By Anote Ajeluorou
No single writer will ever be able to tell completely the story of Fela. Like the elephant visited by 10 blind men, there would always be different aspects to the quintessential Fela narrative. What comes out clear is that no matter the narrator, Fela’s story will forever be fresh, stimulating, engaging and favourite bed time tale, with which grandmothers regale their grandchildren, albeit the discerning. This is Fela, the unknowable, the enigma, the legend, who left unmatched legacy in musicmanship, intellectual non-conformity in politico-cultural activism!
And so out of the many books on Fela yet to be published, a new one Kalakuta Dairies (AuthorHouse, U.S.; 2012) by Uwa. It will be another gathering of the Fela intellectual clan, who will reminisce on the man whose life was a vast canvas of the most improbable.
Kalakuta Dairies offers slices of life as it was lived at the empire and commune that the musical legend created both for himself and a vast number of the Lagos homeless that thronged it. Kalakuta was home to the good, the bad and the ugly. But in all these, there was order, there was government of sorts, there was organization because there were established rules that had to be followed. Enforcing some of these rules was one of the jobs of this new author, Erhabor, whose meeting with Fela was as dramatic and whimsical as the Fela persona ever was.
The Erhabors lived a few paces from the old Benin City prisons and young Erhabor used to blar Fela’s music from his father’s stereo to the listening pleasure of Fela who was an inmate at the prison. Fela saw young Erhabor from his perch inside the prison and took a liking to the young man instantly. He reached out to him at once and thus began an association that was to last from 1983 to Fela’s last days on earth. It was with the same impetuosity that Fela married his 27 wives that he took on Uwa and assigned him a role in the orderly running of his vast musical empire.
Erhabor lived through some of the turbulent times of the life of Fela in his many brushes with authority. As Erhabor states in his introduction, “Kalakuta Dairies is a personal narrative of events and characters that propelled and defined an African social-political setting (personality, enigma) in the heart of Lagos. Kalakuta was a creation of an icon rare-breed (sic) par excellence, whose legacies has (sic) left an indelible footprint in the sands of African and the world’s political times and consciousness.
“This narrative is an attempt to emphasise the roles played by different characters that shaped the actions and policies of a die-hard pan-Africanist, who had an uncanny ability to read and predict exactly outcomes of diverse political and economic actions of the ruling elite years ahead of most of his fellow countrymen”.
In this wise, Erhabor has provided an insider knowledge of Fela’s music empire, the goings on, who did what and why and Fela’s responses to most things. In diairic fashion, Erhabor records daily occurrences in the empire, the police raids, how Fela lived with his wives, who they actually were and how they related to each other, the band members, the musical tours within Africa and in Europe and America.
Indeed, Erhabor’s Kalakuta Dairies is vintage, perch reading of the workings of Fela’s vast commune, of the sane and insane, and how, from this seemingly incongruous, contradicting setting, was to emerge the most unflagging cultural philosophy and political vision ever espoused, an unmatched rereading and reappraisal of a much maligned continent that has severally been raped raw both its own children in collusion with white foreigners!
Like Fela, Erhabor’s book dispenses with the need for a table of content, even though Kalakuta Dairies has four chapters with an introduction. In Chapter 1, titled ‘Roots, Radicalism, Music and Mysticism’, Erhabor gives background to the Fela phenomenon, from his studies abroad to his musical journey till the discovery of Afrobeat that was to define him, with his activist mother as prompter to his musical direction. Erhabor refutes claims that Fela originally enrolled to study music and not medicine as has become the popular lore.
In Chapter 2, ‘The Talisman: Origins and Journey into Kalakuta’, the author narrates his encounter with Fela in Benin City and how he came to be part of the inimitable republic. Here, he plays up the role of Fela’s late younger brother, Dr. Beko Ransome-Kuti in Fela’s life. Beko pulled a lot of strings behind the scenes just as Lagos lawyer, Femi Falana also played a significant role in Fela’s legal tussle with the autorities he frequently dared. But in retrospect, Fela it was who played a defining role in the legal career of Mr. Falana, with a Fela who was already established as a musical superstar. Fela’s brush with the authority gave Falana moments to shine.
‘Peoples and Personalities in the Last Empire’ is how Chapter 3 is entitled. Here, Erhabor gives Fela’s musical itinerary and the personalities that made it thick and those that gave it a bad name. He also gives the biodata of Fela’s wives and almost everyone that worked with Fela, particularly their temperaments and how their many intrigues plagued the great one’s empire. Chapter 4 Erhabor titles ‘Tours: The Sweet, The Sour, The Political’ and continues on the tour strain peppered with other communal life details at the republic until the last days with Fela finally succumbing to the dreaded diseases, for which the author strongly holds two ladies responsible, a lady of dubious reputation whom Erhabor simply calls Jq, through whom Fela’s increasing spiritual quest finally found outlet…
Erhabor’s Kalakuta Dairies is an insider’s expose and makes for delightful reading. Fela’s life would always excite, and coming from an insider like Erhabor makes it all the more stimulating.
However, Kalakuta Dairies is badly edited. Indeed, the book needs rewriting entirely to make it a truly great narrative, especially as it is about a man of the stature of Fela. Poor grammar and poor narrative flow mare an otherwise serious writing. It’s hoped that the author will take advantage of a reissue to remove these inhibiting errors so the book can truly warm its way into the hearts of the many lovers of Fela. Indeed, Erhabor’s Kalakuta Dairies is a commendable book waiting to be properly written!