Too Black, Too Strong

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By using their unique musical gifts to serve as a watchdog for the African masses, the Kuti legacy has become synonymous to humanitarianism. You see, in the 70’s, when Fela Kuti’s star was shinning bright, the Nigerian authorities found his freedom of speech peculiar for the society. Songs like Army Arrangement and ITT – International Thief Thief were audacious in the sense that they were direct in putting the spotlight on corruption, and a host of degenerative government acts that were in tandem with foreign institutions such as the UN, World Bank, and IMF

While working at Central Park’s Summer Stage in the late 90’s, I saw Femi Kuti dazzle an audience as large as that which flocked to see the late Fela Kuti – the pioneer of Afro-beat. Recently, Femi’s legacy in world music was advanced into the next generation as he introduced his son, Made, to center stage. New York fans received with cheerful applause as he wasted little time in wowing them with saxophone solos to Fela classics like ‘Water No Get Enemy.’ As enjoyment began to set in, I reflected on the long wait and flashes of rain that preceded Kuti’s arrival, and how it all paid off. Somewhere between the riveting father and son saxophone duet, and the sensual gyrations of the dancers, my thoughts roamed into the state of Africa’s despair and the need to have more entertainers take a stand on societal afflictions. Musically, when it comes to painting a vivid portrait of the hardships numerous Africans face daily, very few entertainers can do what Femi Kuti does. Amidst these thoughts, I pondered the flurry of attention coming from the West towards poverty alleviation in Africa. In a day hailed as "The Day that Rocked The World!� I wondered which one of the G8 cities Femi brought the house down in. As I diligently poured through the official website for a third time, I began to fear a terrible omission was made on the part of the webmaster and organizers behind – www.live8live.com. Certainly, many Afro-beat fans out there will wonder how come the UN Secretary General Kofi Annan surmised the summit as "the greatest world summit ever� when the messages in Kuti’s songs did not reverberate at any one of the concert venues.
 
Resist getting lost in the dance frenzy music created by Femi’s and his band, and pay keen attention to the lyrics swirling amongst the jambalaya of music instruments. Femi, apparently mild mannered by nature, has managed to establish a character apart from his father’s. The peculiar circumstances that were recorded in the lifetime of Fela, along with the lustrous career he led in the world music circuit, his shoes prove a big one to be filled by anyone. Like his father, Femi uses his voice and musical gifts to give consciousness to the same problems tackled in the timeless classics recorded by Afro-beats patriarch. Listeners will discover that Kuti’s songs provide revelations on the nefarious political-economic relationship on the part of many African governments towards their masses. By using their unique musical gifts to serve as a watchdog for the African masses, the Kuti legacy has become synonymous to humanitarianism. You see, in the 70’s, when Fela Kuti’s star was shinning bright, the Nigerian authorities found his freedom of speech peculiar for the society. Songs like Army Arrangement and ITT – International Thief Thief were audacious in the sense that they were direct in putting the spotlight on corruption, and a host of degenerative government acts that were in tandem with foreign institutions such as the UN, World Bank, and IMF. Needless to say, this posed a threat to the Nigerian government that was headed by General Olusegun Obasanjo at the time. Because of Fela’s relentless advocacy, he suffered at the hands of the military and police forces that were quite brutal. Herein lays the source of feud between Kuti and Obasanjo.

Kuti’s musical perspectives on the state of African affairs are an educational eye-opener for the layman anywhere in the world. For instance, Femi’s fans are able to understand the economic woes that accompany structural adjustment program (SAP) unaccountable regimes like the military type engender by failing to repay foreign debt. To begin with, many of these nations were ripe with intellectuals who objected to the initial acceptance of these loans. Unfortunately, this class had no recourse in the wake of powerful forces that accompanied foreign loan schemes and the undemocratic military rulers. The implication of these arrangements, in absence of transparent accounting and reporting, has largely led to underdevelopment rather than development. Structural adjustment programs have direct implications on the growth of inflation, unemployment and other socio-economic problems that inhibit developing nations. On this subject matter, many will argue there is considerable hypocrisy in the practice of Western lenders who extend dubious loans to undemocratic regimes. In respect to the underdeveloped economies, countries like the US and UK display sophisticated accounting standards that are however transparent. How come they fail to demand these same standards from the African governments who find this a loophole for corruption and mismanagement? Somewhere along the line, the architects of the financial systems found it viable to bind whole African nations to large amounts of debt.

On a similar note, we witness this same phenomenon in countries with a thriving credit card industry. Just like Africans in the continent, many Diaspora Africans who have run into default on making their credit card payment on time experience structural adjustment; inability to get a loan to buy a home, a car, or even secure a wireless phone plan. In some instances, African’s in the Diaspora find themselves marginalized from certain jobs in finance and management because they are considered a high risk in some of the top paying jobs with good career visibility. Thus many are affected by unequal employment opportunities and underemployment without even knowing it. As much as no one cares to admit it, it would have been sensible for those lending institutions to appropriate those loans with strict conditions for auditing and reporting on the so called infrastructure development projects through which public funds disappear.

Today, President Obasanjo’s critics accuse him of squandering state funds through excessive international travel and unconventional expenditure. For instance, critics wonder if the British satellite billed at $10 million was actually an investment for the masses or for his extensive private farming operation. Currently in his second democratic term, and managing the affairs of Africa’s most populous nation, his privatization campaign and relentless commitment to multi-lateral trade with the rest of the world are yet to manifest stable electricity flow through the federal grid, elimination of long lines at filling stations, improved payroll services to civil servants, eliminate strikes and protests from students and workers. Many people in the West cannot fathom the idea of a black out, let alone live in one.

Indeed Bono and other world music notables were instrumental in making the Live 8 concert day a memorable one. It remains to be seen if one should put any type of faith in these types of display. The good thing however, is the buzz from colossal events like these remain fresh in the minds of entertainment lovers and policy makers for a long time to come. This group of people, along with Africans in the lime light industry should not relent at leading the poverty alleviation in the right direction. For instance, there are efforts still in place to provide relief to displaced Africans—from the Tsunami victims hit by the natural disaster in far away Indonesia to the populations groups ravished by war in places like Sudan, Congo, Sierra Leone, Ivory Coast, and Angola. Truly it is time to advance beyond the glamour, glitz, and speeches that are generous in pledging billions of dollars to poverty eradication.  Evidently, it is necessary for African’s in the Diaspora to pick up the slack by advancing these causes in their new countries. All Africans need to make a difference by being proactive in deed and speech as it relates to their family, peers, and colleagues, on a daily basis. There are documentaries to be made, forums to organize in order to raise issues, and a host of exciting programs that bring like minded people together in creativity. There is an element of truth in the picture we constantly see in the media, whereby Caucasians are found protesting at events which ought to turn out more Africans than any other group. Time after time we see them courageously challenge the powerful force of world leaders, ending up with brutal treatment at the hands of the police. Stand up Black Man.

Back to Femi. While President Obasanjo enjoys favorable diplomatic relations with G8 leaders, and enjoys basking in the glow of entertainers like Bono, it remains baffling why a powerful voice such as Femi Kuti’s will be left out from a landmark world concert event. Tactically speaking, in order for poverty to be alleviated in Africa, viable entities need to be formed to promote unfettered dialogue and working relationship between the Africans in academia, the various professionals in existing sectors and emerging markets, and the numerous Western organizations dedicated to the cause. So, while Femi’s son bellowed saxophone tunes in reminiscence to his late grandfather’s socially conscious songs, one can not help but wonder about these socio-political things and the economic future ahead of Africa’s youth.

This report was edited by Sowore. For more articles please click on “subscribe� on the home page or call (212) 481-7745 to subscribe to the newsstand edition of The Black Star News.

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