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 liberty
We fear to fight for justice
We fear to fight for happiness¹

In the 70s and 80s, while Fela Kuti was working hard at stirring the political consciousness of Nigerians, he was a source of controversy. Then, lots of people considered Fela to be an eccentric troublemaker whose music, nothing like popular American hip-hop, was difficult to enjoy or relate to. His notoriety, related to a rebellious lifestyle that included polygamy and cannabis use, contributed to skepticism in some quarters. With ample vulgarity and politics, his music requires an audience of mature individuals.

Decades later, due to an improved awareness of politics and its central role in the development of societies, there has been a greater appreciation of Fela’s music. In Africa, where enormous developmental challenges continue to exist, it could be suggested that a populace inadequately conscious of the essence of politics bears some responsibility for the third world status of the continent. Thus, Fela’s music remains relevant in the African context of today.

Fela should be remembered for being an iconoclast in a world where conformity is often the easiest path to take. It takes creativity deserving of respect to synthesize a unique genre of music that globalized pidgin, language of the ordinary man on the street. His courage, demonstrated by a willingness to confront vilely corrupt military and civilian governments in Nigeria, ought to serve as an inspiration for youth in Africa. Fortunately, Felabration, an annual festival coinciding with his birthday, has been performing the important task of preserving his memory. Conceived by his daughter, it holds at the New Africa Shrine and features musical performances, symposia on social and topical issues, debates and photo exhibitions.

Fela’s music is a valuable source of important history. Roles played by ‎several past and present political actors in Nigeria are highlighted in Fela’s songs. Most striking perhaps is the role played by “unknown” soldiers in the death of his mother, a distinguished lady who was a pioneer in the agitation for women’s rights. “Zombie,” his track about soldiers, addresses an important moral dilemma that persists worldwide: what decision do people take when obliged by orders to carry out actions that are immoral or unethical? At the political level, at a time when leaders in Africa are often faced with choosing between the interests of ordinary people and those of the wealthy minority, leaders with moral courage are desperately needed.

Fela was and remains an asset to Africans desirous of freedom. Let’s keep Felabrating!!


[1] Sorrow Tears and Blood; Fela Kuti; 1977.