A couple of days ago, there was an altercation on the microblogging site, Twitter about who deserves to be called the Fela of this generation. Two singers began to trend, Falz and the self-acclaimed African Giant, Burna Boy. Both are equally talented, respectable creatives, however, none of them can be the ‘next Fela’.
Read the tweet below.
Which of them truly represent Fela in words and in actions?
Like for Falz
RT for Burna pic.twitter.com/tPDouXZSLo
— Michella_Official (@PrettyMichella) April 8, 2020
Fela Anikulapo-Kuti was a maverick, the progenitor of Afrobeat and the lone ranger that bustled in a rancorous wilderness. He fought the government, he never compromised his message and was unapologetic about his objective. Fela was a proud African man, he wore the continent on his sleeves.
At the height of his popularity, he was referred to as one of Africa’s most “challenging and charismatic music performers”.
He was relevant in his generation and his unconventional musical collection spoke to a generation.
He enlightened the masses through his music, his lyrics had the ability to hypnotize the listeners and motivated them to fight against the myopic entrapment of the military brutality at the time.
His music gave people power, courage and the elevation to connect with the supernatural. Fela was an outspoken activist with a pugnacious personality that several opposition didn’t appreciate because of his guts.
Fela’s sacrifice, talent and contribution to the fundamental human right movement can never be undermined, it would eternally be a monument from generations to generations to come. No other musician can fill that role in the Nigerian music industry.
Several artistes from this current coterie of creatives admire the hedonistic side of Fela. They want the pleasure not necessarily the pain; the admiration for marijuana, the desire of a woman and finally, fame. However, most Afrobeat artistes and upcoming acts choose to forget that Fela fought tooth and nail to etch his name in history books.
The government wanted to end Fela. He didn’t shake hands with politicians nor befriended any military leader.
How many Nigerian singers eulogize ‘corrupt’ politicians nowadays?
His legacy can be imitated but his aesthetics and vision can never be replicated. No one can exude his magic, imagery as well as the sheer audacity of his music career. A lot Nigerian artistes should simply admire his masterpiece but should avoid making a fool of themselves.
That’s a dangerous business.
Why 21st Century Artistes Can Never Be Fela
Do not try to be the next Fela. It’s dangerous to your niche, there is an adage that reads, ‘To whom much is given much is expected‘.
Are you ready to fill up the big shoes?
Will you crack under the pressure?
Are you ready to risk your wellbeing and that of your family members?
Let me reiterate. Trying to embody the confrontational persona of Fela will break you both mentally and physically. However, you might end up becoming a legend in the process.
After stating the above questions, the writer would unveil why 21st-century artistes can never be the ‘next Fela’. It’s simple. These new wave of artistes are predominantly interested in three things- money, women and 15-minutes of fame.
The lyrics to their songs explain their heart desires; you can’t blame anyone, every single individual on the surface of the earth prays for the stars to align. They want security and want to attain normalcy, some level of human satisfaction.
The aforementioned desires which are norms in the lyrics of a 21st Century artiste are contrary to Fela’s maxim.
Fela sang for freedom, he performed from the aching part of his soul; he swayed his agony and sorrow far away from him. Fela went through hell, he rose against the Nigerian military government at the time.
He was bruised, broken… but he never lost sight of his vision.
In 1977, he lost his mother during the battle against the ruling government at the time. His mum, Madam Funmi Ransom-Kuti was thrown out of the window during the Kalakuta raid by military officials. This inevitably led to her death.
Fela died a thousand deaths but like a phoenix, he persistently re-emerged from the ashes and did better than his previous project.
Apparently, no 21st-century artiste would want to lose his mother gruesomely. Celebrities nowadays would rather play it safe by making vague confrontations in their songs.
No current artiste has the effrontery to openly condemn any politician or head of state. It is understandable. No brand might want to endorse the artiste and it means they might lose a huge sum of money.
Artistes nowadays prefer to talk about the trivial issues in society and scrape the surface of more heart-wrenching topics such as social injustice, prejudice, judicial killing, bribery and corruption, tribalism, domestic violence, etc. There is nothing wrong being a passerby, you can be successful by never even being an activist.
Now, back to the two mainstream acts who have been compared to Fela are Burna Boy and rapper, Falz. Both are equally talented, they have released socio-politically conscious music projects. However, neither of them is the next or new Fela.
Let’s talk about their respective styles of creative expression.
Falz and burna boy, the two fela in our time but from different angles.
— LBM™ (@localblack_man) January 15, 2019
Burna Boy’s vicarious representation of Fela on his songs is simply an assuage on the struggles of the music icon.
The Grammy-nominated recording artiste is one of the best singers to emerge from the country. Indeed, he flies the emblem of Fela and is an apparent follower of the Musical Taliban. However, Burna has shown on numerous occasions that aside from his music, he could care less about the wellbeing of his listeners.
Put it simply, he lacks empathy.
He is not an activist, he fights for nothing and instead wages war against his own fan base on social media.
Burna Boy’s choleric personality ought to be an instrument to instigate war against political curmudgeon. However, he has often rather waged war against the oppressed.
African Giant was a music album which was birthed out of a conflict with organizers of Coachella in 2019. The title of the album was instigated by his urge for relevance and global acceptance. Read the full story here.
Burna is immensely talented, however, crowning Burna the ‘new Fela’ is irresponsible. Burna is Damini Ogulu, he is a man of his own; carving his own path using Fela’s torch to direct his path.
Fela Anikulapo-Kuti, alongside other African nationalists such as – Nelson Mandela, Kwame Nkrumah, Steve Biko, Nnamdi Azikwe; to name a few were African Giants. As an African Giant, you must understand the struggle of her people and learn to live by what you preach.
Falz is another embodiment of talent.
Truth be told, he is his own man. He designed his own image and carved a niche that would be tedious to imitate. He has cemented his legacy as a dexterous multi-talented creative. An actor, he is also a singer-songwriter, rapper and social media comedian. There are arguments online that he is the ‘new Fela’.
A Twitter user wrote, ‘Fela dropped the weed and mic, Wizkid and Burna picked the Weed but Falz went for the mic.’
Fela dropped the weed and mic, Wizkid and burna picked the Weed but Falz went for the mic #talk
— Mr Promise (@MisterPromise) January 11, 2019
Falz has worn the image of Fela on various occasions. He has spoken his truth and challenged the authorities in his own way. However, he too is not the ‘next Fela’.
His nine-track album, Moral Instruction which was released in 2019 remains one of his most conscious music projects till date. He went all in and divulged his animosity towards the wretched political hierarchy, religion and its controversies. Further, Falz addressed the imbalance in the different classes in the country.
Falz’s Moral Instruction artwork was designed by the legendary artist Lemi Ghariokwu; who was also responsible for all Fela Kuti’s album art.
The talented rapper has evolved immensely since he made his debut in the music industry. Indeed, he is both hip and politically conscious. He is one of the most outspoken Nigerian musicians who have managed to distance themselves from scandals, which makes his career more fascinating.
However, Falz’s political consciousness is often overshadowed by his comic style of expression. Songs like ‘Bop Daddy‘ and ‘Sweet Boys’ have somehow watered down some of his collection. To be the next Fela, it takes more than waving his flag and touching on sensitive issues once a while. It is important to have a palpitating heart devoted to humanity.
In conclusion, every artiste will come out with their own unique style of expression and personal message. Nevertheless, it is important for musicians to stick to their guns and murder every project they choose to embark upon. Artistes such as Davido, Wizkid, 2Baba have contributed immensely to the Afrobeats movement; hence, they deserve to be honoured for their respective ideologies.
But the reality is this: there would never be a new Fela; neither will there ever be a new Burna Boy or Falz; hence we should appreciate their contribution.
Each generation would come with its own legend(s).