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

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

ABSTRACT

Music constitutes one of the tools of political mobilisation globally.  However, the role of music as a tool of political protest has been relatively understudied in Nigeria. Though some scholarly works on Fela Anikulapo Kuti exist, none had focused on the role of music as a tool of political protest. Studies revealed that there were no sufficient scholarly work that had examined the factors responsible for the progressive radicalisation of Fela, and the thematic evolution and impact of his protest music. The study examined the nature and impact of music as a medium of political protest in contemporary Africa, using the music of Fela Anikulapo Kuti.

The study adopted survey design, using interpretive hermeneutics approach. The population of the study was 191 songs of Fela Anikulapo Kuti between 1960 and 1992. Stratified sampling technique was adopted to categorise Fela’s songs into the three phases; these are the Liberal, the Reformist, and the Revolutionary. Purposive sampling was adopted in the selection of 29 songs representative of the phases under study. In-depth interviews were conducted with eight (8) key informants. Content Analysis, combined with application of Layman’s hermeneutics was used to analyse and interpret collected data.

The findings revealed that Fela’s music was impactful in the areas of political protest, mobilisation, radicalisation of the polity, and policy formulation. Fela’s music career evolved through three definitive but overlapping thematic categorizations or phases, the Liberal, the Reformist, and the Revolutionary. The structural background factors such as family-acquired traits, education, and cultural environment; accelerating conditions like exposure to the writings and music of pan-African authors and artists; and triggering circumstances such as corruption, oppression, intolerance, and brutality from the national government and its security agencies, responsible for radicalizing Fela and for translating his music through the three identified phases were found and discussed. The study established that the reactions of the different audiences of Fela Anikulapo Kuti’s protest music, including the government and its agencies serve as dependable criteria for measuring the impacts of the protest music on the society. Finally, the more the messages of Fela’s protest music become increasingly understood, and accepted, the more they gain relevance for varied socio-political applications.

The study concluded that the messages in Fela’s protest music were impactful for political sensitization and mobilization of the masses and for redirecting the Government in Nigeria and across Africa to be people-oriented and tolerant to protest music as an alternative to cataclysmic protests.  The study therefore recommended that future researches on Fela’s protest music should be predicated on the theory of a seamless trajectory of the different thematic phases rather than an absolute categorisation. Governments of African countries should develop domestic socio-political ideologies apt for guiding their processes of governance in line with Fela’s philosophy.  Legacies of Fela’s philosophy about governance contained in his protest music should be incorporated into the curriculum contents of schools and institutions in Africa.

Keywords: Afrobeat, Protest Music, Felasophy, Yabbis, Political Protest