and African history, Malcolm X, Angela Davies, Stoke Carmichael, slavery and every other Topic he felt was relevant to the emancipation of the African race. Izsadore made Fela see the world from a perspective that was to shape the direction of the rest of his life. He came back to Nigeria with images of daily brutality against the Blacks solidly embedded in his sub-consciousness, a completely different man.
First he had to shed away his initial surname, Ransome-Kuti, substituting it with Anikulapo-Kuti. The Ransome in it was too colonial for his liking. His band also was renamed "Africa 70" discarding completely the use of Western or foreign manufactured items. He started reordering his priorities using his music as a weapon. Fela attacked societal defection from the traditional use of African or locally manufactured items, government inadequacies, unbridled corruption and nepotism in government while propagating like his new found Hero, Osagyefo Dr. Kwame Nkrumah, on the need for African unity with a central Government for all Africans.
Delving into serious social and political issues, Fela attacked anything he felt was inimical to the political, social and economic advancement of the Black race. He realized early enough that his music was making the desired impact and used the fact to its fullest advantage.
These uncompromising views coupled with the fact that in Nigeria like most other African countries, a military government was in power made confrontations with the Army and Police authorities inevitable.
The First Republic
Fela's first major brush with the police Authorities in Nigeria came in the form of a raid on his abode by the police who had gone to his house searching for cannabis. Led by a certain Superintendent Attah, who later became the Inspector-General and armed with a search warrant, they had searched everywhere in his house without success until a Corporal found the remnants of what Fela thought he had already disposed in his bedroom toilet. Fela who at this time was already teasing the police officers, accusing them of wasting his time and the tax payers' money was edging closer to the corporal and demanding to see the evidence.
Corporal: You said you don't smoke weed, then what is this?
Fela: What is that? (Getting even closer) I can't see anything, you are lying.
Corporal: You can't see what? (Now raising his hands up very close to Fela's face) is this not ...? That was all he could mutter because Fela had hit the backhand of the policeman, grabbed the weed and threw everything into the mouth, chewing and smiling to the consternation of their leader, SP Attah, who then had no choice but to take Fela to the station threatening hell and brimstone.
SP Attah: hey young man, do you know what you have just done? I am taking you to the station, either you voluntarily excrete what you just swallowed or we will pump it out of your system and use same against you in the law court.
On getting to the Force Criminal Investigation Department at Alagbon Lagos, Fela refused to enter the cell insisting that he would never walk in voluntarily with his own legs. The police had to lift him into the cell hence he won the instant respect of all other cell inmates. Inside the cell the president in concert with other inmates cooperated with Fela to circumvent the police game plan. Fela had requested his family to always cook for him food with lots of vegetables so he could purge out everything he had in his stomach. The trick was that after the police officers on duty had done their routine night inspection, Fela would excrete in a bowl provided by the cell president and this will eventually be smuggled out of the cell without the knowledge of the police officers on duty who had already been briefed that whenever Fela was ready to excrete he should be taken outside the cell and given a bowl to excrete in. That way Attah had reasoned, his excreta would be sent to the Forensic department and the resulting report used against him in the court.
As it happened, after three nights of purging and believing he had nothing left in his stomach good enough for the police to use as evidence against him, Fela announced the next morning that he wanted to excrete.
Hell was let loose at the station, with each of the policemen on duty trying to outdo the other to get the bowl first. "Fela want shit, Fela want shit" (Fela wants to toilet) rented the air.
When Attah eventually got the Forensic report that Fela's shit had tested negative, he was livid. The only option left to him was to make good his earlier threat of pumping the evidence out of Fela. So off they went to the Police doctor who was himself scared of touching Fela because he had threatened to break the doctor's head if he came close to him. Attah after listening to Fela abuse his father and mother, was left with no other option than to let him go. This whole episode was later to end up in a Hit song titled: "Expensive Shit".
Getting back home, Fela named his house after the Police cell he had just been released from - "Kalakuta Republic" securing it with an electric fence; something he had to do to forestall further police raids. Citing society inadequacies as reasons for his actions, Fela attacked not only the government but also the powerful; the corrupt and the hitherto untouchable individuals in society. The most prominent of them was Chief MKO Abiola.
Abiola was well connected to the military top brass, a situation that arose from his close contact with the military boys in England while studying to become an Accountant. While they were perfecting their coup plotting skills, Abiola facilitated interactions with the opposite sex because even some of the Generals were said to be timid.
Abiola later shot himself into national limelight with a controversial Telecommunication contract given to him by the Regime of General Murtala Mohammed. He was alleged to have imported old and used Telecommunication equipments from Brazil which sent the countries quest for better communication back to the stone ages. Despite this atrocity against the economic and social interest of the country, Abiola was never questioned not even for a day.
Believing then he had acquired an untouchable status, he released through his company, Decca Records, ten new songs of Fela without any valid contract. A livid Fela alleging financial ruin by Abiola later went with members of Kalakuta household along with mattresses, cups, plates and other household utensils to occupy Decca Records, driving out everybody and taking over the entire building. Chief Abiola was reportedly told to pay Fela his money when he complained to the then Inspector-General of police. It actually took the pleading of the Inspector-General for Fela to vacate the building. The second instance of confrontation with Chief Abiola was on a day Fela had stopped by to see his friend and Editor of the Punch newspaper, Sam Amuka, in his office. Unfortunately Chief Abiola was a guest at Sam Amuka's office at the material time, a consequence of which the following conversation ensued:
Amuka: Eh Fela, how nice to see you.
Fela: Yeah Sam, I was just passing by and thought to say hell ... (Sighting MKO), what is this thief doing here?
Amuka: Fela please don't start any problem.
Fela: (Now facing Abiola) Oga Mr. Big man, now you look like a frightened rat. There is nothing that would give me more pleasure than to blow your fucking face. But I am going to let you be for my friend's sake.
After he left the office a frightened Abiola had heaved a sigh of relieve thanking Sam Amuka.
The third instance was at Abiola's Ikeja home. The idea of 'giving Abiola shit physically' according to Fela, came from Fela's first daughter Yeni. She had suggested the idea of going to Chief Abiola's house and throwing shit at it, because she had reasoned that the police won't lift a finger against Chief Abiola no matter what his offence might be. The more Fela thought about the idea, the more excited he got.
Duro Ikujenyo (my lord spiritual) one of Fela's famous Pianists was assigned the job of organizing the shit. Duro had gone to Lagos Island where the Waste Disposal Unit had their Incinerator and paid for Ten Buckets of shit with instructions to leave those particular buckets outside until he came back for them.
On the D-day, Fela dressed up like a native Shit-Disposer popularly called "Agbepo". With a scarf tied around his mouth and nostrils, he drove the bus first to Lagos Island where they Picked up the already fermented 10 buckets of shit and headed towards Chief Abiola's house.
In Nigeria, it is usual for the elite to have armed Police guards in their houses. They had come out to inquire what was going on when they heard the screeching tires of Fela's bus and the first bucket landed and exploded in the compound. Seeing the contents of the buckets, the security officials were the first to abscond by jumping over the fences into neighbouring premises and Abiola himself had to evacuate himself and family to one of his numerous houses. This same Abiola was later killed by his 'Army friends' following his refusal to surrender his mandate after winning the acclaimed freest and fairest election in Nigeria's history on June 12, 1993 and breaking their code of dishonor by aligning with the masses.
In the case of Mid-Motors owned then by Chief Igbinedion, the Esama of Benin kingdom, his British manager had sold Fela a used car as a new one. One of the boys had noticed the next day while cleaning the car that it was already used. Fela had gone back peacefully with the car and demanded a refund of his money but the Manager was playing pranks saying he needed his boss to sign the refund check, and so on and so forth. But after receiving the beating of his life he paid up the money the next day without a fuss.
Fela's social-political criticism started way back during the military regime of General Yakubu Gowon who was sacked by the people oriented regime of Murtala Mohammed. Murtala had attempted a social, political and cultural rebirth in Nigeria, something not in the vocabulary of the Nigerian shameless elites and so he had to go. Murtala was murdered by Dimka on February 13, 1976 but his coup failed throwing up Obasanjo as the new Military Head of State.
Excerpted from Kalakuta Diaries by Uwa Erhabor Copyright © 2012 by Uwa Erhabor. Excerpted by permission of AuthorHouse. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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