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THE MUSIC OF FELA ANIKULAPO KUTI, ITS THEMATIC EVOLUTION AND IMPACT AS POLITICAL PROTEST IN CONTEMPORARY AFRICA

POLITICAL SCIENCE PROJECT TOPICS AND MATERIALS

CHAPTER ONE

INTRODUCTION

 

1.1       Background to the Study

 

“Try to imagine the Civil Rights Movement without “We Shall Overcome,” or the opposition to the Vietnam War without “Give Peace a Chance”’ (Zax, 2011).

 

From antiquity to the contemporary African society, music and other arts such as dance, theatre, poetry, literature, painting, and sculpture have been recognised as dynamic forces and useful strategies for fighting tyrannical and authoritarian regimes. As methods of peacemaking and peace-building, music, dance and drama had long provided the traditional society the most treasured means by which people or individuals could openly protest and express their grievances whenever confronted with such occasions or situations through such physical displays but short of armed conflict. This practice also reduces the prospects for what could have ignited violent protests and consequent conflicts as much of contemporary Africa has been witnessing in recent times.

These useful methods of conflict management had been “adulterated and in some areas, wiped out by the forces of colonialism including religious psycho-war forces” (Nwolise, 2005). However, Falola (2012) argued, “European domination of Africa did not succeed in killing the music and dance, the stories and festivals, the aesthetics and others that have continued in various forms and reinvented into others”. Rather, “creativity provides the opportunity to create a counter discourse to hegemonic representations of blackness. Be they artists, singers, or poets, creativity allows black people to fight back with disdain, anger, and rationalisation” (Falola 2012: 3). Omojola (2006) cited an instance of how the Ebre women society of the traditional Ibibio women of the South-South part of Nigeria, perform Ebre music during its annual ceremonies to “express themselves and assert their rights in a male dominated society. Thus, Ebre music is, in addition to its moral tone, characterised by feminist songs of protest”.  Also among the Ga and Akan people in the coastal belt and Brong areas of Ghana, protest music forms part of the annual rituals of cleansing; a forum for expressing ill feelings, public opinions, and open criticism of those in authority as Nketia (1982) has documented.

One could contemplate if there is anything African and non-western about the uses of music along with other art forms as struggles for either fighting tyrannical regimes or protesting against unpopular, oppressive or burdensome conditions. To be sure, the phenomenon is a universal one, and transcends all times and climes. Recall the words of Zax (2011) quoted above for opening the study, “Try to imagine the Civil Rights Movement without ‘We Shall Overcome,’ or the opposition to the Vietnam War without ‘Give Peace a Chance.’” The two events referred to in that quotation took place in the 60’s, and pertained to the United States of America. As regards that same case, though going back further still, the literature records the considerable role of the Negro Spirituals in the struggle of the Negroes (later Black or African-Americans) for emancipation from slavery beginning from the 19th century with the Spirituals such as:

When Israel was in Egypt’s land,

Let my people go.

Oppressed so hard they could not stand,

Let my people… (Anon)

 

This obviously invoked analogy of the Exodus from Egyptian bondage taking place c.1447 B.C., and being the foundation narrative of the Jewish nation. There are, indeed, threads linking the core theme of those Negro Spirituals, meaning “African-American Music as rebellion” (see www.arts.cornell/…/03sullivan.pdf), through the Civil Rights Movements of Dr. Martin Luther King and others with their refrain of “we shall overcome”, to the “liberalisation” as the battle cry of Latin America’s School of Liberation Theology of the 20th century, to Black South Africa’s “Songs of Freedom” used as part of the struggles against the oppressive apartheid rule from the late 40’s to early 90’s. In contemporary African societies, as in other world cultures, music alongside other arts has continued to play significant role as vehicle for conflict resolution and peace building on the one hand and as a medium of political protest on the other hand. Many African playwrights of the contemporary era have used poetry and theatre as medium of political protest. For instances, the South African playwright Athol Fugard fought apartheid through his political plays such as “The Island” and “Sizwe Bansi is dead”. Ngugi wa Thiong’o, a Kenyan novelist and playwright, contributed immensely to his country’s struggle and the liberation of Kenya from colonial rule with his works “Weep Not, Child” and “Petals of Blood” being among the most memorable. Notable Nigerian playwrights who used the performing arts as the medium of protest include Wole Soyinka, the author of “The Trials of Brother Jero” and “A Dance of the Forest”; and Femi Osofisan, the author of “Morountodun” and “Once Upon Four Robbers”. Also, very significant in the Nigeria case had been the folk operas of the acclaimed father of the contemporary Nigerian theatre, Hubert Ogunde, in fighting social injustice and oppressive political system. Some of his folk operas include “Strike and Hunger”, which according to Yerima (2005) was produced as a reaction to the 1945 general strikes in Nigeria, and “Bread and Bullet”, which was a protest medium against the police shooting and killing of the Enugu striking miners. His opera, “Yoruba Ronu” actually got him into trouble with both the federal Nigerian government and the Western regional authorities during the last four years of the Tafawa Balewa prime ministership.

Theatrical stage has been found to be a rendezvous of public opinion, although as some writers have pointed out, there are limitations to the use of this medium. Some of the limitations of the stage were pointed out by Innes (1972) while describing the role of Erwin Piscator in promoting political theatres in Germany around the 1920s. Innes wrote thus:

traditionally the stage has been seen as a mirror of the world. But the individual actor is its prime constituent, which limits it to the particular, while the essentials of twentieth century existence are abstract: power resides in bureaucracies, not kings, and conflicts are between masses not duellists. This means that theatre appears incapable of dealing with the significant aspects of life at a time when the demand is for relevance… (Innes, 1972: 1).

 

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