Every year, all around the world, the life and works of Nigeria’s foremost musical icon, late Fela Anikulapo Kuti’s are commemorated with music, arts and fanfare at the weeklong Felabration festival.
Founded 21 years ago by Yeni Anikulapo-Kuti, Felabration presents an opportunity to acknowledge Fela Kuti’s contribution through Afrobeat, the genre of music he pioneered. His jazz-inspired, robust sound continues to spark a creative flame in the hearts of Nigerians—both admirers and detractors— who no matter what cannot ignore Fela, the man and the musical icon.
That creative flame continues to burn in contemporary Nigeria even amongst artistes who were not born or were mere children when Fela became an ancestor. These artistes have made the Afrobeat genre a foundation upon which to speak about their fears, their frustrations, and their joys.
Burna Boy – Ye
The African Giant, Burna Boy, has never hidden his love and admiration for Fela Kuti. Boasting an upbringing rooted in a myriad of musical influences, Burna Boy has always spoken highly of the older singer (his grandfather Benson Idonije was Fela’s first band manager) and it is no surprise why a trip through Burna’s discography would reveal footprints of Abami Eda.
From ‘Soke’ to ‘Another Story’, Burna Boy has channeled Fela Kuti: the charisma, the fearlessness to speak to power while still retaining enough groove for the listener’s body to gyrate to.
But it’s ‘Ye’, Burna Boy’s breakout single in the diaspora, that packs the most punch. The song highlights the average Nigerian’s love for life when protest should suffice. Powered by a stroke of luck, ‘Ye’ has gone on become a fan favourite that even Rihanna jams to.
Oritse Femi – Double Wahala
Prior to 2013, Oritse Femi had a string of hit singles in ‘Flog Politician’ and ‘Mercies of the Lord’ but the man would admit that it was ‘Double Wahala’, his remake of (and dedication to) Fela Anikulapo Kuti’s‘Confusion Break Bone that brought him out from the dark alleys of the underground.
Oritse Femi’s ‘Double Wahala’ is a masterful take on the every-day-ness of the Nigerian life and the hope of every Nigerian that she grows to enjoy an affluent lifestyle.
‘Double Wahala’ earned Oritse Femi two nominations at the 2014 City People Entertainment Awards, Video of the Year and Most Popular Song of the Year, winning the latter. He also won the Indigenous Artist of the Year award at the 2014 Nigeria Entertainment Awards.
Wizkid – Jaiye Jaiye ft Femi Kuti
Released as the lead single from his sophomore studio album Ayo (2014), ‘Jaiye Jaiye’ had the right dollop of oomph that Wizkid needed to, in Nigerian parlance, ginger his fans who had been clamouring for a project since his 2011 debut Superstar.
‘Jaiye Jaiye’, an upbeat sample of Fela’s ‘Lady’, featured the late singer’s eldest son and Grammy-nominated artiste Femi Kuti who blessed the song with sunny blasts of his saxophone. On the song, Wizkid borrows lines from Fela about a woman’s displeasure at being called Woman instead of Lady.
‘Jaiye Jaiye’ kicked off for Wizkid what would later become a massive surge in his career.
Tiwa Savage – 49-99
What better way to kick start a post-Mavin era in your career than invoking the aura and swagger of Abami Eda?
Newly signed to Universal Music Group, the singer and songwriter Tiwa Savage titled her latest offering 49-99, a reference to “49 sitting, 99 standing” taken from Fela Kuti’s‘Shuffering and Shmiling’.
Tiwa Savage blazes her way through the song, boasting of her endless hustle and how much success she has strived to achieve. And with the confidence she exudes, it is fair to say there’s more to come.
Skales – Temper (Remix) ft Burna Boy
The original version of Skales’ ‘Temper’ was an okay song. It possessed an infectious beat on which the singer layered the ubiquitous Baby let’s have a good time line. A safe yet effective approach after all.
Whatever prompted Skales to tap Burna Boy for the remix deserves a hat tip. Not only did Burna Boy enrich the song, he took control of the wheel and steered the song in a new direction. From romantic to aspirational. He sampled lines from Fela Kuti’s ‘Sorrow, Tears and Blood’. Unlike the original version, the remix became an opportunity for both artistes to reminisce on their humble beginnings and acknowledge how far they have come in their careers.
Whoever asks: “Who Fela don epp?” Say: “A lot.”
Uzoma Ihejirika is an entertainment journalist.