Small Object of Desire #50 – Fela Forever!

These facsimile images of Fela Kuti by Musa Omusi and 88 Factor are just about the coolest of him I’ve come across in a long time. Right? 

My background is Ghanaian but I grew for a while in Nigeria during the late 70s. I was in the country when the Nigerian army raided Fela’s home, Kalakuta Republic in Lagos. His mother, 78 at the time of the attack, was thrown from a second-story window. A month later she died of complications from her injuries. 

I say I was in the country. Actually, I was living with my grandma at the time and her house was about a 3 minute drive from Kalakuta Republic. It was in that same house that a couple of years before the raid, my 17 year old cousin Paragon (that really was his name! Don’t you just love it? He’s a university lecturer now) first introduced me to the music of Fela. It was the first time that I had any inkling that popular music could have a purpose other than to make you want to dance. It could be the most incendiary of protests too. And it’s safe to say that Fela went a lot further in pointing the finger than Bob Dylan, Bob Marley or Billy Bragg ever did. 

I was driven past Kalakuta twice a day on my way to and from school. It was 1977. The army burned Kalakuta to the ground, blocking firefighters who tried to fight the blaze. Afterwards, an official police report labelled the violence the work of “unknown soldiers.”

Fela’s response was to place a coffin on what was left of the balcony with a banner that read: “This is where justice was murdered.”

That coffin sat on that balcony for about 3 weeks. For many years afterwards, I wondered if the coffin contained the body of his mother. Unlikely, he loved his mother too much but that image from my childhood is seared into my memory forevermore. It’s no exaggeration to say that was one of the defining incidents of my life. 

6 facts about Fela Kuti:

1. He was a rebel, a spiritualist, pan-African revolutionary and a prodigious dope smoker and polygamist.

2. He called himself ‘Abami Edo’, meaning the strange one, the weird one.

3. He was christened Fela Ransome Kuti but he dropped the Ransome part of his name saying ‘Do I look like an Englishman?’ and changed it to Anikulapo meaning ‘one who carries death in the pouch’. 

4. His mother, Funmilayo, a political activist and feminist, was the first woman in Nigeria to drive a car and the recipient of a Lenin Peace Prize who travelled to Russia and China and met Chairman Mao.

5. He fused Yoruba rhythms, Ghanaian Highlife, jazz, pidgin English and funk to create Afrobeat.

6. An estimated 1 million people turned up on the day of his funeral in 1997.

 

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Small Object of Desire #48 – Wondrous World

An alternative title would be All Human Life is Here. In its natural and manmade form. 

Let’s be clear. These objects are generally, far from small. And I didn’t know they existed until I saw these photographs of them so I didn’t know they could be objects of desire. But now that I have…

1. Twice a year in the Gulf of Mexico, stingrays migrate. About 10,000 swim from the Yucatan Peninsula to Florida in the spring and back in the fall.

2. Morning Glory cloud formations in the Gulf of Carpentaria in northern Australia.

 

3. Gibraltar Airport is one of the most extraordinary airports in the world. It must work a bit like a railway crossing. I’d imagine that it could get very inconvenient, especially if you’re in a hurry!

 

4. The border between Belgium and the Netherlands. In a cafe. 

6. The longest sea bridge in the world, 36km across the Gulf of Jiaozhou in the Chinese province of Shandong.

7. This lake looks very shallow, right? In fact, it’s actually a very deep lake in northwestern Montana, USA with water so transparent it creates this trompe l’oeil effect. 

8. Morning Glory cloud formations in the Gulf of Carpentaria, northern Australia.

9. This is the view from the skyscraper BurjKhalifa in Dubai. It’s a dizzying 828 metres up into the air, 163 floors. 

And this is the vertiginous view straight down…

10. This is Danxia landform in  Zhangye, Province of Gansu, China. The color is the result of an accumulation red sandstone and other rocks over millions of years.