Fela’s Consciousness

John Negro
12 min readSep 21, 2020


Church pews filled with adherent faithfulness and salvation hopefuls, the background reverberation of the preacher’s sonorous and enticing voice echoing through the “monastery style” architecture that characterizes modern-day Pentecostal churches in the West African country of Nigeria. A nation polarized with extremes of spiritual inclination to the extent it threatens social cohesion once in a while, Sorry! am I going too critical or tilting towards a type of derogation that does not positively portray the “politically correct” patriotism that should be exhibited by a bonafide citizen? Forgive me if I strayed, the truth is the truth though, no bias or sentiment intended. I got inspired to write about one of the nation’s foremost thinkers, intellectual, human rights activist, musician, and on top of it according to my opinion the only African to have attained the zenith of Abraham Maslow's hierarchy of human needs: SELF ACTUALIZATION. Who was FELA? so much glory and controversy surround the antecedence of such great this personality that it might not really seem proper to delve into the esoteric ambiance that mystifies this great a soul without retracing our steps back to that narrative of salvation that commenced this article. Even though that I am not a staunch partisan of mainstream Christianity or any religion of any sort, I still remember the bible passage in Revelations that said that “the fearful have no place in the kingdom of God’ and this helps me ground my belief and conviction that attending church or following any religion does not lead one to salvation but only a deliberate inner dialogue and spiritual inquiry brings about salvation which in my opinion is a height of awareness and knowledge that makes us see life for what it truly is, that “ Love” is what works and “fear” being the enemy that hinders us from attaining the full potential of existence intended us by the divine, and not the selfish manipulative and egotistic perspective to spirituality as practiced in much organized spiritual circles of the day.

Born into an upper-middle-class family of Yoruba descent in the ancient city of Abeokuta in Nigeria, Fela was quite privileged to have been availed to scholastic western reasoning and education been that his father was an Anglican reverend and a high school principal and you then add that gnosis to the radicality and conscientious rebellious spirit he inherited from his wise, naturalist indigenous feminine activist mother who was also a renowned figure of women emancipation of her time. Fela was the ideal hybrid in an intellectual dimension, compared to the likes of other hybrid world legends like Bob Marley: White father and black mother, Fela’s intellectual hybridism centered on the split-spirituality he was subjected to as per his father was partisan to Christianity brought by the western colonialists and his mother was sort of more grounded to the African traditional religion, this split spirituality laid the perfect bedrock for Fela’s open-mindedness and ideological malleability which is requisite of critical reasoning. All these were skeletal to the dimension of enlightenment Fela enjoyed and personally i feel that the crown jewel of all fate’s conspiracy to prepare Fela’s mind for the mission and essence at hand was the global exposure Fela had when he attended the trinity school of music in England, at that time, his home country Nigeria was still a thriving colony of the British empire and this gave fela the advantage of observing the racial disparity between white and colored people, this imbalance in racial appreciation didn't escape the young and intelligent Fela’s observation, He speaks of it in one of his interviews in later adulthood and he highlighted it as one of the inspirations for one of his hit songs “ Teacher don’t teach me Nonsense”, that his white teacher stressed the need for Fela to always speak in English and disregard his African mother tongue which the white teacher labeled as vernacular, meaning invalid and downtrodden, It took fela’s hight of awareness and enlightenment to be able to spot this as a tactic of psychological warfare that the white man used in repressing the gnosis, self identity and consciousness of the African’s mind. Fela was the ideal prototype of the genuine African during his time as no gainsaying would be acknowledged since the man’s antecedence speaks for him that he is a globally recognized legend through his music and the activism he engaged in against the then corrupt and tyrannical military government of his time. As every enlightened pan-African would know, the travails of Fela would not be able to fit within a moderate-worded article, travails like him being arrested over 200 times and others, there is so much greatness associated with the Fela brand that one has to be careful not to digress beyond context, So in this light, we’d stick to the program: To analyze and understand Fela’s consciousness. In my opinion, a man’s consciousness can be peeked in by three known yardsticks: A man’s craft/Work, Personality, and Conviction. For Fela, these would be his music, his rebellion, and his Ideological resolutions/Agitation and activism.

On his music, Fela grew up listening to the contemporary high life, classical and blues which to him were the building blocks from which he instituted afro beats, he explains all of these in his B.I.D song (Breaking It Down), He recorded it shortly after he was released from prison on occasion of one of his numerous arrests, The song starts with a typical African call and response sequence with chants emphasizing a sort of deity and ancestor veneration. The song then proceeds to a rendition of contemporary highlife groove that is reminiscent of an almost African highlife song that imbues a repetitive short groove bassline with overlapping horns, afterward a sudden transition into a western classical rhythm and then ends with Fela's own creation: Afro beats. Short paced repetitive guitar riffs, Swinging bass lines, occasional interjectory horns and a full ensemble of native percussive instruments were what set this novel sound apart and would raise Fela to an apex height of global music recognition. It sure takes grace to make art but it takes a type of divinity to make art that people appreciate, value, and draw essence from and Fela was in this category, to single-handedly create a genre out of personal inquiry to inner musical taste and expression, and then, this genre gets accepted by the mass public and becomes an indigenous musical trademark for a people whom their next generation of musicians would resample, modify and personify almost 30 years later, it's obvious the genius of Fela is beyond critical comprehension. Because, to create a genre, it takes eccentricity, self-confidence and an unrelenting quest to explore and express the inner vibration within, let alone this genre becomes accepted by the musical public. In my strong opinion, why afrobeat was generally accepted was because Fela created it out of a wholistic cosmic need to enlighten his fellow Africans shortly after he returned from the United States where he was rudely awakened to African history and black consciousness by a member of the then Black Panther party in America, Susan Iszadore. This awakening brought Fela to full intrinsic self-realization and awareness and made him remodel his ideologies and sense of life direction, From this gnosis and need for his fellow Africans to share in his factual truth and realization about African uniqueness, beauty and identity came “Afro-Beats” which was a genre whose lyrics revolved about African social commentary, Military dominion, and oppression, exposition of corrupt African politicians and self-awareness. At a time when his contemporaries sang about love, repertoire e.t.c, Fela used his music for a greater calling, which was activism and criticism of the socio-political ills of his day and even though he got quite the persecution for its millions of people today still resonate and identify with what he stood for as the bitter truth of the state of the Nigerian polity, and all these was courtesy of quite a simple rhythm and a little sour sounding harmonics called Afro-Beats. Fela performed in various cities across the globe in his time and used Afro-Beats to retell the African story and all this only did happen after that call to self-actualization: A need to accept, be and express himself

The crime usually is not in the act but the intention, To talk about Fela’s rebellious spirit would sure take us down a path of philosophical theses and dialogues but I would try my best to meander our navigation into scholastic reasoning so that we don’t stray too far off context. First off, How do you define rebellion, a person deviating from a set of rules and ethics that govern “ reasonable” and “ social” society? Or a person who doesn’t care about other people’s opinions or thoughts? Or some other repugnant personality who constitutes a nuisance to the peace and order?. A quick reminder that just like any other scholastic stance, our position in an argument is usually a mirrored extreme of our opponent’s premise, so in simple words, our take or opinion on an idea is borne out of some factors like bias, conditioning, sentiment or prejudice e.t.c. So this in essence means that how we define a concept can be usually how we have been howsoever pre-programmed to perceive that concept, and this brings the criticality of relativism in perception. That a person might see some other person as tall but only because the first person might actually be a dwarf, so tall in his own definition would just be anybody who is relatively quiet taller than them in height, whereas their standard of what ‘tall” is would drastically vary from that of a medium height person. So how do we analytically define rebellion, in a world where socio-cultural and academic institutions emphasize highly on stereotypes and duplicate prototypes rather than eccentricity, self-creative generic power all for the sake of maintaining social form and order whence undermining the diverse nature of life and all existence. With what psycho-social metric would we then define Fela as rebellious, from the previous aforementioned questions as to what it means to be rebellious, Did Fela deviate from a set of rules and ethics? hmm to some degree, Yes!, Did Fela not care about other people’s opinions and thoughts, sure so much, But did Fela constitute a nuisance to the peace and order? Of course not, Fela was an educated and intellectually sound personality that reasoned critically and at least to a reasonable degree got along with society, he was not a criminal of any sort that defrauded anyone, dispossessed anyone of their valuables, or exhibited any overreaching sense of capitalistic greed, instead Fela was a man of principle and hospitality whose antecedents never encroached on or breached an individual’s right to life. Wikipedia and other journals cite Fela as being rebellious and it is in this context that we would make a U-turn to the relativism of perception I mentioned earlier, that do we label a person as rebellious because they don’t adhere to a set of rules and ethics that we uphold, and here-in the bone of contention, let us not forget that these set of rules and ethics that we uphold might have actually been programmed into us by social conditioning because we probably have not had an in-depth critical inquiry with our intellect to validate for ourselves whether these set of rules and ethics that we uphold are actually reasonable and practical to us personally. So do we then label a person who is on the course of discovering the truth for themselves a rebel because we have not come to a personal realization of the needed inquiry into discovering the truth for our own selves? The field of psychology acknowledges self-realization, a core concept in attaining a mental peace state, so whence the question, What if Fela was on the course of self-realization and the antecedents of that rubbed on us as him being rebellious because of the conditioned state of our rigid minds? a vital question, Do we label a man rebellious just because he was seeking to attain a state of his mental peace and balance of expression? questions like these are worth asking due to ‘relativism’ of perception where the dwarf sees someone taller than him as tall whereas his standard of ‘tall’ contrast with the proper ideal of tall. One aspect for which some people might think Fela as rebellious is him being sent by his father to go and study Medicine and he ended up studying music, and this is a far cry from what rebellious means, because, we all are not genetically conditioned with the same mind configuration, We all have cognitive strengths and weaknesses in diverse areas and an example would be the great scientist Albert Einstein who failed woefully in chemistry but was ingenious in mathematics and physics, If you envisage a scenario where Einstein parents out of ignorance tried to force him to become a chemist which he would, of course, have to be proficient in chemistry, What would we have? A disaster, of course, Fela in one of his interviews said he led the primary school choir and he had always been gifted in music, Would we then label him rebellious because he probably didn't have the brain capacity to study medicine and instead found love and unlimited expression in going for a course that resonated with his natural gift: Music, Where he made great exploits. I will end this paragraph with a quote from the great Albert Einstein that sums it all up: Nobody is a dullard, everyone has a role and fits in life, but where the problem lies in comparing the fish to a monkey by how well the fish can climb a tree, again what do we have? Disaster. Fela was smart enough to toe the path of his personal strength and was honest enough not to be hypocritical even to self all for the sake of impressing his family or loved ones, The crust of such personality can only be a composite of inner truth and agreement.

About his ideologies and conviction, Fela was a man obviously generations ahead of his time, He was one of the few pan-Africans that awoke to the ills and evil of colonial programming and the subsequent havoc it wrecked on the innocent and unsuspecting African. Fela in his time observed the cultural disenfranchisement and the identity crises that plagued the colonially conditioned African of that time. He was akin to all this knowledge and did not for once sell out or compromise on his call to the ethnic responsibility of awakening his fellow Africans to the requisite consciousness that was needed to foster the progress of the African consciousness, Fela was like a native medicine man of his time administering doses of therapy mentally to his followers and anyone who cared to listen. Fela, a benign and available citizen like every other average Nigerian at that time had no bodyguards, entourage, or militia but still with his musical gift as a weapon singularly fought and opposed the gross corruption of the then Nigerian military government, openly spoke against the military oppression and tyrannical dehumanization of the average Nigerian people and all these were done with him being in a perpetual state of total lack of fear. Regardless of the multiple raids, arrests, and damages of his performance site and musical recording instruments Fela never compromised or winced one bit, he always spoke for and stood for what he believed was true as regards the derogation of justice and decadence of the Nigerian polity, he was beyond measure a man whose activism and agitations were unflinching and unwavering even in the face of death, Such height of selflessness and ethical pragmatism can only reflect an extraordinary man who harbored a quite rare form of divinity, Fela was for sure beyond normal.. in moments where most of his fellow Africans would have cowered in fear or stilled their voices in the advent of identity blackmail: a technique the tyrannical military government of his time regularly employed to discourage and dissuade the Nigerian from identifying with and supporting Fela’s cause. Even though he was ascribed promiscuous on the outside Fela was also a feminist, he didn’t believe in the patriarchal male-dominant system of whether the man was better than the woman but he played emphasis on the importance and significance of every gender’s role. Fela was for sure a polished product of critical reasoning whose mind was devoid of every and any form of conditioning whatsoever, and how best can a mind perceive the world in its clearest and purest form if not from the perspective of deductive reasoning and evaluation by self?. At the time of writing this article, there is a profound shift in consciousness within the minds of progressive African, quite a number of us have started to question the essence of imported religion, the damaging effects of colonial conditioning, and many more psychological vices that were employed in trapping the mind of the unsuspecting African. Even though this shift in consciousness is quite gradual, One thing is for sure: that our Zambia shall be free. I salute a life well lived in the memory of the great Fela Anikulapo Kuti, A life that entailed mastery of his natural gift, Self-definition in thought and aesthetics, Ideological resolutions free of sentiment, bias, or conditioning, and that which was lived how it ought to according to how it came. There is greatness in every African, we all only have to look inward to discover and manifest it, Fela’s story is one of such glory that merits the meticulous study of the inquisitive, enlightened and progressive African. Ararararahh!!!! Ororororooooh!!!