I really liked Fela and his personality… despite all of his wives!
Life with Fela Kuti, the master of Afrobeat, wasn’t easy. How could it be in the communal compound of the Kalakuta Republic? Many of Fela’s actions bear the mark of a personality capable of taking to the extreme thoughts as well as actions that for better or worse have a radical effect on the lives of all those that at some point followed Fela. In 1978 Fela married 27 of his dancers in a ceremony to mark the anniversary of the assault on the Kalakuta Republic by the Nigerian Army. On February 18, 1977 the compound burned to the ground. Before that Fela had released Zombie, a virulent attack on Nigerian military and government. Foreseeing the actions of the soldiers Fela sings: ‘Zombie no go walk unless you tell am to walk’. It is believed that Zombie sparked off the assault. Fela said that by marring his dancers he was making them respectable. Big-mouth Fela? Fela was no angel, but it is some truth in Fela’s argument, since for those ‘respectable’ men of the Nigerian elite the women of the Kalakuta Republic were nothing less than prostitutes.
Coming now to the point we are often told that Afrobeat is a men’s world. Well, it was for the most part Fela’s world, and Tony Allen’s beat. But time has come for women to take over. Sia Tolno always wanted to seize the Afrobeat, ‘an expression of anger music’, she said. It is not just indignation, which is expressed through the beat. The beat is the very sign of a collective struggle to regain what has been expropriated. And Sia Tolno has seized the Afrobeat indeed. Born in Guinea Sia is a Kissi; it means she belongs to an ethnic group divided into three different States thanks to the well wishes of colonial Europe. She looks at Africa and speaks to Africa full of critical consciousness by denouncing machismo, police corruption, the warlords, and by advocating women’s place in today’s Africa.
Behind her Afrobeat masterpiece African Woman is the tireless Tony Allen. ‘This afrobeat fits me like a glove’, Sia said in an interview, ‘and I’m happy to have found what I was looking for. So the next one will be afrobeat again, but I’ll improve it.’