Everyone loves to associate with greatness. A popular saying goes, ‘success has many fathers, but failure is an orphan’. But in the case of Fela Anikulapo Kuti, success has way too many sons. It’s no news that Fela is one of the most revered icons in the history of Nigeria. Despite being gone for over two decades, his name is always mentioned whenever any discussion regarding legacy, artistic mastery, lasting impact and success in the music industry springs up. While alive, Fela used his art to transcend himself into something much bigger than just a musician. Something generations of talents will fail to equate.
Fela was so much more than just a musician. He was a multi-instrumentalist, a cultural icon, an activist, a staunch critic of unpopular governments and a traditionalist. It is therefore as a result of his achievements and lasting impact that he is immortalized and celebrated every year in what is known as Felabration- a week-long music festival well attended and graced by the biggest stars in the country.
Over time, many have sought to him for inspiration, sampled, reworked and interpolated his music, others have emulated several aspects of his lifestyle, all in a bid to tap into his greatness. Some have also started to see themselves as his successors. The ‘New Fela’ title has been thrown at acts who have adopted a likeness of the legend either in their lifestyle, subject matter or even the arrangements of their music. Sometimes, one could just be vocal about his criticism of the government or just show a little act of defiance against established authorities and the people in reaction will yell “Fela back”.
From Wizkid to Burna Boy, Falz and even most recently, Naira Marley, the ‘New Fela’ title has been donned on several artists at different periods, with fans and music lovers arguing for or against the legitimacy of such honour.
But let’s face it. No one is and will ever be the new Fela. The closest anyone can get is to be a wannabe. Fela’s shoes are almost too big to fill. Therefore, regardless of what you do or achieve, you can never be enough.
Even Fela’s sons are more focused on building their separate and independent legacies than being seen as the reincarnation of their father. Sure, the comparisons will come naturally given the fact that they are the children of a music legend. Despite the fact that Femi Kuti and Seun Kuti are both Afrobeat artists and have tried in many ways than one to keep their father’s legacy alive, they have also charted new courses for themselves. Unlike our contemporary pop acts who embrace the “New Fela” tag at every given opportunity, Seun and Femi have consciously avoided such comparisons so as not to be viewed in the shadow of their father.
In fact, Femi Kuti has boldly claimed that he doesn’t want to be his father. “Pity for you ni o. I’ve said it several times , I probably will have to repeat till I die, I don’t want to be my father. I??him, I honor him ,I respect him ,but I want to be me.I love bring Me Femi Anikulapo-Kuti. And I totally appreciate myself and my being.” he tweeted when he was attacked for not being as critical as his father.
In an interview on TVC, Seun Kuti called out that “I will not let people bastardise his legacy. Everybody who wants to smoke igbo, chase plenty girls… so for those reasons you’re Fela? No no no…”
Also, last year in an interview on Cool FM, Seun Kuti bluntly stated “…It is disrespectful to call yourself the ‘New Fela.’ We the kids are told that we can’t be our father and outsiders are trying to take that. No! You can’t go to Jamaica and hear people calling themselves the next Bob Marley. They wouldn’t disrespect him like that,“
In fact, Seun Kuti has found it infuriating that people are claiming themselves to be the New Fela without fully grasping what the icon stood for. These acts only align themselves to the aspect of Fela that they find appealing while going around to indulge in things that he stood against while alive.
“People will never understand you without going through the education you have tried to promote. Every Tom Dick And Ashy is the new Fela just because they want to smoke Igbo and chase women. How about the sacrifice? How about duty? They want to be Fela and at the same time be the darlings of all the oppressors. All these new Fela’s and those possessed by his spirit hobnobbing with white supremacists.
“They think u are great because rappers mention your name, they don’t know that rappers mention ur name so they can feel greatness. What do they know about sacrifice? What do they know about the trauma that first-hand violence has inflicted on our family? The blind leading the blind listening to the deaf speak! Happy 80th. The struggle intensifies!!!” He wrote on his Instagram also last year.
Trying to be Fela is an exercise in futility. One would just end up putting needless pressure on one’self. You can never be adequate. Trying to fill the gigantic shoes of the legend will not even get you a step further. You’d probably just end up with your face flat ground with others laughing at your misfortune. Be a better version of yourself. Let Fela rest in peace.