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Underground System (1992)
Knitting Factory Records
Underground System (1992):
Underground System: Fela starts the song in Underground System by saying he had sang songs for great African men: Kwame Nkrumah, the first President of Ghana was for him the greatest of all. In the same breath, he had sang songs against African thieves: Olusegun Obasanjo, Nigerian President and M.K.O. Abiola; late chairman of ITT Middle East and Africa, are the biggest thieves. He went on to explain that many young folks in Africa today may not know about Kwame Nkrumah because of the diabolic conspiracy which consists in keeping Africans away from knowing who they should look up to as role models. For Fela, those who know or read about Nkrumah will agree that there are not many like him in the history of Africa, he was African personality personified. He worked throughout his adult life for black pride and African unity. Unfortunately, because of the Underground System they try to protect, whenever Africa finds a charismatic leader determined to change things on the continent, other stooges passing as leaders will conspire to destroy such a leader. Fela mentions how Nkrumah was destroyed by the Western powers who wanted to keep Africa latched to their colonial masters. Sekou Toure suffered the same fate. Ahmed Ben Bella, Patrice Lumumba, Modibo Keita, Gamel Abdu’Nasser, even Mandela—they didn’t want him to arrive as head of a free South Africa. Everywhere in the world, people look up to their role model for inspiration. Fela then brings us to the story of Thomas Sankara. Saying Africa, since the passing of the leaders mentioned above, had not seen a charismatic leader like Sankara. He was one of the few who were not afraid to speak the truth. Calling on other African heads of state to come together and unite, living a modest life compared to those who only preoccupation was to line their pockets with money stolen from their respective countries. Fela says that, despite the attempt by corrupt African leaders to protect their crimes in an Underground System, everything in the world is in turns: they can conspire to kill Sankara today, but can never kill the ideals he lived and was murdered for.
Pansa Pansa: Pansa Pansa was Fela’s most defiant statement to the Nigerian military rulers of his determination to champion the cause of Pan Africanism. Mid 1976, when Fela started to play this track live, musically he was at his zenith—extremely popular throughout Africa. Politically, his message was beginning to get across. Youths in Nigeria were beginning to identify with the Fela ideals and registering en-mass at the Africa Shrine headquarters of the new grassroots movement Fela had inaugurated and called: The Young African Pioneers. Economically, it was the peak of the oil boom. Oil was selling for a minimum of $700 US dollars a barrel. Nigeria never had it better, careering along on at least two million barrels of sulphur-low oil, pumped daily and sold on the world market. Fela has just signed a twelve album a year deal with DECCA Records. The record industry was booming—people were buying records. At government’s level, it was corruption galore including those in the highest echelon of government. Denunciations and criticism from Fela had brought him in open confrontation with the military rulers on previous occasions, some of which he had sang into songs: Alagbon Close! No Bread! Monkey Banana! Zombie! Go Slow! Kalakuta Show! The release of all these songs angered the military establishment in Nigeria and most times prompted attacks on Fela and Kalakuta republic residents. For Fela however, despite all the repression: “…as long as Africa is Suffering! No Freedom! No Justice! No Happiness!, They will never hear PANSA PANSA”(meaning they will hear more and more).
Confusion Break Bones (C.B.B.) (originally released on O.D.O.O. album): In Confusion Break Bones(C.B.B.), Fela mentions the earlier song he wrote titled ‘CONFUSION’ where he compared the present African situation (with particular reference to Nigeria), as an example of a crossroad in the centre of town with a permanent traffic jam — “..na confusion be that oh!”. Despite this graphic picture painted in “Confusion”, some people feel optimistic that one day the Nigerian situation will improve: ‘…Nigeria go better!’, Fela felt the contrary because he did not share their optimism, he did not see why a continent as rich as Africa, with all the natural resources, will have the majority of their population existing below the poverty: ‘how country go make money and people of the country no see money’. Continuing, Fela says: ‘…I see many wrong things for Nigeria!’, citing as an example of such wrongs, the acts of economic sabotage perpetrated by people in high places, only to punish the poor for the fallout of such wrongs. Government prohibits some articles, but such articles find their way into the market despite prohibition. However government agents; i.e.: the police, army, etc., seize such articles from the poor, whose livelihood depend on the little profit they make selling such articles. Fela asked in this song why destroy such article by burning? Why not give them out to people for free? Particularly since these articles are needed by the people and because of the disorganization that is government, people profit from smuggling the prohibited articles into the country. Singing about all these problems was no new news for Fela. He had done this all his professional life — putting everything at risk. He feels it is no news(old news) to talk about all the mismanagement of African lives by various administrations: ‘If I say! Road no dey? (that is old news). ‘…No Food for the people!’ (another old news), mismanagement? That is old news (‘na old news be that!’), stealing by authority?(another old news). Inflation! Corruption! all are not new. The only solution is to have the right government in power thinking in terms of African cultural values. That is the only government that can hold in the centre-creating a power base for all parts of the continent. Fela reminds us that if we allow power to break in the centre the result is what we see in our daily lives: corruption, armed robbery, police and army brutality, anarchy, etc. Fela concludes this song by reminding us that what passes as government in Africa today, is like the crossroad at Ojuelegba in the heart of Lagos, with no traffic light and no traffic warden ‘Na Confusion Break Bones!’. Another double wahala (double problem).
- Mabinuori Kayode Idowu
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