Chapter Seven: The Black President

“I really shouldn’t be doing this…”

That was all that kept running through my mind as I followed Nneka past another building. It was dark and poorly lit in Lagos but here I was, sneaking out into night, away from the safety of my dorm. “Nneka wait up!” I called out as loud as I could without drawing attention to us. She turned for a quick second, flashed me a smile and gestured for me to hurry up as she dashed around another corner.

You really should have stayed home I muttered, slowly regretting my decision to join Nneka in her visit to one of Lagos’ most notorious quarters. Nneka had been telling all of us in our dorm about her first time in the Kalakuta Republic, the famous compound that had housed the Chief Priest, his family, band members. She even shared her first time in the Shrine just some months back before it was attacked by Nigerian Soldiers. It was also the first time she had witnessed the unique aura of the Chief Priest. As she recounted her experience, she couldn’t help but smile, giggle and even slip into a distant daze every time she mentioned his name. She shared with us how she had spent hours twirling and grinding in the cannabis-infused smoke that was rumoured to be always present in the Shrine. With every word she spoke, my curiosity and need to visit the Shrine grew… I wanted to feel what she did. That sense of abandon that I had never felt at home with my strict parents. I needed to feel it even if it would only be once in my life…

 

kalakuta-attack

Nigerian Soldiers vs. Kalakuta Republic… Guess who won.

So I hadn’t hesitated when she snuck up to my bed just a few minutes ago and asked me to join her at the shrine. I hadn’t hesitated when I was putting on my tights and loose top or when I put on a dash of powder and lipstick on my face.

No, I hadn’t even thought of hesitating. But now, here I was, about 10 minutes away from the former Kalakuta commune, panicking and anxious as we dodged the numerous military patrols that were now a common sight every Lagos night.

But I was going to see him… to feel him… and at that thought I shook off whatever fear that remained and set my eyes on my destination: The Afrika Shrine.

After what seemed like forever, we finally arrived at Kalakuta area. I knew this because besides the signboard that still hang in the destroyed commune, there was a certain change in the atmosphere on entering. It was like we just entered the land of the free. It was also then that I noticed the throngs of young people that were trooping into Kalakuta area. Some seemed to be students, others the average unemployed Lagosian, and some dressed in clothes that you only saw in movies but they all appeared comfortable and filled with a sense of excitement. Some were smoking, others were laughing and others were chatting. Everyone seemed at home. Content. FREE.

They were all moving into the old Empire Hotel building a few meters ahead and there it was… the Afrika Shrine. The Shrine had a very “natural” feel to it with a few macho men posed at its entrance.

new-africa-shrine

The Afrika Shrine 2.0

They stood scanning through the crowd for any notorious or suspicious characters that could disrupt tonight’s event. We were finally doing it… We were finally about to see the Chief Priest. The Black President himself.

Within seconds we had made our way into the shrine. Nneka had not been joking about the cannabis and smoke in the shrine. It was everywhere but for some strange reason, it didn’t bother me. Rather there was some calming effect that it brought with the dark room and a well-lit stage.

The mixed scents of the shrine wiped away any lingering doubt or anxiety i had from earlier. I was completely open. My mind was clear. All my thoughts of disappointing my parents, all the financial problems I was facing, all the pressures to succeed in university, all the pressures to be good, were all gone. In the Shrine, I was just Seyi, a young lady trying to live. And Seyi was ready. I was ready. Yes I was ready for him.

Suddenly the crowd went quiet…. I looked up to the stage and noticed the lights had now dimmed. The show was about to start. A colourful young man walked on the stage followed by a throng of background singers and musicians. His background dancers or His Queens as they were popularly called, were doused in makeup and wrapped in beads and unique Yoruba cloth styles with much of their legs and tummy exposed.

fela-and-dancers

The young man took the mic said  “Evening everybody, I hope ona ready oo. Na today the Chief Priest don land in the Afrika Shrine. Oya make ona give am a warm welcome oo.. The one and only King of AfrobeatFela Anikulapo Kuti!!”

With that the crowd burst into loud screams and shouts. Everyone cheered and jumped as a cloud of smoke swept across the stage.

Then he appeared… OUR BLACK PRESIDENT

sun-fela-kuti-spin-dot-com

Barechested with beads around his neck, he came on stage dancing to the music and  clad in only tight pants with white marks across over his face.

I couldn’t believe my eyes. Right before me was Fela. The notorious and open-minded Fela Kuti. Our counterculture icon who never fretted in the face of danger and continued to live an open life criticising the government and everything in between no matter the cost…. And he was strangely very attractive also.

Fela raised his hands and everyone went silent.

Then he smiled to the crowd and said:

People… Today I no fine o. Na so many things dey worry me. Why all ona politicians be vagabonds like that? Riding in big cars while we all suffer for here…

And with that he launched into one of his famous Yabis (roasting sessions) recalling many of the incidents that he had encountered under the Nigerian government from being jailed and charged numerous times to being beaten up and the attack on Kalakuta as well as the fatal injury Nigerian soldiers gave his mother who was thrown out of the commune in the attack.

yabis

The King of Yabis himself!

I followed the sessions intently both amused and irritated and strongly angered. He spoke raw and free but he was real.

He then signalled to his Africa 70s band and they began with the background music of one of his hits, V.I.P. or Vagabonds in Power

vip

“Very Important Person”
Mean say na power
Mean na sole sole power
Him be special person

But everybody get him power (Everywhere!)
Everybody get him power (Everywhere!)
I say, everybody get him power (Everywhere!)
Everybody get him power (Everywhere!)

….

Him no know hungry people
Him no know jobless people
Him no know homeless people
Him no know suffering people

Him go dey ride best car
Him go dey chop best food
Him go dey live best house
Him go dey waka for road
You go dey commot for road for am
Him go dey steal money

[Chorus]
Na “Vagabond in Power”!

Him be wrong man”

Then he moved on to another hit which focused on the effects of foreign countries in Africa, I.T.T or   International Thief Thief

itt

Well well, na true I want talk again o

Na true I want talk again o
If I dey lie o
Make Osiris punish me
Make Ifa dey punish me o
Make Edumare punish me o
Make the land dey punish me o
Make Edumare punish me o

….

Before them come force us away as slaves
During the time them come force us away as slaves
Na European man, na him dey carry shit
Na for them culture to carry shit
During the time them come colonize us
Them come teach us to carry shit
Long, long, long, long time ago
African man we no dey carry shit
Na European man teach us to carry shit

[Chorus]
Say am, say am!

Many foreign companies dey Africa carry all our money go
Many foreign companies dey Africa carry all our money go
Them go write big English for newspaper, dabaru we Africans
Them go write big English for newspaper, dabaru we Africans

I read about one of them inside book like that
Them call him name na I.T.T.
I read about one of them inside book like that
Them call him name na I.T.T.

Them go dey cause confusion (Confusion!)
Cause corruption (Corruption!)
Cause oppression (Oppression!)
Cause inflation (Inflation!) “

I swayed, jumped and danced as I listened to the playful but serious words his music proclaimed… Was it true?? Had we really lost our Africanness because of foreign companies? No wonder he got on so well with the late Thomas Sankara and even allowed him into Kalakuta once. They were so alike.. I noted proudly. I just wanted to be like them.. I needed to be brave as they were…

fela-and-san

Fela then shifted even deeper into the battle with foreign religions with his song Shuffering and Shmiling

shuffering

Suffer, suffer for world

Amen!

Suffer, suffer for world
Enjoy for Heaven
Christians go dey yab
“In Spiritum Heavinus”
Muslims go dey call
“Allahu Akbar”

 Open you eye everywhere
Archbishop na miliki
Pope na enjoyment
Imam na gbaladun

[Chorus]
Archbishop dey enjoy
Pope self dey enjoy
Imam self dey enjoy
My brother wetin you say?
My brother wetin you say?

My sister wetin you go hear?
My sister wetin you go hear? “

Just then the music stopped.

Fela turned to his singers and gestured for one of them to join him.

Then he turned to the crowd “Ah see this fine woman. See African woman. She no fine??” The crowd yelled in response “She fine oo” He added “but this no be what some of ona women want. They don’t want to even be called African woman. Na lady so them want… Make I tell you all something about one lady….”

The music started again and it was another one of his songs Lady

lady

If you call am woman
African woman no go ‘gree
She go say, she go say, “I be lady, oh”
She go say, “I be lady, oh”

…….

Call am for dance
She go dance lady dance
Call am for dance
She go dance lady dance

African woman go dance
She go dance the fire dance
African woman go dance
She go dance the fire dance

She know him man na master
She go cook for am
She go do anything he say

But lady, no be so”

As he sang, he turned and danced with the singer. Grinding his hips with hers closely and allowing her to be free on stage. They danced so intimately and in tune that I couldn’t take my eyes off them.

fela-dance

I felt a pang of jealousy course through me as I began to wish that I was her. That I was dancing with him. That I was one of the supposed 27 women he had chosen to be his Queens…

fela-queens

The song ended with him giving the lady a quick kiss on the cheek and a wink. He paused. 

fela-kuti-14-450pk021610

Just when I thought the show was over he turned to the crowd and launched into one of his most notorious songs and the song that got Kalakuta republic burned.. ZOMBIE!

I had only heard this once in a bar that I had entered with Nneka some months ago. Infact many of Fela songs had been banned  from the radio with even the current leader of Nigeria, General Oluwasegun Obasanjo accusing Fela of destroying the lives of Nigerian Youth.  Fela had famously replied that “yes he was destroying  Nigerian youth, but only the kind of mindless, pliant youth that a dictator craves.”  Now that was one insanely bold response.

fela-playing

It was really no wonder he was always a target but he still stayed in Nigeria throughout. The Chief Priest had stood firm in the face of elites and never abandoned his shrine. He truly refused to be a ZOMBIE….

zombie

Zombie o, zombie (Zombie o, zombie)
Zombie o, zombie (Zombie o, zombie)

Zombie no go go, unless you tell am to go (Zombie)
Zombie no go stop, unless you tell am to stop (Zombie)
Zombie no go turn, unless you tell am to turn (Zombie)
Zombie no go think, unless you tell am to think (Zombie)

Tell am to go straight
A joro, jara, joro
No break, no job, no sense
A joro, jara, joro
Tell am to go kill
A joro, jara, joro
No break, no job, no sense
A joro, jara, joro
Tell am to go quench
A joro, jara, joro
No break, no job, no sense
A joro, jara, joro

…..

Attention! (Zombie)
Quick march!
Slow march! (Zombie)
Left turn!
Right turn! (Zombie)
About turn!
Double up! (Zombie)
Salute!
Open your hat! (Zombie)
Stand at ease!
Fall in! (Zombie)
Fall out!
Fall down! (Zombie)
Get ready!

Halt!

Order!

DISMISS!!!”

And with that, he fell to his knees with his hands raised. The crowd burst out into uncontrollable cheering and shouted “ BLACK PRESIDENT!! BLACK PRESIDENT!!”

Nneka and I joined  the others in cheering, amazed at the outer-worldly performance we had just witnessed.

I was amazed at the boldness that was FELA. The honesty that was FELA. The rawness and realness that was FELA.

That night something changed in me.

That night I knew I could never keep silent on any injustice that I witness or am privy to.

That night I changed. That night, I had my first ever #FELAREVIVAL

MY FIRST #FELABRATION!!!

fela-hands

Learn More About Fela

Fela’s Music is the Weapon Documentary

Fela Kuti – The Chronicle of a Life Foretold

Fela’s Greatest Hits

Finding Fela

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