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Last Updated: Thursday, 2 August 2007, 16:42 GMT 17:42 UK
Fela Kuti's Nigeria: 10 years on
It is 10 years since Afrobeat icon and Nigeria's most famous musician, Fela Anikulapo Kuti, died.

Fela Kuti cover [courtesy of Wrasse Records]
Fela Kuti was a hero to millions

The band leader, saxophonist and political activist was a controversial figure: fabled for strutting around in only underpants, marrying 27 women in a mass ceremony and smoking marijuana.

But Fela, or Baba 70 as he was fondly known, was a hero to millions. His powerful and prophetic lyrics mocked the authorities, condemned police brutality and spoke up for the rights of ordinary people.

That, he said, was his role as a musician.

Read extracts of his lyrics below and see if they still have relevance today. Click on the link below to send us your memories of Fela Kuti.


Written: 1979

... Many foreign companies dey Africa carry all our money go
Say am, say am [after each line]
Many foreign companies dey Africa carry all our money go
Dem go write big English for newspaper, dabaru [deceive] we Africans
Dem go write big English for newspaper, dabaru we Africans
I read about one of them inside book like that - Them call him name na I.T.T
I read about one of them inside book like that - Them call him name na ITT

Fela Kuti singing [courtesy of Wrasse Records]
Him go bribe some thousand naira bread, To become one useless chief
Fela Kuti

Them go dey cause confusion
Cause corruption
Cause oppression
Cause inflation
Oppression, Oppression, Inflation, Corruption, Oppression, Inflation

Dem get one style wey dem dey use
Dem go pick one African man
A man with low mentality
Them go give am million naira [Nigerian currency] breads
To become of high position here
Him go bribe some thousand naira bread
To become one useless chief
Like rat dey do
Dem go dey do from
Corner corner pass-ee, pass-ee
Under, under pass-ee, pass-ee
Inside-ee, Inside-ee pass-ee, pass-ee
In-ee, in-ee, pass-ee, pass-ee
Out-ee, out-ee, pass-ee, pass-ee
Peep-peep, peep-peep, pass-ee pass-ee...

Then and now: In International Thief Thief Fela uses the abbreviation of International Telephone & Telegraph (IT&T) to take on big multinational corporations he accuses of draining Africa's resources by deviously setting Africans against one another.

He criticises their African collaborators for selling out.

The violence in Nigeria's Niger Delta is often attributed to the activities of Western multinational oil companies operating in the area.

Although the bulk of Nigeria's oil wealth comes from the Niger Delta, the region remains heavily impoverished.

The people of the area blame the oil companies and their government officials for the poverty in the region and have taken up arms to demand 'justice'.


Written: 1981

... Anywhere the Muslims dem dey reign
Na senior Al-haji na 'im be director
Anywhere the Christians dem dey reign
Na the best friend to Bishop na 'im be director

Barbican's Black President: The art and legacy of Fela Kuti poster [Barbican]
Fela Kuti was known as the people's president

Look Obasanjo,
Before anything you know at all,
He go dey shout Oh Lord, Oh Lord, Oh Lord, Oh mighty Lord, Oh Lord, Oh God
And den dey do bad-bad-bad-bad-bad-bad-bad-bad-bad-bad-bad things
Through Jesus Christ our Lord

I say look Yar'Adua
I say look Yar'Adua
Before anything you know at all
He go dey shout Haba Allah, haba Allah, haba Allah, haba Allah, haba Allah
And den dey do bad-bad-bad-bad-bad-bad-bad-bad-bad-bad-bad things
Through Mohammed our Lord...

Then and now: Coffin for Head of State criticises hypocritical leaders who hide behind their religions to commit atrocities against the people they lead.

Fela recalls the 1979 attack on his compound by soldiers acting on the orders of former President Olusegun Obasanjo who was military head of state at the time.

Shehu Yar'Adua, elder brother of the current Nigerian president, Umaru Yar'Adua, was Mr Obasanjo's deputy.

Fela's mother, a government worker, died in the attack and the singer and his Movement of the People group carried her mock coffin to Dodan Barracks, Lagos - seat of the military government - and left it at the gates.

Although Fela did this song almost 30 years ago, some of the same people who were in government then are still in charge of affairs in Nigeria today.

But military rule ended with Mr Obasanjo's election in 1999 as Nigeria's first democratically elected president after about 15 years of unbroken military rule.

Mr Yar'Adua succeeded him in May.


Written: 1981

... Plenty, plenty water for Africa
Na so-so water in Africa
Water underground, water in the air
Na so-so water in Africa
Water for man to drink nko O [so what]

E-no dey e dey?

Plenty, plenty light for Africa
Na so-so energy for Africa
Na the big-big men dey get electric
If them no get electric dem go
If they no get electricity
Get plant O
Ordinary light for man nko O

E-no dey e dey?

Plenty, plenty food for Africa
Food under-ground,
Food on the ground
Na so-so plenty food for Africa
Ordinary food for man for chop [eat] nko O

E-no dey e dey?

House matter na different matter
Those wey dey for London dem
Those wey dey New York dem
They leave dey like kings
We wey dey for Africa
We dey live like servants

United Nations dem come
Get name for us
Dem go call us underdeveloped nation
We must be underdeveloped
To dey stay ten-ten in one room O
First and second dey

Dem go call us Third World
We must dey craze for head
To dey sleep inside dustbin
Dem go call us none-aligned nations
We must dey craze for head
To dey sleep under bridge O...

Then and now: When Fela composed Original Sufferhead in the 1980s, infrastructure and social services were in a very poor state in Nigeria.

Today, the situation is much worse despite increased earnings from oil.

Corruption and mismanagement remain serious challenges despite ongoing efforts to tackle them.

But many Nigerians believe that the country's return to democracy in 1999 has brought with it increased hope that things would ultimately change for the better.

With thanks to Wrasse Records for permission to reproduce Fela Kuti's lyrics.

Your memories: Fela Kuti
31 Jul 07 |  Have Your Say


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