Tag Archives: Africa is not a country

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.

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..

felakuti-IMG_0003

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…

felakuti-24X36CC (4)

Natural Hair Project Part II

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

IMG_8062

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

IMG_8065 IMG_8067

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

IMG_8199 IMG_8211

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

IMG_8235 IMG_8236

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)