Twenty-one years after his death, Fela remains larger than life. One can say that he is a spirit. Therefore if any man be in him, he has become a Fela.
There will never be another Fela– just to get that out of the way. The late Afrobeat innovator was not only a musical genius, but he was also a once-in-a-life figure that was bigger than music. If he were still alive, today October 15 would have been his 80th birthday.
Since his death in 1997, there hasn’t been anyone that could fill his musical shoes nor assume the unrepentant rabble-rouser persona that he had. His first son Femi plays Afrobeat but in a slightly different way than his father’s. For a long time, his younger son Seun played mainly Fela’s songs with the Egypt 80 band he inherited. Dede Mabiaku who played under Fela also does Afrobeat but again, his is more like a tribute band- just like Antibalas.
Beyond that, his persistent criticism of the government that got him jailed and beaten several times does not look appealing for any younger artiste to assume. Fela lost everything, family and fortune because he just wouldn’t shut up. And in the years after his death, the issues he sang and complained about have only gotten worse.
Whilst the pop music scene in Nigeria has been described as escapist- the majority of it only talks about money, love and sex- a few people have used some of the songs to address the issues plaguing the country. One cannot blame them too much- Fela himself once said: “Some people ask why I dey laugh; man no fit cry…”
2face, now 2Baba Idibia, may not a Fela; but he may be the New Fela. In 2017 when he called for a protest that he later shelved on account of insecurity and the “threat of higher powers hijacking it for their own interests”, he was roundly mocked for pretending to be Fela. Some other fans were not as harsh though- they understood that times were different and rightly or wrongly, 2Baba may not have been ready to lose everything that Fela did.
However, the man has imbibed the spirit of Fela, even he didn’t include the extreme measures of his music and life. He has spoken a number of times of the influence Fela had on him as a budding musician. On his songs Pako and Jeje, he sampled Fela.
For his now annual Buckwyld n Breathless concert, the theme for the 2018 edition is the “Power of 1”, drawing attention to the fact that nation building and change are effected at the individual level. Although the concert will feature Richard Mofe-Damijo, Falz and Phyno as co-headliners, it will also serve as a launch of his Power of 1 movie. (Tickets to Buckwyld n Breathless: Power of 1 are on sale at NETShop by the way).
At a point, even pop artistes get to a point where they realize that their fame can be used to influence change in the society. It appears that 2Baba has reached that point. Young pop acts like Wizkid and Davido may be on a global rise but someday (hopefully) they will use their voices for something bigger than entertainment.
Twenty-one years after his death, Fela remains larger than life. He remains more than just a musician- his life stood for more than music. One can say that he is a spirit. Therefore if any man be in him, he has become a Fela. As he strives for issues bigger than him or his family, 2Baba may just be a Fela. Not the Fela, but certainly one made in his kind.
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