A 26 Year Reflection – Kalakuta REPUBLIC


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Fela ANIKULAPO KUTI

A hustler’s life!

“Kalakuta Republic” was where you could walk with your head upside down and nobody cared. Located in the heart of the bustling Idi oro/Agege motor road axis, 14 Agege Motor Road, Kalakuta Republic was the official residence of Fela ANIKULAPO KUTI, the Egypt ‘80 band members, Queens, dancers, family, and any human or city dweller in search of a space to hang out, lived free and perhaps, left later. The confrontations between Nigerian armed forces and the fearless residents of that barb-wired community made the Kalakuta lifestyle, intriguing and craving. For every reason, I wanted to live and die inside Kalakuta.

But who was the Chief Priest and President of a dare-devil nation, with massive followers that adored him?, Fela was a cult leader of sorts, the voice of Nigerians long cowed into fear, intimidation, silence and submission by our military rulers. He was our hero, beaten, bruised and battered, smeared in his own blood and left to die. We his disciples loved him because he encouraged us to disturb a rogue and corrupt system that didn’t care about our present then and didn’t give a damn about our existence as young Nigerians. He challenged the ruthless Military governments that disenfranchised and marginalized us; called us to be brave and fight the power: not zombies, suffering and smiling while the military leaders frittered away our lives. He reminded us that we are proud and beautiful black people… His weapons were his music, saxophone and microphone….

My adopted mother’s brother, Barbwire (as he was fondly called) flavored my tastes and craving for everything Fela and his enchanting “Republic”. Barbwire was a gifted guitarist, a frequent visitor and a part-time dweller of Kalakuta Republic. He was a “Kalakuta hustler”; peddling marijuana within the neighborhood of the “Republic”. Barb Wire or Babushege, as we chanted at him when we were high, would visit our Mafoluku, Oshodi home on weekends. During those visits, especially evenings when NEPA struck our electricity, we would sit outside the balcony of our face-me-I-face-you filthy yard, for fresh air and lessons on how to roll a fat weed joint. He also taught me picks on the acoustic guitar strings. I learned from him, the life of a hustler inside a proscribed Republic. He would return after weekends to Kalakuta for his daily hustles and musings.

My regular visits to hawker and hustler Barbwire at Kalakuta Republic introduced me to the free spirit lifestyles of people inspired by their leading voice and frontman, Fela Anikulapo Kuti…. Barbwire died years ago, alone, in our village, Onicha Ugbo.

WHEN THE PRISONER RETURNED

While Fela was in jail, I became a regular visitor to Femi’s flat in Bariga. I was comfortable with the family’s coziness and their extension of love and affection. Femi was also experimenting with new songs for his debut album then, MADNESS UNLIMITED. The absence of Fela meant that Femi would front his father’s band, the Egypt 80′ Band. So Femi was under pressure. He didn’t want to be in his father’s shadows. He wanted to stand alone, make his own music, be identified with his style of music, and not a continuity of Fela’s music. Fela was larger than life then and it was a huge responsibility to attempt to step on his feet prints: not even by his own son.

Most indigenous record companies were skeptical about signing a Fela’s protégée onto their record labels. Mallam Abdul Okwechime, Femi and I would, some weeks, leave Bariga, in the early mornings, visit record companies to market and seek record deals for Femi, the young heir apparent to the afrobeat music kingdom. Eventually, our friend, Wole Iyaniwura, the Media and Marketing Manager at PolyGram Records and his boss, signed Femi to PolygramRecords ( Later day Premier Music).

Mid-Sunday afternoons were exciting moments to visit Femi. A few hours after my arrival at their home in Bariga, some Sundays in the company of Abdul Okwechime, we would hail a Taxi cab to the Afrika Shrine for Sunday Jump. We bonded like blood brothers. We supported and protected Femi in those younger years as he struggled with being the Egypt 80 Frontman while Fela was incarcerated. So it was no surprise that Femi, in the early evening of 1986, drove to the Punch office, the day General Babangida’s administration announced the immediate release of Fela from prison, to confirm from me if truly Fela had been ordered released, 18 months after he was sentenced. Femi said he heard it on the FRCN (Federal Radio Corporation of Nigeria) 4 p.m. news. He was about to leave the Punch compound when I arrived, met him by the parking lot and confirmed the news: “Yes,” I told him. “Baba is coming home.”

The announcement that Fela was to be released immediately threw the nation into a celebratory hysteria and jubilation. A grateful nation was anticipating Fela’s arrival. It was a magnanimous festival for the return of the people’s voice. The next morning, a convoy of jubilant supporters, fans, and family led Fela into the humid late Lagos morning.

Babangida ordered Fela’s release when Newswatch exclusively reported that Justice Okoro Idogu, the head of the tribunal that tried and sentenced the afrobeat King to prison, secretly visited him in the Bornu prison and begged for forgiveness: an embarrassed and disgraced leadership had no choice but to release a man unjustly accused and sentenced. I rushed to Beko’s home where the first reception was to be held. Beko’s home was steaming with streaks of young Nigerians happy to receive their idol. The smell of fresh marijuana mingled with God’s fresh air. It was hard not to inhale the herb aroma circulating, that afternoon at Beko’s house… The celebration shifted to the Afrika shrine a few hours after. Afrika shrine was lively, a free weed festival with street people, city dwellers, fans, fanatics, and those deprived of their rights and stripped of their basic necessities of liberty by a brutish totalitarian military administration.

26 years after, May Your Soul Continue To Rest In Grace…
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