misguided idolatry

just came back from vacation and realized that new england did not receive the memo that spring started days ago....well that is by the way.

while on vacation, a friend pointed me to idols west africa clips on youtube (since youtube, these days, seems to be my main source of free entertainment). these clips are most likely quite old (wikipedia says the show aired two years ago)....but as usual, I am late with everything. i apologize for those who have already laid this show to rest.

amongst these clips was one of a fela kuti imitator who shows up to audition in his undies (pants, tighty whities, briefs, what-have-you). i admit, i laughed hysterically at the clip....



however, i found the comments by judge dede mabiaku to be more than aggravating. about 50seconds into the clip, dede asks the contestant if he had ever seen fela on stage dressed similarly. the contestant answers yes - only to be rebutted by dede accusation that he, the contestant - is a liar. dede later goes on to express how the fela's memory is being insulted by this guy's penchant to appear before the camera in his underpants.

well, dede, apparently, you are not aware that imitation is the the best form of flattery. while dede feigns appreciation toward the legend that was fela, he forgets that fela "death is in his pocket"** kuti was known to dress similarly on stage.

many commenters on that youtube clip expressed their outrage at dede's denigration of the poor guy - outrage that is justifiable. but what i find more aggravating is dede's blatant ignorance of a man he claims to worship. a nigerian man dede's age, especially one judging a musical contest should be at least half-way competent enough to know that fela kuti was on different wavelength from the rest of the country in mannerisms, politics, and music. in fact when dede says that the contestant is on some wrong pills, i couldn't help but think of how dede would have responded if the contestant rolled up into the auditions smoking a marijuana joint in keeping with the fela imitation.

in a show about west african music, none of the judges knew fela kuti (or maybe they confused him with someone else - femi, perhaps?). and i have a feeling that alot of nigerians and lovers of nigerian music (me, included) are quick to idolize fela without really knowing what he was about. when people mention great african musicians, fela is one of the first to come to mind. to think otherwise would be blasphemy. in fact, when i was a bit younger, i was absolutely shocked when i found that my father, who's taste in music i respect, expressed his revulsion at fela kuti. initially i found this unforgiveable - but later realised that my dad's preference was an informed one. he did not care much for his politics and found his lifestyle undesirable.

this post is in no way meant to be a bash on fela kuti. rather, i personally wanted ask us why we respect the fela kutis of the world who have long passed on. i cant help but think that if such people lived amongst us today, they would most likely be shunned by many of the likes of dede and i. our idolatry is, at times, misguided.


**learned from a good source....(cough...atupa....cough) that anikulapo means death is in his pocket....most likely an allusion to his HIV/AIDS diagnosis

oh, in regards to the picture above...i do not endorse smoking of any kind - particularly of joints nearly as large as my arm...

13 comments:

  1. KG said...:

    Been waiting for you to post. Yay! How was spring break btw? Good?

    Now, as for this clip, I don't even know where to start.

    1. This Dede guy: Is he like literally on drugs? Cos he seems to be the one on some wrong pills. I know he's trying to be a Simon Cowell wannabe but please talk about misinformation??!! Fela was... uhm... like always in underpants!!! hello!! I have never seen a pic of him NOT in his briefs.

    2. Fela idolatry. I never really idolized him at all. I respect his talent especially with regards to his criticism of regimes and stuff. I have tons of his music now as evidence which I got off an uncle but most of which I've never listened to but that's a diff topic about my vast iTunes library.
    It was his lifestyle choices that put me off at a very young age. My parents always thought he was a crazy mofo anyway so he never got play in my house. The dude was special though. Briefs on stage? dang! That other clip with him in his green briefs and sagging too?? LOL...I laughed my head off.

    3. Misguided and uninformed idolatry: It's a national embarrassment that a man of Dede's age doesn't know the fundamental details of an 'icon' like Fela. I mean Dede must be like what? at least mid-forties or sumn or even older and he doesn't know basic details like that? Just downright terrible. Like you said, just goes to show how quickly we are to idolize national 'icons' w/out really having a full knowledge. We suffer from cultural illiteracy.

    4. If such icons lived in this day and age: Nah, I don't think he'll be shunned. If there's room for the Palins and Ahmadinejad's of this world, the Fela's will def have their own special place too ;-)

    p.s. Omo Oba (Atupa) is def right about that translation. I did a double take and wanted to dispute it but yeah it's true...lol. The official translation (acc. to Wiki apparently) is 'he who carries death in his pouch'. Must have thought he was above death.

  1. Afolabi said...:

    Lol...Hmmn, I have asked myself that question too. I mean when you listen to some of his lyrics, you can easily dismiss them as being utterly stupid. Some videos of him staggering around the stage and in underpants don't help either in portraying him as someone, intelligent or remarkable, to be idolized. Even his own brand of pan-africanism, marrying so many wives and painting their faces in those garrish colours, dressing shirtless and speaking with that ascent of his, is not something that I or many other people would do. And as you mentioned, if he lived among us today, people would be repulsed by him.

    But that is the point, that is why I am intrigued by him. His nonconformity and immersion in his own beliefs and cause. His deviation from the hypocritical conservatism of Nigeria then, which still exists now, and his pointing out of this. His lyrics are not smart, but they heavily critique society. When he sings about Nigerians fearing too much about death, about their houses and property, he is making a point about how we can be reactionary, and not seek for change, revolution (something like that).

    And I don't idolize him because he's a great man with principles that I'll like to live by. But because he stood and was something entirely different from so many people (which we lack in Nigeria;Avant garde people seeking and questioning the status quo).

  1. nneoma said...:

    @KG - spring break was GREAT!!! the funny thing is when i looked up dede online, i found that he used to actually open for some Fela performances. the apprentice wasn't well tutored. i agree with you on the cultural illiteracy part - i personally feel like such an illiterate when it comes to such things.

    @afolabi - "But that is the point, that is why I am intrigued by him. His nonconformity and immersion in his own beliefs and cause. His deviation from the hypocritical conservatism of Nigeria then, which still exists now, and his pointing out of this."

    i share your sentiments on this one. when his eccentricities are viewed in the light of his message, one cant help but be inspired buck the status quo for the sake of a belief or message.

  1. SOLOMONSYDELLE said...:

    what I can't get over is the judge's denigrating and rude dismissal of the young man. Those of us who know know that fela would go on stage with just his kpata. The guy did not care. That is why he married all the women at the Shrine, well that move was also for political reasons as well, but that is a story for another day.

    The judge's attitude was one where he couldn't believe his authority was being challenged by a young 'boy'. That is an attitude that destroys Nigeria because far too often, those that are older do not allow young people to speak simply because they are younger. And in this case, the young contestant was right.

    I couldn't watch this till the end, but I hope that the contestant does not allow this incident to affect him terribly.

  1. Chari said...:

    very beautifully written if you ask me....very simply ehn I think he just took that mimicry very personal as a big slap to the west africn music icon...

  1. Omo Oba said...:

    Ahan, KG, he was not always in his underpanties aba...he also wore those 60's panties albeit without a shirt on.

    I am so done arguing about Dede Mabiaku! I just hates his guts! thinkin he can blow fonne (phonetics) for us! mcheww!

    Ok so I cannot not write my thots: It is one thing for you to chastize someone but it is another thing for you to treat them subhumanly. This substandard treatment of people delegated to us, or younger, is a major major problem we have in Nigeria where workers are treated by their ogas/madams like they were a mere piece of cloth.

    But even more alarmingly is that Dede taboo-ed Fela. He lied about Fela. Shame to you Dede, shammmmme (putting my fingers to my lips), shammme!

    Pyoo wata, are u serious that Mr. Mabiaku actually used to open stage for Fela? Dede must either be having a bad case of selective memory or be in some serious denial!

  1. Jaycee said...:

    LOLLLLLL. I am laughing because I saw that clip a year ago and was cracking up real badly!

    And yeah, I totally agree with you that the Dede dude apparently did not know what he was talking about. Actually, I thought the contestant deserved a little bit of a crazy remark...but Dede was actually rude.

  1. Jaycee said...:

    I liked (and still like) Fela for one thing: His passion.

    Does not mean we should have a misguided knowledge about icons such as himself...and much more importantly, does not mean we should IDOLIZE him.

    (Just wanted to add that I liked him, and I dare say that his critiques of the Nigerian society were very bold and some were indisputable).

  1. Doja said...:

    Was very uncomfortable to watch, I thought Mabiaku was rude, I think there were more than a few times when Fela was dressed like that guy.

  1. Artsville said...:

    Practically everyone hated Dede on that show but did fela dress like that in public? I watched that particular episode and Dede insisted that Fela only dressed that way in his home, never for a performance. I'm indifferent really, but I think Dede would know as all he sings are Fela's songs and was with Fela for years.

  1. That guy in the above is so funny, I watched him once in 2004 at kuramo beach...

  1. CeeCee said...:

    ( I still think Dede, the fake and extreme Simon cowell wannabe should be kicked of the show and also make a public apology to that contestant).

    I was one of those 'youtube commenters' and since i wasn't tired of the topic, I did a google search and found this blog, I was really dissapinted in Dede'e degradation of the contestant. He acted very unprofessionally and it was all unwarranted because the crux of the matter was false. Fela DID PERFORM IN HIS UNDERPANTS!! His rebuttal of saying he did that only at home, same difference! home or public as long as he was in front of a camera and an audience it was all public. and even if it wasn't. Someone that has been chosen to be a judge at such an event should have more decorum than that and not let flimsy misguided sentiments get in the way of doing his job!