LAGOS, NIGERIA (THE NEW GONG)–Afrika Shrine – The Shrine – was the central concept around which Fela Anikulapo-Kuti organized his show business and at the same time expressed his art and his politics. The routine consisted essentially of three shows a week: Friday, Gbegbegbe (noise-making) night, which featured only music and none of the political jibes and outrageous jokes he was known for; Saturday, Comprehensive Show, which featured the famous yabis sessions when Fela called things by their name in the tradition of African night spirits, sometimes pleasing and outraging the audience at the
same time; and Tuesday, Ladies Night, when ladies were allowed in free.
Fela would usually speak for between five and 20 minutes, depending on his mood, passing comments on current events, trading barbs with the audience or abusing the forever inept authorities. But on this particular night, 21 December 1991, Fela spoke for nearly one-and-a-half hours, making it the longest yabis session I was to witness during a decade of regular attendance.
On this day there had been elections to choose state governors under Gen. Ibrahim Babangida’s ill-fated transition to civil rule programme. Movement had been restricted during the day, as is often the case during Nigerian elections, and in the evening Lagos poured out to enjoy itself. The Shrine was packed with enthusiasts and the air was pungent with the smell of marijuana.
As was usual, Fela’s band, the Egypt 80 Band, had struck up at about 11 pm, playing the old hits he would no longer play himself, having decided he had moved beyond them once they were released. This went on for nearly three hours until Fela arrived to a noisy welcome. Dressed in his trade-mark tight-fitting shirt and trousers, this time of purple colour, and decorated with abstract motifs, he immediately went into business. The first number was BBC, Big Blind Country, one of a dozen new compositions he refused to record in his last eight years and were only played at his shows. It lasted 45 minutes. For most of the audience, the show was proceeding according to a familiar routine. It was made even more familiar by Fela’s announcement at the end of the number that the band was going on a 15-minute
“If you like, you can go and smoke Igbo (marijuana) make you get sense,” Fela continued, as was his wont.“If you like, you can go and drink ogogoro, whiskey, beer…and you can be sure that Lagos gutters will welcome you with open arms.
“But if you know you are tired of your life, and you now want to be useless to your family, go and shack gbana (heroin), cocaine…”
With this he went backstage while the band members went away to get refreshments and prepare for the Comprehensive Show. Exactly 15 minutes later, Fela reappeared on the stage, shirtless and his face painted in chalk and camwood, another familiar item in his routine.
“We would like to worship at our Shrine. And we would like you to give us a few moments of silence. Silence is not compulsory,” he said.
With this he went over to the Shrine, to the left side of the stage. The curtains had been drawn aside to reveal an assortment of objects, including photographs of his mother, Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti, Kwame Nkrumah and himself. Accompanied by a few of his followers, he began his rituals.
A bottle of Schnapps was opened by one of his assistants and poured into two calabash bowls. Fela then poured palm wine from a bottle kept at the ready and threw one kola nut into each bowl while the supplicants made incantations, intermittently raising their hands in an arm-fisted salute. Fela was then handed a white chicken. He twisted its neck until its blood started dripping. He poured the blood into the bowls and mixed the concoction, whereupon he drank deeply from one of the bowls before passing to his fellow worshippers. Some partook, others did not.
Worship over, Fela returned to the stage and an assistant handed him a giant, one-foot-long wrap of marijuana already lit. It was time for yabis. He puffed with relish, looked at the audience with a smile and said:
Fela: When fire enter for mouth nko-o!
Chorus: E go commot for nyash ni-ooooo!
Fela: Brothers and sisters. I was trying to find out the real meaning where white people got the name, wife. Wife. Iyawo. Me I know that in any other language iyawo means problem. Iya wo! Trouble. (Loud laughter) Because me know, those of us wey don enter spiritual life know say na women dey control before before… That is why women are called Alhaja. The Jah. The spirit that gave Mohammed power. Jah! Those are the spirits that the Rastas are worshipping. Jah! That’s why women are Alhajas. That’s why…because the war of the mind showing the place where the power of the spirit of the whole world is and knowing that shrine will be here, that is why we have
Ikeja. (Loud laughter)
Voice from audience: All that one na story!
Fela: Because this is where we in our sector have come to face Jah, this is where Jah…Ikeja ni! The area of Jah. (Loud, prolonged laughter) What I’m saying is a very very serious thing! We now know the reason why Babangida go find power for Abu jaa! (Laughter) But Abuja means many things. Abuja in Yoruba means short-cut. (Laughter) So is Babangida going to short-cut to steal more? Or short-cut to craze? Which one gaaaan? Na all! Na to craze. Abuja. The women who have been ruling the world for 70 million years get their power from the underground spirits. Make I smoke this Igbo? (He looks at the dying embers of his giant wrap of pot.)
Voices from the audience: Smoke am! Smoke am! Smoke am!
(He takes successive, prolonged puffs.)
Fela: Brothers and sisters. Brothers and sisters. See. When the concert of Children of Africa was going to happen. I will tell you.
Voices: No! We no want! Onwuka don finish you!
Fela: Abeg, abeg, abeg, abeg. (Makes gesture of contempt.) I’ve been talking in this place (Talking to somebody in the audience)…And those people wey dey follow me know…We’re not preaching about God, Jesus Christ. We are preaching about ourselves, our minds. What we’ve got to learn. What we should look for. Where the power is. You know, I told you I did politics. I entered politics to the full brim. From politics I catch spirit. And from spirit I see say this world no be one, na two. One extra one wey come dey on top makes three. (Shouts of disbelief) You see my sisters. So wetin we dey talk today na de thing we dey scatter country dey go. But we must be alive for the end will come. The end of this confusion must come by their own hand. But by, well the way they’re doing it…they way things dey go. See. Now. As we dey talk, this world is one and two and Babangida e come go Abuja to worship the spirit underground. There is a mountain in Abuja, that mountain is supposed to be the place where the most powerful spirits of the underground live. The mistake wey dem make be say…When women dey rule the world and they were busy confusing themselves – because women are always confusionists – they did not know that the top of Olumo Rock in Abeokuta as you see am so. I was told by a German surveyor in prison that the government has sent them to measure the highest point in West Africa. The highest point in West Africa is Olumo Rock in Abeokuta. Because they do not want people to know that the secret of the power was under that rock, they gave the name Abeokuta [Abeokuta: the town under the rock]. So that anybody who goes there can curse under stone. But really the meaning of that area is Ori Olumo.
So Babangida go Abuja now. Go find power. Aikhomu dey for Lagos, ‘im no go any where, ‘im na transmitter. (Laughter) Children of Africa, dem come. Onwuka Kalu is a small, you see there are so many gods in this world. Him sef come do ‘im own. So when ‘im come my house, I see am. Before me I see you, I see your spirit, I see everything. So I see am. I say ok oh. Onwuka Kalu. Say this show na for wetin? If na for money o, pay me. E say no, na for children of Africa…I say ok o. How much be gate fee. E say 10 to 15 naira, at most 20 naira. I tell am, I go do show for you. To show you I dey support, you know, me I be gaani oh! (Laughter) I say look, I go give you one number free, to put for record for children of Africa to make money. And my television rights, I give you free. We sign am. You dey hear me o?
Voices: Odu. You dey hear me o. You dey hear me o.
Fela: E bring paper, I sign am. Because I know say e dey lie. When the time for the show reach, I see for television: Gate fee 500 naira! 300 naira! I come go Shrine. I say thank you very much for the gift. The man don make me get 65,000. I know say uhn! I no go do. And that money, shuuwan. (He passes a hand across his mouth making an eating sign.)
(Prolonged laughter follows)
Fela: There is no artiste in this world that gives television rights free. Me I gi’am free. I gi’am record, free. You hear that one before. For wetin? To take 500 naira? Take your money, give me 10,000 dollars. For wetin? So I come send power for ‘im nyash. I gi’am date to pay balance, 25th November. If e no pay on that day, na contract. E dey for the contract o. On the 25th I just go my bed. I go war ‘im leg. (Laughter)
Voices: Come dey fuck toto! You send Orisha go meet am!
Fela: Him no see road for my house. E no come. As e no come, (He wipes his mouth with a whistle) I chop ‘im money. (More laughter)
Voices: No case! Any case? 419!
Fela: My own no be 419, na 999! (More laughter)
Voices: The Igbo don quench o! Smoke the Igbo now!
Fela: When we go Sunsplash for Lekki. Na this man wey put money that time. Punch Oga. Mr….? That man wey die.
Fela: Aha. Aboderin! Na ‘im pickin dey here so.
Voices: Wey am! Wey am!
Fela: Na ‘im pickin be that. (Applause as the man stands up and sits again) So na ‘im take ‘im money carry me go Sunsplash. They brought all artistes, Yellow Man, Blue Man, Pink Man. They bring everybody! Na ‘im we dey enjoy dey go yen yen yun. Out of all the artistes wey perform for that show, the bank wey give them credit letter na for Liberia. Two American banks. All the artistes got their cash by
credit letter. Me, when dem come my house I say give me cash. (Laughter)
Voice: Yeei! Olosi! Olori buruku!
Fela: Half-way inside plane I take my money, hundred, hundred dollars cash, yen, yen, yen, yen. When show finish, katakata start. Heavy jump body jumbos. Bank no pay. Yellow man turn to blue. (Laughter) Dem no pay, uhn! Me I get my money. Because the black man is following white man too much. White man, e bring money, then e come bring cheque. Then e come bring credit card. Then e come bring credit letter. Then e come bring bank draft. No be ‘im be say e done too much. So me I kuku stay for the
first one: money. (Laughter)
I dey play for 7Up on the 26th, for Lekki. Yesterday they come pay. When the man call me e say, Mr Fela, would you like a cheque? I said no no huh huh huh. (Laughter) Any money wey I dey take like this, it must full bag. We dey go Warri 24th. 25th we dey Benin. 26th we’re coming to play at Lekki. Na ‘im.
(Several voices shouting unintelligibly)
Fela: Only the money? (This in response to someone near the stage) Babangida take you dey do boy-boy you call am money. Ode! You’re spending paper! You’re not spending money!…Stupid! You don wear blue and white shirt. Get up! Get up! Let’s see you well. (Laughter) You no talk now. You hide inside darkness dey yab. You’re a man of darkness. (Voices continue shouting various abuses and comments at him) My brother wey dey remind me to smoke Igbo, you see na only your voice I dey hear.
So I go smoke am. (He begins a prolonged drag at the huge joint.)
Voice: The thing don quench-o!
(There is uproarious cheering as a tongue of flame leaps out of the glowing end. As it goes off it leaves off a thick curl of smoke spiraling upwards, which Fela pursues with open mouth to inhale, causing more wild laughter and cheering.)
Fela: Those wey dey smoke cocaine think say no only dem dey chase? Me sef dey chase for Igbo now. (More laughter)
Fela: Everybody say yei yea!
Chorus: Yeeeeeeii Yeeeeeaa!
Fela: So as I dey talk before, you know say the meaning of iyawo na iyaaa wooo. Look me o. So. For white man language they give man husband. Horse band. Women are very very wicked people. (Loud shouts of incredulity) They no even give us horse sef, na the band of the horse. (Laughter). Na so o. Everybody go begin dey run. Everybody dey. Family dey go. Hey o! Hey my wife o! Hungry dey worry you. Dem go make meeting. Family go come. Hey! My wife! Office. The name na horse band!
(Prolonged laughter) So when man come give them wife…If you look the word wife…All these things that end in wife, strife, you know, ehe, knife! The meaning of wife is knife! (Laughter) Dis woman dey look me bad eye o! (Referring to a woman in the audience) Are you married to that man? (Pointing to a man next to her) Ooooh! Mr. and Mrs. You don miss yourselves. Him just dey miss you dey go ni. You, Mister, you miss your star. Misses. You don dey miss go ni. (Laughter)
Fela (After some pause): Na white man language sha. (After another pause) For television I come dey hear one song dey say: Jesu Funmilayo. Jesu Funmilayo. Jesu no mean anything pass Je su o! Jesu means je su. You know, toto. Je su o. (He sang making a fucking motion, provoking wild laugher and shouts in protest.) You no go gree. How you go gree? When God send somebody come die, come carry the sins of people go, abi? When e reach the time to come die now, e come say God o abeg help me die o! God say you dey craze! (Wild laughter and shouts of protest) Na the God wey send am o. Man wey dem send go. Son of God gaaan o, as ‘im call ‘imself. When the time to come die come reach now, e come go for mountain: God if it’s possible, remove this cup from my hand. You see now. Which kin’ God be that one. Yeye God. When police dey beat me like this, ask them! Gaddamn! I face them ni o. (Laughter) Ah! Dem go dey beat me dey go. Dem go dey beat. I no go make any cry. Not one sound. Na ‘im e go come dey vex dem dey go. Dem go come dey beat me, dey beat me. I no go make one sound. Dem go wan kill me. My brother, abeg, I no be Jesus Christ wey dem give six strokes e faint. (Shouts of shock and incredulity) Abeg. Jesus Christ, ‘im own na, e come je su. Finish. You see all the things about this world, na toto. Jesus Christ ‘im come je su. Me I come… Mofe fe ki n ma la. (I want to open the cunt wide and lick it.) Fela! (Wild laughter) Me fe la. Jesu wa je su. Na you know wetin you come do o. (Wild laughter)
Fela (after some pause): Judas Ischariot, that one is a bad man. (Laughter) Him don see Jesus Christ say na wayo man. E say, I go catch you. E come tell all ‘im people. Judas. You that’s why we have… they’re the sons of Judah. Israel, Israeli people…That’s why there are Jews. Dem no dey worship Jesus Christ. They worship Yahweh. That’s why they’re the strongest people in the world today, because dem
no dey worship Jesus.
Voice: Which kin’ human being dem be!
Fela: Cool down now. Israelis dey there now. Na Judas Ischariot na ‘im be their baba wey bring Jesus Christ out say you’re a thief. (Shouting continues for a while)
Voice: You don’t know what you’re saying.
Fela: You’re an IBB man, we know! Shut up!
Voices: Sony Okosuns dey yab you! See your wrong packing! You no even wear pant!
Fela: Are you the entertainer or am I the entertainer? (Addressing someone standing near the stage and shouting at him) Shut up all of you! Why are you gbe gbe gbe gbe gbe like that? Please allow the women to shout. All the women shout your own shout, oya. (Shouting continues)
Voice: Sony Okosuns dey yab you!
Fela: Sony Okosuns yab me?
Fela: Abeg, please. If cockroach dey yab person, you must not answer. (Laugher) He can’t yab me. He’s my friend. He’s my small brother.
Voice: What of your own brother, Olikoye.
Fela: My brother. Wetin do my brother? You wan find am? Go find am. Go for Ikoyi or Abuja. When you reach there dem go beat you well well o. (Laughter) Brothers and sisters let’s play some sounds now. (Shouting continues) You wan me to go buy land for Abuja? (Responding to somebody in the audience) No be land. Na tree I go go buy there. (Laughter) I go go build my house on top of tree in Abuja. You dey craze? I stay in Lagos, maen. Lagos is the most beautiful city in the whole world. In Lagos we have the best totos. Only say dem no put drainage. If you pass the roads na swimming pool. Nigeria na wa o.
Voice: You no vote today o!
Voice: You no vote!
Fela: Vote? Vote? Those who went to vote today are those who have lost their powers. (Laughter) Me, I see. People wey get common sense no dey do dat kin’ thing. If you wan vote, go and vote o and be the most stupid man in the whole world.
Voice: You must either vote SDP or NRC.
Fela: Abeg, to discuss those people is a waste of time. If you want to discuss SDP and NRC, you’re discussing rats and mice. (Laughter) So let the rats play and the mice play. Let them do their work to destroy and in the meantime we shall give them rat poison and they will all die off. (Laughter)
Voice: We’re voting for you.
Fela: You can’t vote for me. Me I get my own vote from up ni (pointing at his Shrine), international one. Vote for me? No o. The thing wey dey vote for me na ‘im dey there, my Shrine. Leave that one. Vote? Abeg my brother, please ehn. Me I dey for your front dey dance, dey fuck, dey show, dey shake am. At 53. Go check your Papa now. With ‘im very fat stomach, now e dey sleep for house dey make grrrhhhh.
(Laughter) I never finish show yet o. Wait till next year. Wait till five years. You, you go know say before dem say seven wonders of the world. Me I’m the eight. (Applause) Unless you no know yourself. When people know themselves, everybody done know themselves. Go and know yourself o, because me, I know myself. Tomorrow, Sunday, we’re launching Femi’s album at the Shrine. Gate fee: 20 naira. Me sef
I dey on stage tomorrow, not my band, but I dey gaaaan.
Voice: Na today o!
Fela: Tuesday is lady’s night…
Voices: No be tomorrow. Na today. Today! Today!
Fela: Today. Today. Today. Tomorrow. Today. Tomorrow. Welcome. Just put the white man’s machine for your hand and start confusing yourself, today, tomorrow. When you leave house come here, Saturday night…Shey you don sleep wake up now? You don come see daylight now. No dey confuse yourself o. If you wan to confuse yourself, don’t confuse me. Tomorrow, when dey break eh? No be the one of Ikoyi o, of dead people wey dem dey sleep dey fly, na inside night you get day, night, day, about four. Dead people. Inside night dey get day, night, day, night, day, night. About three times like that. Between twelve and six.
Voices: How you take know? How you know?
Fela: How me I know?
Fela: Go Ikoyi, you go see show. Wo! You go Ikoyi Cemetery, inside, go enter there. If dem born you well well. Say you don chop belleful now, you be Oga. Go knock cemetery like about one o’clock, one-thirty, enter. Come stroll, you know, like say you be Oga. Wo! Dem go turn your head like this… (indicating backwards). Then you go see show. (Laughter)
Voice: You don go before?
Fela: I don go before? Whether I don go before or not, you go. (Laughter) Na ‘im you go know say…For Lagos, when I dey for prison, na ‘im I know say, one boy tell me the story of how e go do one work. Him been dey work for NPA, e come go do one work with three boys gaaaaan! Three Igbo boys. Dem work be say dem dey dig dead body go sell the bones to one man.
Voice: You’re a liar!
Fela: I’m a liar?
Fela: Ehn. I’m a liar, I dey lie on top of toto. (Wild shouting) I must lie on top of toto. I’m a liar. Ode!…Next week Saturday I go give you that story wey dem dey go dig bones.
Voices: No! Today! Today! Today! Today!
Fela: You wan hear am today?
Fela: This boy, every time for cell na ‘im e dey give us tory. E give us tory, you know everybody dey gist. You no go come tell us, ehm, one day there was a Jack and Jill. Na true story ni o. (Laughter) E say ‘im wan tell us how ‘im loss ‘im four teeth. E say ‘im dey work for NPA. Say ‘im dey live for one house, everybody go see these boys, dem go go. Dem fit go for like three days. Dem go dey shack, dem don
get money. Him go come see dem for their room, come cack. One day they say ol’ boy, let us teach you road, say all this 200 naira, 500 naira work you dey do, no be am. No thief o! Legal work gaaaan! Him come say e go do o. ‘M say you go do? Ok, tonight we dey go. Follow us.
So for night dem come carry jigger, different things, whiskey, shackies, everything, enter moto, come dey go. Come dey go, dey go, dey go. Come go inside one cemetery wey dey inside bush. They find that cemetery. Everybody don wear orishirishi juju for their body, everything. Say, you dey fear? Dem come reach there, dem come throw jigger near one place…
Voice: E no dey there! E no dey there!
Fela: (Addressing the man who interrupted him) I don tell you before…(Laughter) Local monkey…So! Ha! So say na the work be dis o. Say the work? E say ha! We dey dig dis body now, now, now! We dey dig the bones. We go carry am go. Say na the money be dat. Ha! Gbosi dey there. No fear o! Say look. Shack let’s start jo. Na ‘im dem come start. First of all dem know the name of the person, because they must know the name of the person wey die. Dem start to dig. Dig, dig, dig, dig, dig. Dem hit the gbosi,
gbaaa! Open the body. Carry the bones. Put am inside bag. Gbru, gbru, gbru gbru, put am inside moto, yaaam. Carry their thing. Straight! Ijebu Igbo. (Shouts) Dem go meet one man there, one Alhaji like dis.
Voice: Na waa ah!
Fela: The man get one leg, like dis. (Laughter as he moves on one leg) So dey say make ‘im sit down for parlour. Dem meet the man inside room. So small time all of dem come come out. E done make money, six thousand. Show am, say, look money. Six thousand. Because you follow us, I go give you one thousand. Hey eh! Him say one thousaaaand, one night! Ah, the things ‘im wan buy…this one, ‘im go dey dig dey go ni! (Laughter) E say when dem carry bone give the man, the man go look the bone
like dis. E go say, wetin be the name of the bone? Him go put am like this (Demonstrates the man raising it up and inspecting it.) If na ‘im, e go pay. If no be ‘im e no go pay. So you must know the name of the bone.
So every day na so dem dey do. So one day. So..Look this people o. Dem come dey come. Dem come dey come one night. Dem come reach this village, dem come dey make party. Dem come stop there. Dem come ask dem say, hey, wetin dey dem do here. Dem come tell dem say dem dey turn the body of one dead body.
Voices: Fela play now! Ah ah! Stop all this!
Fela: (Continues, ignoring the voices) These boys from Lagos o. Reach village dem dey make party, dey ask, wetin dem dey do there. Dem say dem dey turn the body of one dead body wey die 40 years ago. True! Ah! Dem just cack down go sit down yen eh. So, all the thing dem wan do for that party be say dem wan find out the name of the dead body. Dem come find out sha. Dem come find out where dem keep the bones. That night na ‘im dem carry the bones. Say that bones na nine thousand the Baba pay for dem. Ah! So, on the day wey alarm wan blow…
Voice: Which alarm wan blow?
Fela: …dem come go dig the body of one Ogboni man. (Shouts and whistles) E say na so o, say dem no know o, say this man na Ogboni. E say the man get plot for outside Lagos but e wan make dem bury him near ‘im house.
Voices: Story o! Fake story!
Fela: Dem come reach there. (Cock crows)
Voice: Morning don reach o!
Fela: Dem come start. Say the man house no far o, like 200 yards. Dem come start. Ki! Ki! Ki! Ki! Ki! Ki! Ki! As dem come make the jigger come nack the gbosi like this, gbaaim! Say na ‘im dem see one white thing come out in their front, yen eh! Say all of them come stand dey look am. Nobody fit move. Na so dem dey look. Nobody move o! Fit move. So dem come see say dem don put the lights of the house on.
Everybody dey come with ajugba light. So na so dem come jam dem where all of them dey look this white thing o. So the woman say: “Eyin omo Eko, ekujin jo oku?” Say Lagos boys no dey see dead body again? Say dem beat. Oh. Dem beat. (Laughter) Say their car, dem lose their car. Dem carry dem go police station, where dem face charge for stealing dead body (Long laughter and applause)…We’re going to play for you a tune called M.A.S.S. (Movement Against Second Slavery)