The evolution of freedom- 1990s-21st Century

I was looking at these stamps in my collection when I had an idea. If only I could use the designs (Freedoms from Want, Freedom from Hunger, Freedom of Worship, Freedom of Speech) for the APC candidate it would achieve several wins:

Worship

1) It would show the army ex-general Muhammed Buhari to be aligned with democratic ideals
2) It would explicitly display a politics of ideas from his party, the APC
3) It would portray the candidate espousing Nigeria’s historical legacy

want

I went to the APC campaign office with a proposal, after several opportune meetings, I got a contract to produce and supply 10,000 t-shirts. None from my original concepts. They liked them, but already had a programme so I was asked to do something for an event they had coming up.

Hunger

Writing about Angela Davis, Robin D. G. Kelley said; ” For Davis, freedom is not a thing granted by the state in the form of law or proclamation or policy; freedom is struggled for, it is hard-fought and transformative, it is a participatory process that demands new ways of thinking and being.

Freedom is wrought from the fangs of oppression. Fela, articulated this in his special way;

Human rights na my property
So therefore, you can’t dash me my property
Human rights na my property
Dey want dash us human rights

(C) Beasts of No Nation by Fela Anikulapo-Kuti

These rights are inalienable, sacred and belong to every human being, regardless of race, class or social condition. A government can guarantee human rights to its people and nurture an environment where these rights are respected and observed. These beautiful stamps were issued in 1963, 3 years after independence, freedom was a clearer concept then. Now more than 50 years after, things are less clear. But these rights still remain to be fought for, even today.

The evolution of freedom-1890s-1990s

Our consciousness of freedom has evolved over the years. Freedom has meant different things at different times. In the 19th century, freedom was defined as the right of the individual to do what
he wishes without fetters or impediments, as long as it is lawful under the state. Thomas Hobbes and others had laid the framework of the liberal tradition of political philosophy. Which placed a premium on the right to own property, to accumulate wealth, to defend property by arms, to mobility, expression, and political particpation.

This definition did not extend to us, CLR James, chronicled this brilliantly in his seminal book, The Black Jacobins, which narrated the San Domingo Revolution in Haiti, the only successful slave revolt in history. It showed how heirs of European revolutions, fresh from breaking the shackles of royalist oppression, sought to maintain a brutal regime of economic slavery on a people whose leadership were exposed and enamored to the philosophy, ideas and texts of Rousseau, Montesquieu, and Robespierre.

In the 1890s, Nigeria was an odd collection of trading entities which provided specific problems to the colonial administration;

1) balancing the books
2) building a rail network to the ports
3) quenching the bush fires of native aspirations to self governance
4) navigating local intrigues and politics
5) managing health risks for Europeans

To an occupied people, freedom is easier to articulate. It is viewed as the absence of occupation or a reduction of the constraints that came with being occupied.

The story of the Jaja of Opobo is a case in point, born free in 1821, the Jaja exercised his rights freely as he deemed fit. He was adept in the trade of commodities and as most of the trade houses were in Opobo, he effectively controlled the palm oil trade in his zone.

He also successfully prevented Europeans from trading with the hinterland directly strengthening his position as a trader and power-broker. Furthermore, he exported cargoes of palm oil directly to Liverpool, circumventing the trading companies.

Zik

In 1884, at the Berlin conference, Opobo was ceded to the English and the colonial army was sent in to enforce the concession. The Jaja of Opobo was arrested and exiled to the West Indies.

Some might argue that Africa still operates in a similar economic context. The issues of resource control, exploitation and pricing are still very much at the fore of African contemporary affairs and the ability or inability of Africans to determine or influence pricing mechanisms effectively will always influence the narrative of how we develop and achieve global relevance.

HM

What does democratic freedom mean to us in a post-colonial context of globalisation? The exploitation and control of our regions’ resources is still fueling coup d’états, wars and regional instability. Our brethren have become our leaders but the high stakes remain.

Deconstructing Consciousness: Africa Has Come Of Age (Speech Delivered by Gen. Murtala Mohammed)

DECONSTRUCTING CONSCIOUSNESS SERIES

INTERVIEW 001- AFRICA HAS COME OF AGE SPEECH (DELIVERED BY GEN. MURTALA MOHAMMED, AT THE OAU SUMMIT, ADDIS ABEBA, ETHIOPIA, 11th January 1976).

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There was a consciousness about Nigeria’s role in Africa, in the 70s. A strong notion that Nigeria had a leading role to play in Africa, and that her actions influenced Africa’s destiny for good and for bad. Tafawa Balewa, Murtala, Yakubu Gowon all displayed different levels of this consciousness, which was best articulated in ‘the Africa has come of age speech’ delivered by Gen. Murtala Mohammed at Addis Ababa, in 1976. This was a speech very much ahead of its time..

Where did the consciousness about Nigeria’s role in African politics emanate from?

Amb. Adeniji: I think it emanated from Nigeria’s size… Nigeria had a bigger role to play in Africa and Nigeria’s leadership embraced that calling consciously or unconsciously. The culmination of this at that time was displayed by Murtala Mohammed ..

T. Kogbe: who probably, more than any other leader, really drove it..

Amb. Adeniji: The point really is that Murtala Mohammed, like today’s Buhari, wanted to concentrate on Nigeria’s development, internally and he wasn’t going to get mixed up in foreign policy. However, he felt it was Nigeria’s destiny to play a leading role in Africa and that culminated in that speech, which I alone wrote. And I had only…

T. Kogbe: a few days…

Amb. Adeniji: (laughing) No, one day! I had only one day to write it.

T. Kogbe: Did you have a chat with him before or did you just get a phone call…

Amb. Adeniji: No, I got a phone call to come to Dodan Barracks and I went there. A phone call from Obasanjo who was also his deputy, asked me to come to Dodan Barracks, I didn’t know what it was about. It was only when I got there that Obasanjo told me that he wanted a speech. I told him I had an appointment that day to go and discuss a building loan (laughter).

Amb. Adeniji: I had gone to the Bank Manager and he had turned me down. He asked me where I had the land. I replied, Ikeja. “If you had it in Victoria Island or Ikoyi, we would have considered you, but Ikeja …”.

Amb. Adeniji: I was coming back from the meeting… and I was in charge of the Africa desk at the time… I think. Anyway, I had nothing to do with OAU. So when I saw Murtala. He said, Nigeria has a manifest role to play in Africa… the Summit was coming up and Nigeria had to play a major role, that’s why we had to be well represented and to rally Africa round..

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He said, “Let’s discuss Angola..” he had some ideas of what he wanted Nigeria to say (about the situation there). And they had decided Nigeria will be represented at the summit and had received 3 or 4 drafts of speeches, but they were not, from his point of view, good enough. He wanted me to try my hand on a draft that Nigeria will deliver.

T. Kogbe: Did he know he was going (to the Summit) at the time?

Amb. Adeniji: No. They had decided that since he didn’t want to be involved that Obasanjo would go. And they had called on the likes of Bolaji Akinyemi and several others to submit drafts… which I didn’t know about at the time. He then said, well try your hand.. Even though, I have written off you guys at the foreign office, you are all too conservative ..

So I went back to my office, and, fortunately my secretary was still there, so I called her and dictated to her.

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T. Kogbe: from the top of your head…?

Amb. Adeniji: Yes (I was a young man then), my brain was still sharp… Anyhow, when I finished I took it to Obasanjo at 7 o’clock in the evening, I decided I couldn’t do more than this..

T. Kogbe: In the time you had?

Amb. Adeniji: Yes, I had written about 13 pages. So my view, quite frankly at that time, was that I got carried away by the idea that Nigeria had a manifest role to play, and if I had my way I would have suggested to him that he (Murtala) should personally go (to the summit), but that was beyond my remit.

I was just to submit a draft.

I took the draft to Obasanjo’s house, which is where Anyaoku now lives, not far from here. By a great coincidence the Bank Manager I had seen, one, John West, from UBA, was at Obasanjo’s house. I was so disappointed that I didn’t retain his name after the appointment, (the wife of a friend had made the appointment)..

I took the draft to Obasanjo who introduced us. It was only after that I realized that this was the man who had rejected my application.

I went home and forgot about it. The following day I got a call from Obasanjo’s house saying Murtala wanted to see me. So I went to see him and Obasanjo said to me, “Mr Adeniji you are depriving me of a trip to Addis..”. I asked him how?” and he replied, “the decision had been taken that I would go but when Murtala read your draft he said”, “Obas this draft is too good for you to go and read, you won’t place the right emphasis.” Obasanjo didn’t know what he was talking about, he said, “too good for me to read?” Murtala then asked him, “you read the speech, what did you think?” Obasanjo replied, “yes I read it, but it was like any other draft”.

Murtala said, “No, it was not like any other draft” ”This has a boom, punch” (he was bubbling with radicalism), “this is what I want to tell all these imperialists”. And this is what I am going to say…

T. Kogbe: Based on the draft you wrote?

Onedestiny03

Amb. Adeniji: When people come to discuss the speech, or when I have the opportunity to revisit it, I agree entirely with what you said at the beginning, “It was ahead of its time!”

M. Siollun: Murtala railed against racism and said his “heart bleeds” about “the evils of apartheid”. What is behind the extraordinary turnaround where Nigerians and other foreigners are now being attacked in South Africa?

Well that’s why I said that in a sense, the speech was ahead of its time. The vision of Africa as a union of states where anyone could live anywhere, this was early 1976! Far away from the date which was bandied around for the Union of Africa, in year 2000. Everything was fixed for 2000.

T. Kogbe: which has come and gone.

M. Siollun: Murtala said that Africa is “no longer under the orbit of any extra continental power”. Is that true today?

We had thought that by now Africa would have found its way and would not rely on any other country, for anything except normal trade and diplomatic interactions.

M. Siollun: The tenet of Murtala’s speech was that Africa does not need to import foreign ideologies. Is multi-party democracy the best political model for Africa today?

That’s the question we posed ourselves, but we are going back to the fact that multi-party democracy à la west is the best. After the Angola experience we slid backwards and all the progress we thought we would have made at the time was not realized.
Portugal’s role as the colonial power in Angola was being emphasized and Portugal with the support of South Africa did not want to give up power. There were two parties at the time: one pro-America and the other a pro-Cuban party..

T. Kogbe: the American’s won in the end?

Amb. Adeniji: Now we can say that the Americans won, but at the time, the force of Murtala’s delivery swayed popular support in Africa for Neto (Agostinho Neto was the first president of Angola, and led the pre and post independence struggles against Portugal, through his party, MPLA-Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola. He allied with Cuba/USSR).

Lagos conf-IMG_0009

M. Siollun: Why were the 1970s leaders like Obasanjo and Murtala so virulent in their opposition to Apartheid?

The whole of Nigeria was virulent against apartheid not just the leadership.

M. Siollun: What would have happened had Murtala ruled all the way to 1979? (had he not been killed in 1976)

Well, Nigeria’s role which Obasanjo tried to continue did not quite have the same punch. I think if he had been alive, he had the force, and the support of the military… Obasanjo had to look behind his back always in judging how far he could go… and his deputy, Yar’Adua wasn’t that sure that that path was the right path and the kind of argument he wouldn’t have raised with Murtala, he was willing to raise with Obasanjo, so sometimes many people wondered whether Murtala would have been able to sustain the pace, and some people drew the conclusion, that it was a good thing that he died when he died, as he might have been too radical..

M. Siollun: Had Murtala been alive until the 1990s, would he have run as a civilian president like his military colleagues such as Buhari, Babangida, and Obasanjo?

I don’t think so… He would have quietly gone back to Kano… He would have been a Mandela before Mandela…

M. Siollun: Who were the key architects of policy in the 1970s military regimes; the soldiers or the civilians, such as Permanent Secretaries?

In the case of foreign policy, it was one of those things. I don’t know who suggested my name… but Obasanjo told me years after that I had a reputation of being the most versatile, in terms of writing, of the young people in the foreign office and if they wanted to rehabilitate the ministry of foreign affairs or articulate foreign policy they should call one, Adeniji. He himself didn’t know who Adeniji was.

T. Kogbe: that was your first meeting with Obasanjo?

Amb. Adeniji: …though Murtala I knew because our children used to play together. His wife, Ajoke and my wife were childhood friends, and our kids used to play together. Murtala used to bring his children over, but he would never enter.. he never entered… I knew him and he knew me.

T. Kogbe: but not professionally?

M. Siollun: Why did Nigeria take such an active role in pan-African and pan-black initiatives such as FESTAC?

Well, because, as you said at the beginning, successive Nigerian leaders also accepted the view that Nigeria had a manifest role to play in Africa and this was the period of de-colonisation, so if Africa had to be liberated totally, Nigeria will have to play a role because of its size and its weight.

Brasil-festac

M. Siollun: Murtala Mohammed initially favoured a political system with no political parties. Could that have worked in Nigeria as it did in Uganda?

No I don’t think so…

M. Siollun: Would a “no party” system have removed the ethno-regional rivalries from Nigerian politics?

Again, I doubt it, because from the beginning, Nigerians believe very much that each region has to be led by its own leader,

T. Kogbe: And that was the idea from even before independence?

Amb. Adeniji: Yes, at the time… we are talking about a decade after independence, Nigeria’s regionalism had already been consolidated.

M. Siollun: What socio-political reforms does Nigeria need most urgently?

Nigeria needs a leadership, the kind of leadership provided by the type of Murtala Mohammed

T.Kogbe: A visionary autocrat

Amb. Adeniji: There was an article on the Singaporean leader, Lee Kuan Yew.. we need that mold of leadership.. I doubt if the Western system can really work.

M. Siollun: Does Nigeria need a 3-tier system of government and two-chambers in the National Assembly?

Nigeria, I believe would need…

This presidential American system is not working because it is too expensive. To start with, for Nigeria its very expensive to run, and when you combine it with Nigerian corruption and the tendency to acquire billions, People are coming from nothing and they want to go to Z.

T. Kogbe: What did the speech do for you as a career diplomat?

When they came back from Addis, Murtala called me and said, “Mr Adeniji the sky is your limit, if you decide to stay in the Foreign Service. In fact, its about time you went out of the country as an ambassador. Where do you want to go? I replied, just like that?!!!

The only thing I said to him was I wouldn’t want to displace anybody, this was 1976, I don’t believe in shifting people every year, even those who had gone out ahead of me. I wanted to stay in Nigeria for another two years, and in any case I asked for time to think about it.

T. Kogbe: So Murtala died..

Amb. Adeniji: Yes well, Murtala died and Obasanjo remembered (Murtala had told him about our conversation…). He said, “whenever you make up your mind, let me know”. Amazingly enough, the man who had refused my loan application, a few days later sent his secretary to tell me to come back. That was the first tangible thing I got (laughter).

It was also the beginning of my being able to “pick and choose” which mission I wanted to serve in, some people look at my career and say,“He went from Vienna, and then to Geneva and from Geneva to Paris”..

And of course, Obasanjo didn’t forget. Much later on he called me and asked me, “would you like to be my foreign minister”.

T. Kogbe: Is there any divine reading to the speech?

Amb. Adeniji: I think it was a normal day in the course of diplomatic service. The only divine intervention was the fact that I had been posted to New York before then and in New York you got involved in everything.

T. Kogbe: The whole world met at New York…

Amb. Adeniji: Exactly.. I was in New York when the Angola thing was unfolding, so when asked for a speech on Angola, I knew a lot about the situation and knew what I wanted to say. I had the material but never thought I would need to use it so early.

T. Kogbe: That’s all for now. Thank you, sir.

Original Interview concept series: Temitope KOGBE, Livingstone Studio ©
Conducted by: Temitope KOGBE, Livingstone Studio ©
Research and Script: Max Siollun and Temitope KOGBE, Livingstone Studio ©

Livingstone Studio
Email: livingstonestudio@gmail.com
Website: www.aireg.in
Instagram: @Livingstonestudio

How I shot Fela Anikulapo-Kuti

FelakutiIMG_0084

In my youth sometime around 1990, I heard that the great Fela Anikulapo-Kuti and his mythical, Egypt 80 band was coming to Paris where I lived at the time. I purchased a ticket and decided right there and then to shoot the show. It was 1990, hip-hop was in it’s golden era, baggie jeans and all. I could not get a press pass from my usual connect and needed to shoot the show. My gear then was a Nikon FM2 with a series of lenses (Ilford HP5 Plus film). I decided on a 50mm prime lens and headed out, when I got out of the Metro station I put the camera in my briefs and walked up to the concert hall looking confident and metallically endowed. The bouncer padded me down.

felagirlIMG_0080

I saw him look at my privates with envy, “don’t even think about it..”, he gave me the nod and I went in, for once being black played in my favour (I got the benefit of the doubt). Scoping the zone in front of the stage for the best position, I chose a spot that gave me a clear line of sight on the stage but kept me from the bouncer’s eyes.

felakuti-24X36CC (3)

The concert started, I pulled out my camera. Seun Kuti who must have been seven or eight at the time, took to the stage. He opened for his dad. The master came on and started his yabbies… someone yelled out, “Zombie!”, another, “Roforofo”.. The master smiled…”go and buy the record”…

felakuti2

The master was in majestic form, “Just like that”, “Movement of The People Political Statement Number 1″, “Big Blind Country”, and maybe “Condom, Scallywag and Scatter”…one after the other, symphonies of percussion, woodwind, guitars and horns. An onslaught of sound, bassline you could hang your clothes on, an invitation to dance…

 

Hugh Masekela wrote a song titled Fela, “If you ever go to Lagos Nigeria and you wanna go dancing go and see Fela..”

Dancing in the mind of a master composer. Prophecies and resistance, stance and swag, swagger never stagger… never relent..

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The orchestra was majestic and epic and the king was regal, taking time out to monologue about the barbaric system that governed us and why we should never relent… and never allow them to dictate who we were.. they are not us and we are not them…

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Natural Hair Project Part II

Wetin Shenshema mean o, I go tell you o, I go tell you O…

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Chorus

You be motor them start you, you no dey start, them dey push you all over Lagos, you be Shenshema..

Shenshema O, Sheshema

Sheshema O, Shenshema

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You be woman you get 39 men, because 36 is not enough, you be Shenshema..

Chorus

You be man get 93 women, you say you no fit get 99, you be Shenshema, Sheshema O Shen she ma..

You be black man you no dey think like black man, you dey do like white man everyday, you be Shenshema… Chorus

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You be woman, you dey bleach yourself everyday, you forget say you be black woman, you be Shenshema… Chorus

You be Woman, you dey use  wig everyday, you forget say you get black hair for head…. you be Shenshema… Chorus

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Natural Hair Project Part 1

 

Uncle Hugh or HRM, told us that he stopped accepting to take selfies, with young black women with European wigs or hair fittings. He felt it was unbecoming of us as a race. An insult to our ancestors and their struggle for our emancipation. Love the hair you were born with.  IMG_2622

This phenomenon is largely urban and middle-class. Most of our peeps still can’t afford wigs. Women say its a question of practicality not politics, but, what did our ancestors do. Why has natural black hair become so hard to “carry”. What does it say… Cosmopolitan, Chic, Classy, Cissy, Clueless… This are all open questions, I’m not positing, Just asking..

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Have Brazilian/Peruvian/Indian wigs become the bluest eye, the symbol of what it means to “be settled” to “have arrived”.

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Since this euro hair craze is fairly recent, what existed before.

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IMG_2587There has been a resurge in Naturally texturized Hair. Natural Hair, Kinky Hair, ‘fro’s and afro’s, puff didi’s and afro-puffs, dreadlocks..

 

 

I love natural hair do’s. Big ‘fro’s, unwieldly, smart and shapely, small ‘fro’s, rough and tough. Afro’s are the iconic imagery of our cultural emancipation as a race.  It says it loud, .. black and I’m proud..

IMG_2415  Natural Hair Project-Rooftop 1

 

 

 

 

 

Hugh Ramopolo Masekela (South African Musician)

The biggest South-African musician for most Nigerians is Mariam Makeba, she was the struggle, in her we saw the pain, the grace, the ability to retain one’s dignity in such dark times. Her music was familiar and foreign at the same time. And when she danced we saw beauty in motion, sensuality and class.

Miriam Makeba 1959 (tournage de King Kong)

She single-handedly started the fixation some Nigerian men have for South African ladies. She came to Nigeria for the first time in the 1960s as a member of the ANC and as a freedom fighter but also as wife to Hugh Masekela.

Mariam Makeba (1960s)
Mariam Makeba (1960s)

A friend told me Masekela plays an Orlando Julius tune at each concert, any of these three tunes: “Asiko, Awaade and Going back to my roots” (this information needs to be confirmed, but there’s no doubting Masekela’s admiration of Afrobeat and Orlando Julius). They both worked together in the US and were involved in the disco classic, “Going back to my roots”, which shares a lot with “Ashiko” but for which Orlando was not properly credited.

The Boy's Doin' it
The Boy’s Doin’ it (Dedicated to Fela Ransome Kuti)

The song was originally written for Lamont Dozier (LP, “Peddlin’ Music On The Side”, 1977, Warner Bros). Masekela was also friends with Fela and he spent sometime in Nigeria staying and playing with him in the late 70s. He dedicated his album, “The Boys Doin’ It”, (LP, 1975, Casablanca Records), to him. The album contains a song titled Ashiko, composed by O.J Ekemode AKA Orlando Julius).

Lagos, 2013, Greatness and Style
Eternal Style, HRM, Lagos, 2013

I met Hugh Ramopolo Masekela when he came for Lagos Jazz Series 2013 I was shooting the festival for the Organisers and had full access. He was practising Tai Chi behind the live stage and had a timeless quality like he was hewed from polished granite. We (Folarin my creative partner-at the time- and I) approached him afterwards and asked if we could shoot him privately. He agreed and when he had an hour we took him to the RadissonBLU, set up lights backing the Five Cowries Lagoon and started shooting.

HRM, Lagos 2013

He had tales for years, the one that stuck was when he was about 17, already a working artist and a member of the cool set of black bohemians. He and his girl at the time, were widely recognised as two of the sharpest dressers around. Alf Kumalo came round looking for a shot for Drum magazine. He told Masekela, “I need you to jump up with your hands spread out like so”. “I knew right away it was a bad idea, but Alf had a way you know, he was very persuasive a bit like you guys…”.

Hugh Masekela by Alf Kumalo 1957
Hugh Masekela by Alf Kumalo 1957
Hugh Ramopolo Masekela
Hugh Ramopolo Masekela (reliving the moment).

The picture came out and it was serialised, it epitomised for many, that bubbling effervescent, jazz revolution that was happening at the time in South Africa.” “My girl saw the picture and thought, very rightly that it was the corniest thing ever and she left me.”

“You know what…. I saw her recently and she said, ‘we could have grown old together but you had go take that stupid picture”.

 

Early Afrobeat: The Invention of Fela Anikulapo-Kuti Part II

Fela Ransome-Kuti and His Africa 70 The Best of Fela (LP Nigeria, EMI (HMV) HNLX5043)
Fela Ransome-Kuti and His Africa 70
The Best of Fela (LP Nigeria, EMI (HMV) HNLX5043)

In 1970, Fela was regarded as a wild canon by record labels. There were stories of his frequent disregard for contracts and his appetite for wrangling, in shorthand, he was a label’s nightmare, a troublesome musician with a rock star complex and no sales to justify the massive ego.

Fela Ransome-Kuti and The Africa 70 Shenshema (Part 1) b/w Shenshema (Part 2) (7" Nigeria, HMV HNS1299)
Fela Ransome-Kuti and The Africa 70
Shenshema (Part 1) b/w Shenshema (Part 2) (7″ Nigeria, HMV HNS1299)

Odion was in the MD’s office when a brouhaha ensued from the gate. He enquired about the source of the commotion and was informed that Fela was being bounced from seeing the MD. The MD then told Odion very plainly, that he wanted no business with the man.

Fela Ransome-Kuti and The Nigeria 70 Fogo-Fogo (Part 1) b/w Fogo-Fogo (Part 2) (7" Nigeria, HMV HNS1472)
Fela Ransome-Kuti and The Nigeria 70
Fogo-Fogo (Part 1) b/w Fogo-Fogo (Part 2) (7″ Nigeria, HMV HNS1472)

Fela was not taking ‘no’ for an answer, he returned a few weeks later. He was rebuffed on two more occasions. Odion sensed something was wrong. He was torn between his recognition of Fela’s talent and the business reality. He went to the MD after the third time and explained that Fela deserved a hearing. “The man’s persistence shows he has something to offer or at least something to say..”.

The MD made it clear that he wanted no responsibility in the matter. But if he felt strongly about it, he could see Fela at his own instance. Odion invited him for a meeting. When Fela arrived he was expecting to be taken to the MDs office. But the MD said, “No. We will have the meeting at Odion’s office”. 
They sat down and Fela said. “I have a new sound, a new music. I believe only EMI can provide the platform I need to sell this music across Africa.  I am prepared to start this relationship on a no contract basis. We will cut the record and you will buy a van fitted with an amplified PA system to play the music around Lagos and we will reconvene after four months to review proceedings”.

Fela Ransome-Kuti and His Africa 70 The Best of Fela (LP Nigeria, EMI (HMV) HNLX5043)
Fela Ransome-Kuti and His Africa 70
The Best of Fela (LP Nigeria, EMI (HMV) HNLX5043)

Fela left and Odion told the MD, “its a “no brainer”, the guy is carrying all the risk. No advance fee, no contract..”. The MD reluctantly agreed but still denied any responsibility. Odion arranged for a session and Fela’s band broke into the first few bars of Jeun K’oku.
”I couldn’t believe what I was hearing”. “The horns sounded like nothing we’d heard before”. He left the studio and ran to the MD’s office. “You need to hear this”. “Who”. “Fela”. “That guy.. please…”. “Just come”.  The MD got to the studio and his mouth dropped open. He looked at Odion. “I hope you are recording this”. Odion laughed. “It’s not even there yet”. The song ended and he made some recommendations to Fela. Fela agreed and they cut the third or fourth take.
 EMI released the single and started marketing it as Fela had directed. The market responded and the single was the fastest selling single that year, 80,000 units sold in 3 weeks.

 Fela Ransome-Kuti and The Africa 70 Monday Morning (Part 1) b/w Monday Morning (Part 2) (7" Nigeria, HMV HNS1322)

Fela Ransome-Kuti and The Africa 70
Monday Morning (Part 1) b/w Monday Morning (Part 2) (7″ Nigeria, HMV HNS1322)

Fela returned 4 months and a day later (as the original date fell on a Sunday). The MD was falling over himself to accommodate him. “Please come” He said gesturing. Fela smiled and said
, “no, we will meet in Odion’s office”. MD looked at Odion. “Contracts are signed in the MDs office” Odion explained. “Are you not here to sign?”

Fela reluctantly followed them to the MD’s office. Everyone sat down. Fela refused to sit. He finally perched on the corner of the desk.

 Fela Ransome-Kuti and The Africa 70 Monday Morning (Part 1) b/w Monday Morning (Part 2) (7" Nigeria, HMV HNS1322)

Fela Ransome-Kuti and The Africa 70
Monday Morning (Part 1) b/w Monday Morning (Part 2) (7″ Nigeria, HMV HNS1322)

The MD started to speak. Fela placed his index on his lips…. “shhhhhhh. You have spoken. Now its my turn to speak”.      “Who saw the rickety trap I drove here in… is it befitting of an EMI recording artist?… no. Damn right.. I need something better.. (strolls to the window overlooking the car park). Something like that..” (points to a Mercedes benz saloon car).

The MD looks at Odion. Who smiles, “That’s the MD’s car”. Fela retorts   “It will do.. I also need the van you recently acquired to market my single. I need it for my band. And new instruments, horns, guitars, trap drum.. everything..”. The contract was prepared and executed. Fela drove off with the MD’s Merc.

Sometime later the MD called Odion to his office. “Your man ruined us…I warned you..”       Odion asked the accounts department to provide a statement of accounts for the Jeun Koku sales. They found out they still owed Fela some money even after the extras.

EMI went on to releases several important singles like Fogo-Fogo, Beautiful dancer, Shenshema, Who’re you. Fela soon out grew the time constraint of the 7″ format.  He stopped doing singles from 1974, only LP albums. Going in and coming out was his last 7″single.

Fela’s early singles are very much a thing as they have not been reissued. They are highly sought after by big collectors from all over. The LPs are still collectible but their rarity value is low as they have been reissued by the Knitting Factory and are widely available.

 Fela Ransome-Kuti and The Africa 70 Why Black Man Dey Suffer (LP Nigeria, African Songs AS0001; Initially recorded for EMI, but EMI refused to release it)

Fela Ransome-Kuti and The Africa 70
Why Black Man Dey Suffer (LP Nigeria, African Songs AS0001; Initially recorded for EMI, but EMI refused to release it)

1971
Fela Ransome-Kuti and His Africa 70
Jeun K’oku (Chop & Quench) Instrumental Part 1 b/w Jeun K’oku (Chop & Quench) Instrumental Part 2 (7″ Nigeria, EMI/HMV HNS1075)

1971? Fela Ransome-Kuti and His Africa 70
Don’t Gag Me (Part 1) b/w Don’t Gag Me? (Part 2) (7″ Nigeria, Jon200; Ghana, Jon200)

1971? Fela Ransome-Kuti and His Africa 70
Don’t Gag Me (Part 1) b/w Don’t Gag Me? (Part 2) (7″ Nigeria, Jon200; Ghana, Jon200)

1971
Fela Ransome-Kuti and His Africa 70
Jeun K’oku (Chop & Quench) Instrumental Part 1 b/w Jeun K’oku (Chop & Quench) Instrumental Part 2 (7″ Nigeria, EMI/HMV HNS1075)

1971
Fela Ransome-Kuti and His Africa 70
Who’re You? (Part 1) b/w Who’re You? (Part 2) (7″ Nigeria, EMI/HMV HNS1058; Ghana, EMI/HMV
HNS1058) 1971 Fela Ransome-Kuti and His Africa 70
Na Fight-O! (Part 1) b/w Na Fight-O! (Part 2) (7″ Nigeria, HMV HNS1049)

1971 Fela Ransome-Kuti and The Africa 70
Fela’s London Scene (LP Nigeria, EMI HNLX5200; LP USA (1983), Editions Makossa M2399)
[A] J’ehin-J’ehin / Egbe Mi O 
[B] Who’re You / Buy Africa / Fight to Finish

1971
Fela Ransome-Kuti and The Africa 70
Blackman’s cry b/w Beautiful Dancer (7″ Nigeria, HMV HNP526; 7″ France, Pathe Marconi 2C006-80

Discography related information courtesy of http://endolab.jp/endo/africa

All pictures courtesy of Livingstone Studio (c)

Early Afrobeat: The Invention of Fela Anikulapo-Kuti

IMG_2952
Fela-Kuti and the Koola Lobitos 1968 (LP Nigeria, EMI PNL 1002) Pix: Livingstonestudio (c)

Fela’s love of jazz and highlife music is widely documented. He named his first major band, Koola Lobitos (cats in Spanish) which literally translates to, “Cooler Cats”. This appears to be a wink at Victor Olaiyas’ Cool Cats, one of the most popular highlife bands at the time. A friend says Fela wrote, Bonsue, the popular Highlife standard for Victor Olaiya’s band.

Bonfo
Fela Ransome-Kuti and the Koola Lobitos Fere/Bonfo RK1 Image courtesy of Livingstonestudio (c)

“Koola” hints at the ambition to become more than a popular highlife band.  However, it took several inventions and reinventing, twists and turns but he got there in the end. He became the legend he was born to be.

Fela Ransome-Kuti and the Koola Lobitos Fere/Bonfo RK1 Image courtesy of Livingstonestudio (c)

 

Once the family had reconciled with his decision to be a musician. His mother threw all she had into making a success of it. She was convinced of his already obvious musical talent, and felt he should be a commercial success, this influence coupled with her career as a leftist intellectual and agitator for African independence informed Fela’s ideas and drove him to “play for the people”.

 

Koola Lobitos featuring VC 7  Orise (highlife) b/w Eke (highlife) (7" Nigeria, Parlophone (EMI) NPJ533 --7XNPS1613/1614)
Koola Lobitos featuring VC 7
Orise (highlife) b/w Eke (highlife) (7″ Nigeria, Parlophone (EMI) NPJ533 –7XNPS1613/1614)

Bonfo (RK1), has all the traits of his “trying to play African Music through jazz” phase. He called records released during this phase, “Highlife Jazz”. It didn’t do so good commercially. But it was a first into controlling his narrative as an auteur-musician. Previous releases had appeared as Fela Ransome-Kuti and the Highlife Rakers in the late 50s on 78s*. Other releases followed on the RK label through the early 60s:

1961                 
Fela Ransome-Kuti and Koola Lobitos Bonfo b/w Fere (7″ Nigeria, The RK label RK1)

1961                  
Fela Ransome-Kuti and His Koola Lobitos 
Nigerian Independence (highlife jazz) / Ayawa (highlife jazz)   (7″ Nigeria, The RK label RK2)

1961                
Fela Ransome-Kuti and His Koola Lobitos
 Koola Lobitos Special (highlife jazz) / Biko (highlife jazz) (7″ Nigeria, The RK label RK3)

1965?
             Fela Ransome-Kuti and His Koola Lobitos 
Onifere No. 2 (highlife) / Oyejo (highlife) (7″ Nigeria, The RK label RK4)

1965?             
Fela Ransome-Kuti and His Koola Lobitos
 Oloruka (highlife) b/w Awo (highlife) (7″ Nigeria, The RK label RK5)

1965?
            Fela Ransome-Kuti and His Koola Lobitos 
Ololufe b/w title unidentified (7″ Nigeria, The RK label RK6)

RK6 was the last release on the RK label. Between 1961 and 1965 he  worked with  Phillips West Africa Records  and VOA (Voice of America) which produced a live recording of his 
Band.

Fela Ransome-Kuti and His Koola Lobitos Onidodo b/w Alagbara (7" Nigeria, Phillips West Africa Records PF383 620)
Fela Ransome-Kuti and His Koola Lobitos
Onidodo b/w Alagbara (7″ Nigeria, Phillips West Africa Records PF383 620)

According to Benson Idonije (music journalist and erstwhile manager to Fela), there was the London incarnation of Koola-Lobitos and the Nigerian version which underwent several changes until it settled with key players (Ojo Okeji, Tex Becks, Tony Allen, Tunde Williams, Yinka Roberts).

Afro-Beat-Early Fela Mix-AWestAfricanIndependenceSoulSession Vol 1 by Temicastro on Mixcloud

 

Fela’s early discography especially 7 inch and 10 inch records are very collectible.

Discography related information courtesy of http://endolab.jp/endo/africa

All pictures courtesy of Livingstone Studio (c)