Last night, I introduced 'Music Is The Weapon', a documentary on Fela Kuti at the British Museum, and read a few poems after the film. This was my introduction to the film.
I write poems for a living, I concern myself will the specificity of language, and belief that poets are the midwives of reality; we name things into being. This idea is also held in parts of west Africa, where it is said that children grow to embody their names, a child named freedom is destined to roam the world. In the long poem Said The ShotGun to The Head, the poet Saul Williams says: 'Let your children name themselves', imagining this to be the greatest act of freedom. Subsequently, it begs the question, will we author our own destiny? will the selfnamed ones be free? what are the consequences to not naming ourselves?
The Soundtrack to My play the 14th Tale was Fela's song 'Upside Down' taken from his album 'Music of Many colours', in this song, he answers the question. The song begins with an observation of western society, he says:
Communication Organize Agriculture Organize Electric Organize Dem system Organize
Englishman get English name American man get American name German man get German name Russian man get Russian name Chinese man get Chinese name
(....) Wheras in Nigeria,
Village boku* road no dey Land boku food no dey Area boku house no dey
People no know their African name People no dey think African style People no know Africa way For Africa man house, I don see
Communication Disorganize Agriculture Disorganize Electric Disorganize Everything is Upside Down
If the language with with we communicate and define ourselves isn't ours, what are we saying when we speak? What are we asking of ourselves? What happens? Fela's believed there is a disconnect, chaos, disorgnization. This now begs the question, who will pick up the pieces, who will fix things. Fela believed the answer to this: we do. We build ourselves back up. Fela was a simple man, most great men are, they ask simple questions, have simple demands - affordable health care - equal civil rights - an end to Aapartheid - Love your neighbour as yourself. Fela wanted Africa to be governed by an African. Simple. But an African style, language and attitude to government, entirely without western influence.
And here lies the problem. In an increasingly global world, with different forces at play, powerful multinational companies, famine, greed, religion, incredible riches, vast resources, money... Morals tend to slip, injustice is rife, people die. Take for instance, the complexity here - where Nigeria's Ife heritage is exhibited above, and below we sit in a lecture hall sponsored by an oil company. Between the bright wealth of Nigeria's cultural history and it's dark natural riches, the bridge, the reason we are here, is art, its concern with truth and beauty, the power it wields to satirise and transcend the physical world, to touch us in our darkest, most sacred places and inspire a speck of change, hold up the clearest of mirrors and say - this is who you are, what you have done.
Fela's art was music, and wield this well he did. As Nigeria turns 50 this year and the play about Fela's life hits the National Theatre this autumn, his politics, his legacy speaks to us even louder. We have reinvented his message to contemporary ones: ‘Rock Around the Blockade’, ‘Fight With Mic’, ‘High Life not Die Life’, ‘Rock the Vote’, ‘Drop Beats Not Bombs’, ‘Love Music Hate Racism’, Fela had the umbrella term; that to start social, political, moral and economic change in the world, above all things; Music Is The Weapon.