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.