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Fela Kuti, understanding a life with the key to immortality.
The nature of empowerment
It is absurdly difficult to explain why something is empowering, ultimately because the nature of empowerment is inherently subjective. I personally find artistic empowerment mostly in music. The flames of truth and ideology flickering within us ignite uncontrollably with speech- we become flustered. With music however, it seems possible to tap- ever so temporarily- into the purity of that fire, and channel it into an inferno. This was the power of Fela Kuti, a being with the power to channel the fire inside you into the roar of a dragon.
This is not to understate the tediously crafted nature of Felas’ work. The arrangement in any of his songs is orchestral in quality and density, I will gladly pit his work any day against the likes of classical geniuses like Franz Liszt. He layered his music with precisely timed jazz instrumentation, yet taking the time to leave spaces for the spontaneous, fiery vocals that would become the staple of Afro beat. Fela wanted you to think, but he was not afraid to let you dance.
“Most intellects don’t believe in God, but they fear us all the same” Erykah Baduh- musician and poet.
Apotheosis, this is the time-honoured prophecy that human beings have within them the ability to transcend human flaws and be immortalised. It can be witnessed in all of us as the hunger and drive within us to become complete. The carnal drive steamrolling us towards perfection. Stories and art from the beginning of history dealt with apotheosis, it is the part in our beloved heroes journeys where the main character becomes a god. Here lies, in my humble opinion the true genius of Fela, strung throughout his work like strings in beaded necklaces is his answer to apotheosis. Fela was concerned with the true transcendence into the true power of the African people, and he believed the answer to apotheosis lies in the true expression of pain. The gods we become when we can truly accept and free our painful thoughts and experiences, cannot be stopped.
All of Felas’ work has this in common, the fire behind the animalistic ferocity of his music was to jolt people to express the hidden nature of their pain. The pain of having to conform to societal standards of beauty and etiquette in “Lady” and “gentleman”; the pain of censorship in “Je’nwi temi”; the pain of the loss of identity in “Zombie”. All his discography, was a man begging for people to stop keeping quiet. Society can only restrain your being when you let it.
They fear us all the same
Freedom is hard, but the alternative is death
However, here empathy must be expressed over the extreme vulnerability it takes to achieve this. The reactions the world will have to you will be painful, and even sometimes harmful. But it is something that must be done- because the only alternative is death. Not physical death- sad to break it to you, but nothing can stop that, but a death more tragic in a sense- the death of the self. The flickering flame from within you will fade, and the ultimate tragedy would be becoming a numb, sentient, corpse.
Fela’s legacy was to help keep our collective flames alive, and dancing. And for this he achieved apotheosis- his essence roars in the minds of generations that where not alive when his physical body existed. He expressed his pain with the ferocity of a carnal beast, and for that he was granted immortality in our minds- the heroes journey is complete. This is how to become immortal, and this was the true beauty of Fela.
© 2017 Samuel