By Ahmed Oluwasanjo
Music, a creative blend of voices, melodies, instrumentation, rhythms and rhymes, is a universal language. Not because all ears understand the different languages in which songs are sang. But, because all ears enjoy goodness of rhythms and instrumentation.
This explains why makosa music brings down the roof in Nigerian parties, even when many do not understand what’s being sung in french. Music is, however, not all about rhythms, rhymes and instrumentation. Long after they fade away, the messages in songs have the power to inspire, educate and inform.
So, musicians are not just entertainers, but great story tellers.
As members of societies, they draw inspiration from different sources. It could be their personal experiences, religious scriptures, books or happenings in their remote and immediate environments. As story tellers, they creatively knit their inspiration with rhythms and instrumentation, while adding voices as the spices to deliver their messages in an appealing manner.
One musician who used his brand of music to entertain, educate, radically challenge military government and earned a good reputation as a human rights activist in Nigeria was late Fela Anikulapo Kuti, aka Abami Eda.
With his “Afrobeat, a style he largely created, which is a complex fusion of jazz, funk, Ghanaian/Nigerian highlife”, Abami Eda vehemently spoke against social injustice, corruption, draconian military government, and religious manipulation and exploitation.
From “Open and Close” (1971) to “Shakara” (1972) to “Gentleman” (1973) to “Zombie” (1976) to “Water No Get Enemy” (1975) to “Suffering and Smiling” (1978) to “Army Arrangement” (1985), Abami Eda entertained, fearlessly spoke truth to people in power, whilst prodding exploited and oppressed citizens to break free from their oppressors.
Singing in simple pidgin English, Abami Eda timelessly connects with the downtrodden in the society, making his messages so easy for all to comprehend. No wonder, 20 years after his demise, many of us still mime some of his song, word for word.
Musing on some of his songs left me imagining what he would sing about if he were alive today, in this clime when musicians sing more of “rock Ikebe”, “sex”, “make money (Yahoo Yahoo)”, “smoke ganja”, “their Guccis”, “Bentleys” and “wheelbarrows”, while serious societal issues are rarely featured in their songs.
In my imagination, I can hear Abami Eda calling most of our much celebrated politicians out as the thieves that they are, not minding if their robotic supporters would call for his head on a platter. I can hear him call our lawmakers “animals in human skin”, challenging them to make their jumbo pay and allowances public.
I can hear Abami Eda tongue-lashing conscienceless governors who are feeding fat, while poor civil servants in their states are dying of hunger due to the non-payment of their salaries, and also calling them wicked vultures.
I can hear him calling out “men of God” and religious organisations, asking them to open their financial books for scrutiny. I can hear him boldly calling Nigerians docile yam-heads, goading us to wake up and free ourselves from the iron fist of leaders who divide and rule us, using religion and ethnicity as sedatives.
These, of course, are a few issues that Abami Eda, an iconoclast known for calling a spade by its name not minding whose ox is gored, would very likely sing about if he were alive in this day. That he spoke to military governments in time past, damning the consequences, gives a glimpse into what his music would be like in this clime if alive.
The depth of his songs and the societal issues that inspired them, makes them evergreen and relevant. Though Abami Eda was rich, his music was not about himself, his cars, fame, and fortune. His music was not to seek patronage from the rich and powerful in the society. Or to get endorsement from cooperate brands.
His songs were not meant to make us dance (“One Corner”) away our sorrows in the public, while we sob about serious societal issues in the corner of our homes. Rather, they were about societal issues: our collective poverty, sufferings, inequality and mass deprivation.
As such, Abami Eda’s 20th memorial, “Felabration 2017”, should be beyond funfair and the gathering of celebrities. Of course, his lifestyle was not without flaws like everyone’s. This does not, however, overshadow the wit and message of his art.
His consistent critical stance on social injustice and corruption; his courage in the face of military intimidation; his role in the struggle for Nigeria’s democracy, makes him a music icon who wrote his name in gold in the hall of fame of music legends whose voice and legacy have outlived them.
More importantly, Abami Eda’s memorial should be a time of soberly reflection for us all as many of the issues he sang about in the 70s and 80s are the sad realities in our country today.
In sum, remembering Abami Eda should stir the spirit of Fela the iconoclast in all of us, challenging us to put to use the power of our office as citizens, the employers of those in power, making a transition from “demo-crazy”, “demonstration of craze”, to a real working democracy for a better Nigeria.
Ahmed Oluwasanjo writes from Abuja.