By Damilola Faustino
One of the many reasons why Fela is popular years after his death is because of his music. The Abami Eda lived his life as an activist, a social critic and a radical, but his most powerful force remained his music. Through his music, he brought hope to his people and he was able to create a cultural crossroad that other parts of the world could connect with. His songs have been heavily sampled across all genres around the world. So with a catalog spanning over 50 albums and 100 songs, we attempt to select five of his songs that made him popular.
Zombie – 1976
Zombie spans across 12 minutes and 26 seconds of Fela scathingly attacking the Government and describing the methods of the Nigerian military where they only follow orders without a will. The album was a smash hit and scored 4.5 stars by All Music’s album review, who called it Fela’s most popular and impacting record. It is also believed that the fallout from this album led to the attack on his home which resulted in the death of his mother, Funmilayo Ransome Kuti.
Water no get enemy – 1975
‘Water no get enemy’ is a song that resounds loud till date. In a subtle and proverbial manner, Fela through his thought-provoking lyrics preaches harmony across humans irrespective of nationality, race or colour with nature as his metaphor. Fela preaches on the indispensability of water, irrespective of the situation.
Trouble sleep, Yanga wake am – 1972
The song is his stand against oppression. It is his warning cry that with the wave of unjust treatment of its citizens by the authorities, a reaction was bound to happen. It was Fela at his best, his voice comes rich around the fourth minute after an opening sequence of him playing the saxophone as he simplifies the government into relate-able and regular characters like a landlord, the police officer, the bank manager, all playing a game of cat and mouse.
Like most of Fela’s records, you are ushered into a feel of him playing his sax, hitting melodious tunes and setting the pace for the rhythmical journey. At the point when most modern singles are coming to a close, Fela’s voice comes alive as he reminds all that he is an original African man. The song is key in addressing violence and harassment while providing a soul-lifting message for his listeners. Gentleman is still constantly referenced in disputes and in the face of oppression. It was sampled by American rapper, J Cole in his ‘Let Nas Down’ single.
Expensive Shit – 1975
The song is off the back of a real-life story that involved the police trying to plant some drugs (weed) on the Afrobeat legend. On one of those occasions, Fela was said to have grabbed the weed and ate it. Efforts to get evidence of him ingesting the weed through his waste failed despite being held in police custody for three days. Fela was later released and he made a song out of the whole experience.
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