He be say you be colonial man
You don be slave man before
They don release you now
But you never release yourself
-Fela Anikulapo Kuti
(Allow an average of 2-3 weeks for the arrival
of prints. Giclee prints are special-ordered and will take around
buy page for more information on purchasing. )
13 x 19" inch print on watercolor
Archival Giclee Print,
Fight to Finish
Fela Kuti: Soul Rebels series
Acrylic, oils, collage, cowry shells on Masonite
76 " x 19"
Fela Kuti is the epitome of a musician who fused his art with political
struggle. Born in 1938 in Nigeria to Yoruba parents, his mother Funmilayo
was a leading figure in the nationalist struggle and his father was a
protestant minister. As a musician, Fela spent the 50's playing in highlife
bands and evolved a form of a music which he called "highlife jazz".
By 1968 he was promoting a new musical form of his creation, "Afro-beat".
His rebel nature as a musician kept him from entering the American mainstream
market. For one, once he recorded a song, he wouldn't play it live again.
In addition, some of his songs are up to 30 minutes long, something commercial
radio stations don't want to deal with. However he didn't seek fame in
the US market. He instead reaped more benefits from his exposure to jazz,
funk and soul music and to the Black Liberation struggle in the US (and
the Diaspora) and its organizations such as the Black Panther Party. After
touring the US, he returned home to continue his Afrobeat music which
infused the horns of jazz with West African percussion, layered with political
lyrics. Virtually all of his songs spoke out against colonialism in West
Africa. Having sung in a pidgin of English and Yoruba, he was able to
gain a wider audience, taking his anti-imperialist message across many
of the colonies and former colonies of West Africa where the English language
had been imposed.
Fela took advantage of every opportunity to push a pan-Africanist ideology
and reject Westernization. Although his father was a protestant minister,
he followed his traditional Yoruba faith. In his nightclub, The Shrine,
he would pause during his performance each night to offer a ceremonial
tribute to the Yoruba orishas and to the eggun or warrior ancestors from
throughout the African Diaspora. Perhaps his most infamous act of resistance
against the imposing western culture was when he married 27 women in a
single ceremony. His Kalakuta Republic was essentially a communal autonomous
zone where he lived with his wives, dancers, musicians and others. On
show nights, over a thousand people would pack The Shrine. There, audiences
would receive literature about the latest government injustices and Fela's
newest songs would communicate messages of solidarity and resistance.
In addition, they would partake in a celebration of West African music,
dance, culture and spirituality. In 1979, Fela formalized his stance against
oppression by creating his own political party, Movement of the People
(MOP). The military regime of Nigeria was not too pleased with Fela's
work and influence on the people. When it regained control in 1983, he
was arrested as he had been several times throughout his career. In one
particular raid on Fela's Kalakuta Republic, 1,000 soldiers pillaged the
commune, raping his wives and supporters, and even throwing his mother
from a second story window. His mother died as a result of those injuries.
Despite such political repression, Fela continued his work until his death
in 1997. He recorded an amazing 50 or so albums during his career.
Symbolism in the Painting:
The painting's title "Fight to Finish" is taken from a Fela
song of the same name. Towards the end of this song, Fela is singing to
the orisha Eshu, the guardian of paths and opener of doors. This same
orisha, Eshu or Eleggua grants permission before all Yoruba spiritual
ceremonies throughout the Diaspora, like in Santeria and Candomble in
Cuba and Brazil respectively. At the start of the Soul Rebels project
I had my list of artists but had not yet settled on the concepts for each
portrait. This is the one that came to me first. Only after fully completing
the Fela portrait did I begin all the others. The Eshu reference in this
painting is at the very bottom of the piece where the colors fade to black.
On either side there are clusters of 3 cowry shells. Eleggua's colors
are red, black and white and his number is three. By incorporating these
at the very bottom of the piece, Eshu, opens up the rest of the composition
as a tribute to Fela as a powerful ancestor and to the orisha Shango.
Shango, the orisha or thunder and fire, fourth king of the Yoruba city
of Oyo, dominates the color scheme of this piece. Represented by the color
red and the number four, there are four clusters of four cowry shells
in the center of the composition, above Fela's head. Also above his head
is a Yoruba wooden sculpture, a figure with a double-edged ax on his head,
associated with Shango. Above that is the name Anikulapo "He who
has death in his pouch" in Yoruba. This is the name that Fela chose
for himself. It speaks to immortality and transcendence and is very fitting
considering the number of times he had escaped death from violent beatings
that Fela survived at the hands of the Nigerian military police. The Yoruba
believe that one's fate and soul reside within the head. Within the head
is the orisha Ori, our individual souls who travel to the material world
in our bodies with a predetermined mission. When one receives a name,
that name is thought to be placed on your head, as a crown. Just as in
Santeria, initiates have their orisha "crowned" on their heads.
In this sense, it is fitting that the center of interest be the area around
his head. Here is where the sculptured figure appears, the ornamentation
of the cowries and most importantly, Fela's name "Anikulapo".
In addition, at the very top of the composition are the faces of four
of his wives, another reference to Shango who is associated with masculinity
or even macho-ness. Over Fela's heart is an image of his mother, who died
from injuries suffered during one of the military raids on Kalakuta Republic.
For more information on Fela visit www.felaproject.net
For a flashback at Fela life's and the power of his music see Bill T.
Jones' phenomenal producation Fela, now on Broadway. www.felaonbroadway.com