Titled Africa Musical Genius, the discussion was presented by University of South Africa professor Kgomotso Masemola.
The lecture was based on the book Fela: This Bitch of a Life – A biography (2016) by Carlos Moore, which portrays the artist as a man who experienced the double-sides of epochs and historical events such as slavery, capitalism, communism, the Biafra wars, post-colonial dictatorship and Christianity. Originally published in French and English in 1982, the book is a study of contrasts and a catalogue of human experience.
“The biography itself provides an alternative form of history, it’s a form that defies any kind of paradigm,” Masemola said. “One can read a lot of history from this book hence the purpose of the lecture is to further deepen an understanding of Fela Kuti beyond his music.
”He had a different sense of history, that’s the kind of conscious that he had. He had a theological understanding of history and that is drawn from his background.“
Speaking to Music In Africa, Masemola said the book is centred on Fela and his understanding of history. ”Sometimes people would like to hear your songs, but Fela was simply talking about gender relations, the Biafra movement in Nigeria led by the Igbos and many other general topics.“
Commenting on the impact of Fela’s music on the South African music industry, Masemola said: ”It’s not only AKA who is doing it, many other artists are getting inspiration from Fela’s music. The late Hugh Masekela appreciated Fela’s impact and the legacy is going to live on and on.“
He criticised the South African government for not recognising Fela’s legacy. ”The department of arts and culture should leverage its bilateral agreements with Nigeria to come up with a collaborative event. Fela is big, the department of arts and culture cannot afford to ignore Fela Kuti.
“Many artists should be encouraged to engage with Fela Kuti’s material, especially classical musicians. We must have a ‘Fela Festival’ here so we can play the best versions of his music.”
African Perspectives Publishing publisher Rose Francis added: “It’s one of the most exciting books because it’s written in the first person, so you get a sense of Fela’s voice, you feel like you are in the room with Fela.”