Fela Kuti

Underground System

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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 withDECCA 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).

- Mabinuori Kayode Idowu
1 Underground System
1 Pansa Pansa