By Femi Akintunde-Johnson
Last time here, in commemoration of the burial obsequies of Nigeria’s greatest musical export, we bemoaned the apparent paucity of figures and forces who can stand against rampaging corrupt elements and their cohorts who feast on our commonwealth like mindless locusts guzzling a lush field of maturity crops.
Since Fela was buried on August 12, 1997, his hapless compatriots have looked on perplexed at the seeming absence of a stand out character to take the baton from their fallen tragic hero. Are we truly bereft of a vocal amplifier of the agonies and frustrations of the ordinary Nigerian folks in the face of governmental and individual betrayals and campaigns of subtle or crude devastation against the Nigerian means of well-being?
The following candid submissions were an attempt to review the canvas of our soaring expectations – to look at the shiniest crystals (living or dead) of the decade following Fela’s demise, who could have desired to seize that moment (either propelled by self-belief or pressured by their fans), and create a thunder of their own.
CHARLY BOY: Then in his late 40’s (now 70), the bulky gentleman is not now on the high side of strength or tenacity. For over seven years, he worked tirelessly on a media-rooted image, “Punk” which (more often than not) provokes amusement or dismay. Even when his background and grooming (child of legal purist and former Supreme Court justice); education and exposure (well-travelled with masters degree from an American school); Charles Oputa should have assured us of profundity which his odd four or so albums have not revealed. Ordinarily, these values should condition creativity, they cannot replace it. His carefully “deconstructed” punk image depletes any traces of publican ‘angst’. We have lost him to show business, and now populism – finis!
SUNNY ADE: For this great performer who will be 73 (on September 22), a comparison with FELA is really unkind and unfair. Even though he started his music training just as early (Fela was a church organist, a music pupil before he was 10; Sunny Ade ran away from home to hang around the Ojoge’s, I. K.
Dairo’s before he made teenage years)… Even though young FELA was stranded at the beginning of his career, confused between jazz and highlife, while Sunday Adegeye had chosen his focus and his masters; even when American Chris Blackwell and his Island Records were frustrated by Fela in their dubious search for another Bob Marley – and found a glitter in Sunny Ade; it will still be an ‘over-stretch’ of a fragile elastic garment to expect Sunny Ade to fill the vacuum. With age, his robust pseudo-social commentaries which came in irregular outburst have given way to a stronger sound-consciousness, rather than any vague attempt at documenting and approximating the history and struggles of Nigerian people. The Way Forward, Sunny’s boldest experimentation in advocacy is a greying testimony to his dilemma in confronting topical, volatile, socio-political issues of his time.
SONNY OKOSUNS: In the late 70’s, Sonny Okosuns and his Ozziddism philosophy came across as a side-pocket of FELA’s trousers – thumping rhythm of African percussion with pronounced pan-Africanist declamation. His threshold was apartheid and the unbridled under-development of Africa. It was as if Nigeria was a textbook history – far away in creative imagination. During the other half of 1980’s, Sonny’s sting lost its poison – he skirted the fringes of social issues as they affected Nigeria. Sonny was immensely famous in the then colonized nations of the Southern Africa. He demonstrated a captivating affinity for the liberation struggles and his messages took up the halo of the prophetic when nation after nation got their independence.
Sonny’s musical odyssey took drastic jolting with the release of Nelson Mandela and his subsequent enthronement as South Africa’s first black president after the collapse of segregated South Africa. When he resorted to his base – churning out Motherless Children, No More Wars, etc, it was obvious to his admirers that Sonny Okosuns was spent. A brief altercation with Fela on the issue of relevance at home was quickly brushed aside by FELA’s brutal dismissive yabis.
Sonny retraced steps and dug into his nativity. It didn’t take him long to realise the need to suspend his Ozzidism and hang his future on the Cross. He died at age 67??? in 2004; but before then he had (successfully) sunk deep into religiosity, so much so that any hope of using his great antecedents as pedestal to proclaim the voice of the people was completely lost.
WASIU AYINDE MARSHAL: The Fuji star and his music are icons of economic stability. Since 1987 (the year of his turning point album, Talazo), Ayinde Marshal (now cutely dubbed K1) has not set a wrong foot forward. His antecedents have revealed him as a cautious and deliberate voice of moderation, pacifism and providence. It will be a different portrait, very strange to the singer, to be queried on his hassles for debate, crusade and brigade.
No doubt, his music is a very useful vehicle capable of transporting rational and populist themes into the consciousness in spite of its language limitations. In Wasiu’s mercantile factory, the music has turned to simplistic “sweet nothings” – and the long queue of dabblers and imitators of Wasiu’s brand has found a panacea for economic distress and societal pressures. Though, we must note his solitary excursions into provincial political activism towards the end of that decade; we can easily declare that such excursions were largely designed for deepening political foothold and leveraging self–interest.
Before we get to the more serious contenders whose efforts – up till the end of that first decade (1997 – 2007) – might have betrayed, knowingly or unknowingly, traces of the master lyricist and composer, Fela Anikulapo Kuti; it would have been ideal to do a “quickie” on exceptional artistes who could (but cannot or would not) have reduced the stress of the Nigerian populace suffered in the hands of their governments and the compromised section of the society.
Much as one would objectively suspend one’s cynicism and grope for names, even fading faces or vanishing voices, the stark reality then (and much worse now) that the horizon was bleak, the hall was empty, and our hopes bleached.
So, let’s get back to the main characters – next time. Stay safe…hold the torch high.