Yuletide and the stars of a twisted firmament


by Louis Odion

The medley of pulsating melodies, riding the tranquilizing breeze from the ocean, had soaked up the swanky ambience at the emerging Eko Atlantic City tonight until the youthful Darey Art Alade took over the band-stand.

The celebrant, General T. Y. Danjuma and his wife, Daisy, were on the dance-floor of lush velvet, cheered on by a sizable number of the nation’s aristocracy gathered to celebrate the 80th birthday of unquestionably one of Nigeria’s surviving military icons.

As transmitted by Channels Television to millions of viewers at home and the diaspora via satellite, musician Darey Alade chose to stir the revelry up further with a number outside his regular hip-hop staple, “Lady” by Afrobeat icon, Fela Kuti.

With T. Y. now bobbing softly to the ability – well, maybe to the intensity dignifying – of an octogenarian, and dazzling Daisy shuffling regally to the admiration of guests, those ordinarily given to the sybaritic among beholders must have hankered for more.

But certainly not those capable of precise interpretation of political semiotics. They definitely would not have found that Darey’s choice of song amusing at all. Was it to taunt? Or was it to tantalize the new octogenarian? The fundamentalists among them may, in fact, likely feel violated.

Those familiar with the verses of Nigeria’s difficult history of the 1970s under martial rule would certainly find it hard to believe if told that, at the start of  “Lady” that night, the ancient gladiator from Taraba himself did not momentarily feel haunted by Fela’s svelte apparition.

Flowing Agbada would conceal a lot. So, we might have been denied the opportunity of ogling the involuntary buckling of the knees or the twitch of the vein in the temple of a suddenly nervous General.

Danjuma was head of the army in 1977 when Fela suffered perhaps the worst brutality in his career of protest music. His then current fast-tempo song, “Zombie,” thought to mock soldiers, bred deep animus in the barracks. He earlier peppered them with “Sorrow, Tears and Blood” with the punchline:

“My people sef dey fear too much, we fear for things we no see, we fear the air around us, we fear to fight for justice, we fear to fight for happiness, so policeman go slap your face you no talk, army man go whip your yanch you go look like donkey.”

So, a little traffic offense committed by a member of Fela’s entourage offered a perfect excuse for the full weight of the Nigerian Army to be visited on Fela’s “Kalakuta Republic,” with the enactment of mayhem and terror lasting several hours involving troops from nearby Abalti barracks in Lagos.

Never in living memory had the full armada of the Nigerian army been ranged against a single individual, entirely choking the Moshalashi neighborhood where he was holed up.

Fela never truly recovered from that brutal punishment.

Following the national uproar that greeted the atrocity, the army under Danjuma’s command cynically feigned ignorance, famously blaming “Unknown Soldiers.” That affair has since sneaked into Nigeria’s political folklore and today remains an enduring puzzle with the victims unhealed and the masterminds unchastized.

Only stark political illiterates – those ignorant of history or contemptuous of its sensibilities  – could have found themselves committing that sort of indiscretion by Dare, otherwise a remarkable R & B singer with an enchanting voice. Invoking Fela’s name at a T.Y. gathering or echoing his baritone at his feasting is a big taboo indeed. More like the abominable incongruity of a serpent in a well.

What makes Dare’s gaffe even more striking is that he is the scion of Highlife music impresario, Modupe Art Alade, who bestrode the nation’s entertainment landscape in the 70s and the 80s. A period that coincided with Fela’s own momentous moments in history.

Well, Darey could be pardoned, for he most likely was oblivious of the dangerous territory into which he was trespassing. Such naivety is only reflective of the sort of diet he and a great many other contemporary pop stars were weaned. Perhaps, the easy explanation for this would be the thoughtless official policy which, at the dawn of 21st century and a new millennium, abrogated the teaching of history in our schools. But without understanding the past, how are the kids supposed to develop a sense of good or bad, differentiate heroes from villains?

The education curriculum, since unleashed, only appears to be succeeding in churning out a new generation without a social conscience and whose grasp of otherwise critical social issues is, at best, shallow. Their sense of discernment is abysmal. To them, taking more than a passing interest in the nation’s ongoing political engagement is to be prudish.

So, more and more, the country is confronted by a generation of millennials with sparse knowledge of national history but are prodigious experts in, say, the art and science of European league, with near encyclopedic memory of all the gossips involving soccer celebs of a foreign land.

But their loquacity soon grows dumb when the conversation switches to the local league. Such vacuity will also be seen in the new pop music culture that tends to expressly valorize cant; this manic obsession with opioids, booze, bums and boobs. We not only hear it in Davido’s explicit songs but also see it in his anarchic lifestyle preference. Our eardrums are constantly assaulted with the rants of “30 billion for account o.”  Recently, we saw how three of his hangers-on died in rapid succession of substance abuse.

Why we should worry more is because celebrity confers huge powers. The grievous impact on the young ones with impressionable minds who look up to these pop stars as role models could, therefore, only be imagined.

Davido’s contemporary, Burma Boy (Damini Ogulu), is not to be envied this Yuletide season. If Darey invoked Fela before a wrong audience, the grandson of music aficionado, Benson Idonije, once contemplated the Afrobeat immortal in wrong costume. He had caused a stir by appearing  at a memorial concert for Fela in Lagos in white pants. Though “Abami Eda” was famed for granting press interview in his lair in his briefs, not a few however considered Burma Boy’s stunt offensive to Fela’s cherished memory.

Sadly, the usually exuberant lad would spend last weekend in a dingy cell in Lagos in company of hardened criminals captured by SARS after weeks of playing hide-and-seek over alleged armed robbery. It is obviously a humbling experience for the dancehall star popular for his “Run My Race” song. Now, he surely needs more than stamina to finish the ongoing “race” with the law.

While the young man is presumed innocent for now, however, the nature of crime he is accused of is a pointer to the sort of tumultuous life he seems to live.

A fellow singer (or maybe a rival), Mr. 2Kay, was mobbed after a show at Eko Hotel and lost valuables said to be worth several millions. Claiming to have been openly threatened that night by Burma Boy shortly before the attack, the victim easily pointed finger at him as the mastermind. He only secured bail on Monday while the trial continues.

This can hardly be good news for our entertainment industry.

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