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“Beasts of No Nation, egbe kegbe  na bad society, beast of no nation oturu gbeke…..”

 

For some reason I had heard nothing about this Netflix event that everyone had apparently been waiting on; the film  premiere of ” Beast of No Nation” directed by Cary Joji Fukunaga.

Naturally, my face flushed with expectation the minute I read the title: Beasts Of No Nation (BONN).I felt that familiar warmth which happens to my brain whenever I speak about, dance or listen to the music of  the great Fela Anikulapo Kuti. Had Netflix  outsmarted the competition completely and decided to launch its first movie about one of the greatest musicians of my generation?   These guys got game for real!

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And It all made perfect sense.The launch of  Fukunaga`s Beasts Of No Nation was slated for the 16th of October. October is Felabaration month. Now in its 18th year, Felabaration  is a yearly music festival at the  new African Shrine in Lagos which brings Fela apostles and  lovers of Afrobeat  together in an intensely spiritual celebration  of a musical maesro and a deeply concious human being.

World Music - Fela Kuti - Lagos - #uj_0114

If Netflix was sharp enough to ride the Fela wave, kudos to them. I was thrilled to be a witness to see how a director might tell both the human and the socio-political stories which Fela vocalised in his political lyrics. Stories of lives in a  society struggling to shape its identity amid corrupt public officials, insane corruption and  a global hierarchy which was only concerned with its own survival.

Alas, as I read teasers and watched the trailer for Joji  Fukunaga`s Beasts of No Nation, a forced acceptance dawned on me and  the applause began to dim.

BONN it is, only in title.
No Fela. No Egypt 80.
No dancers of beautiful vibrant ebony.
No Pepple street.
No lanterns on wooden tables selling many things  for the head.
No Reagan.
No Thatcher.
Not even a Botha lookalike!

So second base jare.
In BONN like most of his songs,  Fela was in a state of direct protest; making a mockery of failed governments and political leaders both within Nigeria and internationally  who were  not just corrupt but cruel and completely oblivious to the suffering of their people.

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One such leader  was  P.W. Botha – president of South Africa who in 1986 was famously quoted as saying, “This uprising will bring out the beast in us”, in reference to the U.S  introduction of  the Comprehensive Anti-Apartheid Act.

Fela was fearless. As many nations across the world pretended that aparthied was acceptable, Fela  wanted his voice to ring out clearly at the continued cruelty of  Botha`s brutish and arrogant reaffirmation  that the apartheid system would continue unchanged.

In BONN Fela says:
MANY LEADERS AS YOU SEE DEM
NA DIFFERENT DISGUISE DEM DEY-OH
ANIMALS IN HUMAN SKIN
ANIMAL-I PUT-U TIE-OH
ANIMAL-I WEAR AGBADA
ANIMAL-I PUT-U SUIT-U
 

These words continue to unpeel the layers of  the “beast” , espousing the inhuman attributes of  many leaders who simply are deaf to the voices of the people they govern. He develops  the metaphor  further suggesting  that there are many  leaders who look human on the outside in their suits and fancy  clothes but lack the compassion which qualifies them as human. With their nations in chaos and dissary, these leaders disguised as humans are  really beasts of no nation consumed with an overwhelming sense of their own importance and  a distinct lack of sensitivity and disregard for anyone or anything else. 

Growing up in Nigeria,  listening to these songs was instrumental.  Watching Fela perform live at the Kalakuta Republic at Pepple street was an experience to be repeated over and over again.  It was a deep sizzle of  intensly stirring  rhythms, politically charged lyrics,  an ambiance created by an unleashing of all inhibitions and a journey  somewhere quite extraordinary. Fela inspired me to think outside the box. He inspired me to understand that the process of political agitation to challenge injustice and raise issues of social change in society is a responsibility for every citizen.

Watching his travails and his cruel mistreatment at the hands of  government allowed me to understand that not all of us can be brave and openly fearless in challenging  the wrongs in society. However,  to those who do so at great risk, the rest of us must graciously acknowledge and give revered respect where it is due.

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I remember cutting everything I could find in the newspapers when Fela passed on. And I can safely say the streets of Lagos have not seen such an outpouring of respect  and grief in such numbers for any man dead or alive since then.

Warts and all, Fela was human, a poet whose lyrics even now continue that metaphoric resonance. 26 years after these words were first written, they seem almost prophetic as we watch on a grand stage the tragic consequences of having leaders who are beasts of no nation. 

The beauty of Fela for me is in the freshness of his message, the genius of his music and the truth which he refused to be quiet about. As I sing along to BONN and stomp my whole body in response,  I am still moved to action- no jonesing here-exactly as Fela would have wanted his audience to be.

Despite the soothing green spaces, the powdery blue sky and the softly lit horizon,  I was completely unprepared for the flood of conviction which took shape in my mind.

Eking  out a living in Nigeria requires far more mental  and physical stamina than any other place I have had the opportunity to experience first hand. As I observe the world outside slowly merge with mine,  faces blur into a mist of life and the scope of  human enterprise is both energizing and challenging.

I am warmed by the ready smiles of the  roadside  hawkers, eager to sell their freshly farmed produce of corn, yams, tomatoes, peppers, garri, palm oil, plantain and a myriad of organically grown vegetables.

JAKES WEDDING 1979

 

The visual collage intensifies vividly as we pass through the iconic city of Ibadan; famously described by John Pepper Clark as: “scattered among seven hills like broken china in the sun”. In this metropolis of over 3 million Nigerians,  Ibadan is teeming with wide parades of people  seemingly on the move-engaged in an endless number of human activity.

All around me, in mobile stalls balanced on their heads, young boys, girls, men and women  have most of what you might need  on a hot humid afternoon and commuters stop here and there to stock up.

Lone bystanders look on intently, buried in their own universe of things to do and places to get to ; waiting for the next bus or vehicle to carry them along to someplace else;  moving or standing, humanity here is indeed in motion- man go chop-the hustle moves on.

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Despite  what for many  might seem like difficult odds and uncertain times, like anywhere else in the world, ordinary Nigerians continue to see to their established routines of work, family and enterprise.

Isn`t it  these immediate experiences and the  relentless energy to keep it moving which gives individual lives meaning and adds value to everyday stories?

 

 

 

It’s 5.20am. It’s humid, warm, my back aches and I need the loo but the line for ” Nigerians” stretches about a mile.

Yes, I’m at MMA waiting to be ushered through immigration.
Maybe it’s just my luck, but having a Green passport and being in the queue for Nigerians seems to be my undoing right this minute.
However, quite delightfully, the air conditioning is blowing some seriously cool air and yet again,
I am reminded of how this is indeed a country of many, most striking contradictions.

But I have to ask.

Why do we as Nigerians in Nigerian always seem to get shoved the short end of the stick especially in our own dear country?
Why for crying out loud must our line be the slowest, most tedious one?

I try not to scowl too hard as I watch ” non Nigerian” passport holders breeze through with relieved smiles.
They were much closer home than I certainly was, standing still in a line as long as the eye can see.

Something else is amiss.

If getting the 177 from Thamesmead to Peckham on a good day is anything to go by, Nigerians are usually an animated bunch.

Indeed , you might even risk a rebuke and say Nigerians can be just plain loud. But you would`nt think it standing here looking at the many tired, strained faces.

I can`t help but notice the many elderly men and women, half bent over, desperately in need of a seat anywhere if only for a minute.
And the young children running amok, temporarily abandoned by their bedraggled mums and dads.

It strikes me as decidedly odd that that there is not a word of protest …from anyone.

Maybe it’s the time of the day, maybe it’s just not worth the effort of having a moan anymore. I can tell you though that the line is suspiciously quiet for a whole line of Nigerians.
I mean I hear more animated retorts in Yoruba and Igbo on the 53 bus from Woolwich to Westminister.

What “gwan”? I ask incredulously.

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