Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Fela Anikulapo Ransome Kuti: The Tree Of Life…

In Africa, land of oral culture, people consider that should an elder die, it’s a whole library that disappears… Easy then to imagine the feeling when coming to talk about a griot such as Nigerian artist Fela Anikulapo Ransome Kuti, better known as Fela Kuti (or simply Fela) who passed away back oon Aug. 02, 1997. Reputed for his African-influenced experimentations, Joe Claussell evokes for us the memory of the one who, to many, stands as the biggest artist of all time in Africa…

Finding Fela: Joe Claussell portraying Fela
Joe Claussell

If there was ever an adjective, or rather a sum of to resume how I felt about Fela, I would say  he’ll remain as both a spiritual, political and musical guide. About his music, one can easily say that this was abstract Soul. Referring to his influences which happened to be countless. And more specifically Stateside, speakin’ about artists such as James Brown, Miles Davis or Funkadelic… In regards to the African, and even more the Nigerian artist he was, there hasn’t been a single genre that hasn’t touched him in a way or another. Which is characteristic of people hailing from this country. As for Fela‘s music – in other words, what’s renowned as World-Beat, one can easily feel its instinctive Soul and Funk ranges.

There’s definitely a relation between what he’s experienced and what we, as Afro-Americans have been going through. And way beyond. Even though Fela used his music as a vector of expression of what was going on in Africa and more likely in Nigeria, his message happened to be more of a universalistic thing. Speaking of which all the African people could relate to, regardless the place they’re living in the world.  This said, saying about Fela that he was the Bob Marley of World-Beat is both right and wrong…

Right, considering the fact that both of them have managed to deliver the inner depth of their respective thoughts to the world. And in the meantime wrong, knowing that we’re first and foremost individuals above all. With each of us carrying our own messages. Bob Marley hasn’t been the only messenger hailin’ from Jamaica. No more than Fela in his own country. This bringing us to House Music which never achieved to get an audience to be compared to other genres such as Soul, Funk or Hip-Hop. And this is not only because of the absence of meaningful messages. But more of a lack of serious as far as many of its actors are concerned.

There’s definitely something to laugh about when havin’ a look at these attempts to vulgarize Afrobeat. This when so many people don’t have a single clue as to what Word-Beat is about! One’s got to be talkin’ about the emergence of some Afro-House scene. But why then, knowing Fela was already doin’ music in the 50’s! Why have we come to feel concerned about what Fela‘d been doin’ so lately?

Finding Fela: Fela Kuti as portrayed by Joe ClaussellPeople have always shown interest in regards to things that could appear new to them. But the main thing is to know if ever this inclination is sincere. If it is the result of a call from the heart or a spiritual need. Unless trying to appropriate things which aren’t comin’ from your own self. Like it’s often the case!

I don’t see anything wrong, now that Fela is no more, in re-releasing a part of his repertoire in order to show the world who he was. As it’s something that needed to be done. But seeing people, and it’s most likely the same kind of them along with time, trying to recuperate the phenomena is another thing. I think that the hype around Afro-House came from the fact that there was nothing else to jump on back then.

The Philadelphia Sound is already far behind and rare are those who really invent anything. Let’s not blame the machines. Even though they’ve allowed a whole bunch of lazy peeps to have access to production (as François K said). Because they’ve also helped some to create things they couldn’t have afforded to do with the help of live musicians…

We always tend to acknowledge the ones who speak with their heart at a moment or another. But there are the ones who understand the message and the ones who’ll never do so. With opportunists in both camp ready to jump on the wagon to make money for thesemlves as quickly as possible. This is how the prices have gone up all of a sudden to get our hands on a record by Fela right after his death. Meanwhile so many are those who didn’t give a single damn when he was alive…

Select any album by the likes of Fela rather than another to me is just impossible. I consider his legacy as a whole. Because I’ve always felt concerned by the man and his history and, as a result, his music.  There are artists who are histories, and eventually history themselves. This is why they produce albums. And if ever one of them happens to be less attractive for some reason, we nevertheless have to consider it, as long as we feel some respect for the artist, like a part of his own history, of his life. Therefore when comin’ to talk about Fela, I love all his music and I would be eventually unable to say which album I prefer. As whenever lovin’, it’s unconditional to me…

We should all be thankful for what Fela has accomplished as a musician. And I would like to add I’ve been so since my early years. But it’s not limited to me to Fela and Nigeria. We should try to understand what Fela has accomplished and look way beyond. Consider Africa as a whole, because Africa is full of anonymous Felas. Why should we wait any longer? There are so many things to discover. In Africa, in Middle East and elsewhere in the world. This is just what Fela has taught us during his whole life and has left for legacy…”

Words: Joe Claussell

Tribute: Fela Kuti

You might also like:
Tony Allen: Afrobeat Pulsations
Femi Kuti: (Solutions For) A Better World!
Dele Sosimi: Afrobeat Rising!
Roy Ayers: Sticky Fingers

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6 Comments on Fela Anikulapo Ransome Kuti: The Tree Of Life…

  1. Bravo Frederic!! Once again you clearly share your grasp of contemporary music history.We all need a coherent narrative as we are asked to be blind consumers of these diverse memes and devices. Long Live Fela and blessings to Joaquin Claussell for the principled agenda.Ache’!!

    • Thank you, Michael. Just trying to be as explanatory as possible, referring to the words of (Uncle) Mel Cheren who, one day, said to me: “The best way to make it forward is to know where you’re comin’ from. Peace 😉

    • Glad you liked it, dear. I had the chance to see Fela live a couple of times back in the day. But also to become friend with his son, Femi, and his drummer, Tony (Allen). Let me know if ever inclined to write ab bout music from your country. This would be a pure blessing 😉

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