A theme cannot be as apt as the one for Felabration 2019 – From Lagos With Love. Coined from Fela Anikulapo-Kuti’s track, Eko Ile, which eulogises Lagos as the centre of love, the centre of memories of love.
In Eko Ile, Fela sings the praises of Lagos using its original Yoruba name. The songs itself is in his mother tongue and talks about a relationship as close as the one with one’s mother.
Ko ma sibi ti mo le f’ori le, ko si o, a f’Eko ile
(There’s nowhere I can lay my head, nowhere else, but Lagos home)
Bi mo ba rajo lo London o, ma tun pada s’eko ile
(If I travel to London, I will return to Lagos home)
Bi mo ba rajo lo New York o, ma tun pada s’eko ile
(If I travel to New York, I will return to Lagos home)
Eko o, Eko ile
(Lagos, Lagos, home)
“No writer, no musician, and no other artiste has packed that much pitch into the celebration of life of the city,” Odia Ofeimun, a former president of the Association of Nigeria Authors, said.
“When I think of Lagos, the only entrance into the concept is Fela’s music.”
Eko Ile is the most significant, and arguably, the most popular songs about the metro city till date. Other songs by the Abami Eda on his beloved city are Eko (an earlier version of Eko Ile), Monday Morning in Lagos, Confusion, and Go Slow.
Songs about love and romance characterised the highlife-jazz days of Koola Lobitos. The band, who’s rebirth was on May 4, 1965 in Lagos, lasted till 1969. During that period, its music earned rave reviews from devotees, critics, and other musicians. But that was where it ended because commercially, the band was a flop.
“We did not smile to the bank,” Benson Idonije, the band manager, said.
However, there was something mystical about Fela’s songs from that era.
“Almost defying categorisation, the music was dubbed ‘highlife-jazz, ‘jazz-highlife’, ‘highlife superimposed on jazz’, and all kinds of creatively artistic labels to depict its complex and intricate nature.
“Notwithstanding, melodies were well defined. Vocalisation was beautifully articulated. Rhythms were well configured. But what took pre-eminence was the body of the music in terms of instrumentation where harmonic progressions, solos of interminable choruses and riffs of the question-and-answer sessions overwhelmingly dominated.”
Listening to some of Fela Anikulapo-Kuti’s love songs over and over again is like reading the Song of Songs. It connects to the soul like the best of love music.
Ololufe Mi is one of such love songs. Composed during the band’s tour of Ghana in 1966, Fela’s proficiency as a trumpeter was in full display. Oje Okeji, the first bass guitarist in Nigeria, provided the bass line structured in line with the 12-bar blues format of jazz. The track is laced with a solid percussion to create an African blend. The song is perfect for couples trying to kiss and make up especially when one of the party (most likely the man) is caught (not necessarily in the act) with roving eyes full of intentions.
Ololufe mi, ti e ni mo fe
(My love, it is you I want)
Alayanfe mi, mi o se tiwon mo
(My darling, I am no longer with them)
Ololufe mi, ti e ni mo fe
(Mr love, it is you I want)
Wa fenu ko mi lenu
(Come and kiss me)
Wa fara ro mi lara o
(Come and cuddle me)
Alayanfe mi, iwo ni mo ri
(My darling, only you I see)
My Lady’s Frustration is an instrumental piece composed, performed, and recorded in the United States. It’s a tribute to Sandra Iszidore for the burden Fela and his band had placed on her and her resources without recompense. It’s a funky track that anticipates Afrobeat long before the release of Jeun Koku. In this song, James Brown meets Victor Olaiya as Fela was still finding a direction for his music. Before this track, Fela did not see dancing as a necessary element in his music. Dancing was introduced in 1969 through Dele Ohenhen when Koola Lobitos was preparing for its first American tour. It was with My Lady’s Frustration, upon the Africanisation of Fela’s music, that real dancing began.
Other songs in The ’69 Los Angeles Sessions album include Viva Nigeria, Obe, Ako, Witctcraft, Wayo, Lover, Funky Horn, Eko, and This is Sad.
My Lady’s Frustration stands out, though.
A journey of a thousand mile starts with one step. However, in Mo re’gberun Mile, Fela ‘walks’ five thousand miles to see a fair-complexioned lover. What a labour for love!
Yese, performed in the Yoruba language, is a song about ‘don’t do as I say’ found among lovebirds. One party tells the other to stop tickling her/him when, in actual fact, she/he wants the action to continue. Here, the language of the body speaks louder than words!
Oloruka chastises a man who snatched a lady betrothed to another man. Despite the reprimands, the usurper goes ahead to marry the lady. Not a good ending to a love story, you may say.
In Lagos Baby, Fela sings about women who are attracted to men’s pockets not their heart. “Who heart epp?” this present generation would say. Back then, it was done with stealth. In the song, Fela also yabs men who go after anything in skirt.
Mo ti gborokan talks about a man who was told that another man was after his wife. Instead of panicking, he’s confident that it can never happen and screams: Ko le she shee! Laiye yi o! (It’s not possible. Not in this world). Whether it is confidence built on trust or on magun, we are not told.
Abiara is another track which talks about trust, but this time between friends. Despite being told that his friend is having an affair with his wife, he dismisses it as mere rumour. Obviously not a man that believes ‘there’s no smoke without fire’.
Ako is Shakara Oloje’s elder sister! It talks about the challenges faced by a man in convincing a lady to date him. If you have heard Lagbaja’s Baby ta ni ko fe wa, who have heard Ako!
Lai se talks about a man who feels cheated after loosing his wife to another man, unjustly. To add salt to the already smarting injury, he is locked up. You can call it an anti-love song because it reeks with injustice. But tell that to the benefactor, though. It’s at your own peril especially if you are married.
Eko, like Eko Ile, also eulogises Lagos. This time, however, it calls the city the home of knowledge, the home of intelligence, and the best of the best.
From the title, it’s easy to know that My Baby Don’t Love is about a man moaning over unrequited love. “She makes me cry all day…I’m going to tell mama…!” Take heart, brother, we all have experienced it one way or the other.
Thoughts are not in synch is what Ironu ko papo is about. It paints the story of a man who is broke and worried yet he’s being disturbed for money and attention by (we are assuming), a woman. Who else, say a creditor, has such effrontery.
Ma Gbe Yen Wa (don’t bring that) is about a lady hell-bent on holding on to her virginity despite pressure from a man on a deflowering mission. She’s an obedient child who’s not ready to go against the advice of her parents. Iya mi ni ki n’ma ma se s’ogbo (my mother told me not to do it, do you hear me) …Baba mi ni ki n’ma ma se s’ogbo…is her anthem. A cacaphony of noise to Mr. Man.
Beautiful Dancer is a tribute to the dancers in Koola Lobitos. Fela sings, in Yoruba, about their beautiful legs, backside, and rhythmic dancing.
Erase that picture in your head.
Allow the music to connect to your soul. Not the brain.