Etching of Fela by the Chicago Tribune in 1977
An instrumental cover of Fela Kuti’s “Alu “Jon Jonki Jon” by Michael Leonhart Orchestra evokes an old Yoruban fable and confirms the enduring appeal of Fela’s music.
The lyrics to the track “Alu Jon Jonki Jon” from the 1973 album Afrodisiac by Fela Kuti were derived from an old Yoruban folktale. The fable was about how during a famine in the animal kingdom, all the animals killed their mothers for food except the dog who hid his mother in heaven, that is “Aja gbe ti e, o d’orun”.
The lyrics earned Fela one of the many aliases with which he was bestowed by his fans, this one, “Omo Iya Aje” (“Child of a Witch”), went together with “Chief Priest”, “Black President”, “Abami Eda” (“Strange One”) and others.
Fela (1938-1997) was, along with drummer Tony Oladipo Allen, the inventor of the syncretic genre of music called “Afro-Beat”. His influence on other Nigeria, West African and African musicians of the 1970s was palpable and he attracted the attention and admiration of rock musicians such as Ginger Baker who opened a studio in Lagos and recorded music with Fela. Paul McCartney was reportedly moved to tears by the power of his music and many years later could play note-for-note a tune he heard Fela perform during his visit to Nigeria in 1973 to record his album Band on the Run. The song was “Why Black Man De Suffer”.
Today, Fela’s genre of music is not only continued by the still active Tony Allen and Fela’s sons Seun and Femi, but by groups from all over the world such as Antibalas, New Ben, Chopteeth Afro-Funk Band, and Albinoid Afro-Beat Orchestra.
Abami Eda lives!
© Adeyinka Makinde (2019)
Adeyinka Makinde is a writer based in London, England.