Monthly Archives: December 2011

Weaponized Music

Fela oversees rehearsal (Photo by Janet Griffith)

1. I have been listening to Fela Kuti. His pidgin, his music. What little I know about him, I read on Wikipedia–which is to say: I know very little about Fela Kuti. I know very little about Africa. Less about Nigeria.

2. Photos and videos suggest that Fela did not care for pants–at the same time, he seemed to prefer pageantry. Fela was a rock star, a big voice and a bigger show. If people gathered at his concerts for the show, why did they join his commune? When is music a weapon? In Fela’s Nigeria, I suspect that persona was the weapon. Fela, the show, was too much for his opponents.

3. When is music a weapon? 1990: The U.S. military’s boom-box blockade of the Vatican embassy in Noriega’s Panama. Did Van Halen see any profits?

4. Fela’s offense, to compare soldiers to zombies. Fela would not take orders:

Zombie no go go, unless you tell am to go (Zombie)
Zombie no go stop, unless you tell am to stop (Zombie)
Zombie no go turn, unless you tell am to turn (Zombie)
Zombie no go think, unless you tell am to think (Zombie)
Africa 70, Zombie (1977)

5. In Babylon silence was a weapon, but the silence gave voice to the Psalm:

O daughter of Babylon, who art to be destroyed; happy shall he be, that rewardeth thee as thou hast served us.
Happy shall he be, that taketh and dasheth thy little ones against the stones. (Psalm 137:8-9, KJV)

6. Fela was an excess. He would have been a terrible head of state; he was a better, self-proclaimed “Chief Priest”. He preached a corrective, an antidote, prophecy. He might tear down, but could he build?

7. Daniel Auber’s La muette de Portici (1828) stirred the political passions of Belgium’s (French) revolution:

Amour sacré de la patrie,
Rends-nous l’audace et la fierté;
A mon pays je dois la vie;
Il me devra sa liberté.

8. Fela imported Black Power from America. When black America was busy looking for its royal African heritage, Fela gathered a harem of queens and adopted the role. Bold, tough and brazen: what white culture feared. Music became a weapon because it was a boast. Fela taunted Nigeria’s guns; they torched his place and killed his mother. Dead mothers are a weapon too.

9. When Milosevic silenced the news, Belgrade’s radio stations played a loop of N.W.A.’s “Fuck tha Police” and Public Enemy’s “Fight the Power”.

10. Cult of (doubtfully benevolent) personality. Fela returns to America as a story. Cultured, tamed, marketed. Che Guevara on a t-shirt; Fela Kuti on the soundtrack. His sons have inherited the show. Femi and Seun preach a similar message, but the beatings Fela won seem less likely to be given to his sons. Much could change, but has Nigeria imported “culture” from America. People are a weapon, better keep them entertained.

11. Pidgin brokin perfect, Abi?

12. “Strange Fruit” fed the outrage, but “We Shall Overcome” sustained the movement.

13. Music doesn’t kill people; people kill people.

14. I do not trust the song anymore than I trust the poem. Most times it would be better to tie a millstone to the tongue.