Friday, February 12, 2010

What Fela Anikulapo-Kuti Taught Me

I’m not a biographer of Fela Anikulapo-Kuti (1938-1997) or a music critic, but Fela was a constant feature in the landscape of my youth; I don’t remember a time that Fela and his music, or that the names Ransome-Kuti or Anikulapo-Kuti were not parts of my life.

He started his musical career with Koola Lobitas (1964-1968) and then ‘Fela and the Nigerian 70,’ followed by ‘Fela and the African 70’ and later as Fela Anikulapo-Kuti and the Egypt 80.

My uncle was crazy about Fela’s music in the late 60s and ‘Alujoin join ku jon’ came to be my favorite, and even today, my psychoanalyst’s mind continues to try to make sense of the metaphor of that short story about animals.

Is it about our instincts, or is it about the undying loyalty of dogs? Is it about refusal to give up home and mother and emancipate oneself? In the song, there was a terrible famine in the land and every animal decided that they would kill and eat their mothers to stave off starvation, and in the meeting where this was decided, the dog agreed to the consensus, only for him to go and hide his mother in heaven, while the other animals killed and ate their mothers. And periodically, the dog would go visit his mother where he hid her in heaven.

That my mind would not rest on one interpretation to the song is because it is Proper Art— As Joseph Campbell said, “Proper art is of an esthetic object that renders wholeness, harmony and radiance. But art that excites desire for the object as a tangible object is pornography, because the relationship is not purely esthetic.” But, unfortunately those who didn’t want their children hanging around the Shrine, with all the activities of drug use culture saw Fela’s art and life as pornographic.

Fela was my hero as he was for a lot of people of my generation, and he was a celebrity that was accessible to everyone. He said it as it is. He stood up against oppressive authority as his mother, who dethroned an unjust king did before him.

Fela’s neologisms were quickly absorbed into the Yoruba language as well as the lingua franca of Nigeria, Pidgin English. Examples abound like ‘Zombie,’ ‘Suegbe,’ ‘Pako,’ ‘He miss road,’ ‘Monkey dey Work, Baboon dey Chop,’ ‘Jeun Koku,’ ‘Yellow Fever,’ ‘Shuferring and Smiling,’ ‘Opa fuka,’ amongst many others.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Thoughts that Still Haunt Me

I think of them often: great things, small things, kind things and unkind things. I regret some of them, I am grateful for some of them, and with one of them I was lucky to be given a second chance. 

On the list is the kindness of my twin brother’s friends when we were teenagers. They nicknamed me Daisy. They are still my good friends.

I remember my ex-husband’s “thank you for your love” to me at a time that I had provoked anger in him, and he meant it—he wasn’t being sarcastic.

I remember being on a bus in Lagos and going by Tejuoso Market. A woman was giving birth at the bus stop, and people had gathered around to watch, though they gave her a wide berth. I was already a doctor, and I felt that I should stop to assist, so I asked the driver to stop. He ignored me; he didn’t want to stop in the middle of the chaos. I didn’t insist. I let him make the decision for me.

I remember the kindness of a newly formed acquaintance. I was pregnant with my daughter and he told me that I was very beautiful. I don’t remember his name anymore.

I remember at another time during my short sojourn in Lagos in my mid 20s. I was late for work and on another bus, we rode by Obalende and a young man was throwing up by the side of the road. He was very sick and emaciated. I didn’t do a thing.

I remember being given a second chance to help someone. I had gone to Igbo-Ora (Nigeria) for my rotation in public health in medical school with my classmates for six weeks.

I think it was my second week in Igbo-Ora and for some reasons that for the life of me, I cannot remember now, I was walking on the main road in the village at about 7.30 in the morning, it was a time that the children were walking to school.

There was a boy who had been crippled by polio on both legs and he had a pair of crutches to help him walk. He was about 9 years old but he had the frame of a six year old. He had become an expert on the crutches and was able to keep up with most of his peers. But he had outgrown the crutches by about three years. So he crouched almost to the ground as he waddled along.

I wondered why his parents haven’t been changing the crutches as he had been growing. I didn’t think it would cost them much. All they needed was to ask a local carpenter, and he could easily have carved a pair for them. I walked slowly behind him, and thought of going to talk to his parents, to educate them about his needs. I wanted to ask him for his name and where he lived. I was sure that I could afford to pay for a pair of crutches for him out of my allowance. I thought of all these but did nothing, and it tormented me for many years.

Five years later, I returned to Igbo-Ora for eight weeks as a resident doctor in public health, and though the young crippled boy had come to be part of my memory of the city, I didn’t look for him. But one day, I went to the market to give health education to the women, I saw him! And unbelievably, he was still on those same crutches. His crippled legs were the same size but his trunk was growing normally and so he crouched more, and the years of crouching was giving him a bent back, not exactly a hunch back but close to it.

I went to speak with him. He had dropped out of elementary school and was panhandling. I offered him a new pair of crutches as I explained to him that he outgrew the ones he had 8 years ago. He shrugged dismissively. I wanted to take him to the carpenters we both could see across from us in the market, so they could measure him and get him the proper crutches, but he’d rather I give him the money and he would take care of it himself. I refused to give him the money and so I bribed him; I would pay for the crutches and give him money for food.

The day the crutches were ready and the carpenter gave them to him, he stood up as straight as he could, though the years of crouching had left their mark. I was very happy, and I thanked him for accepting my gift as I handed him the money for food.
The carpenter felt that he was the one that should be grateful to me, but he didn’t know the years of torment that I had endured and that my gratitude was for a second chance.

Feasts of Phantoms
a novel by Kehinde Adeola Ayeni
-- ISBN 978-0981393926
Available your local bookstore, a host of online booksellers and directly from Genoa House.