civic media: week nine

the power of fela kuti

 

This week in civic media, our focus shifted from hip hop music and political expression to a more specific artist, namely, Fela Kuti.

 

Fela Kuti was able to see music’s hidden monumental purpose as a form of political expression. For Fela and those listening, Afrobeat was more than just danceable and catchy music. Rather, his songs contained a political message meant for all of Africa to hear.

 

During the time of Fela and his rise with Afrobeat, the people of Africa were struggling under incarcerated societies. Specifically, the Nigerian and broader African government was employing corrupt and oppressive leaders. As a result, Fela considered it his mission to reclaim Africa’s dignity and stolen identity from the government.

 

Beginning in 1975, Fela called his home a republic, as he was determined to secede and leave Nigeria. His home became known by many as the Kalakuta Republic – all were welcome to his republic as a place of safety and solace from the corrupt government.

 

After police forces stormed and destroyed Fela’s compound in 1977, the Kalakuta Republic was no longer a place of safety for Fela and his people. The police responded with vengeance to Kuti, as they recognized his relentless challenge to Nigerian authorities through his music, lifestyle, and community of followers.

 

An important theme that should be noted from the events of Kalakuta is the immense difference between the intensity of activism in the global North vs. the global South. For those in Africa, activism is more than going into the streets and participating in protest; rather, it is a powerful and dangerous commitment that may result in injury or death by police force.

 

The tragic events of the Kalakuta Republic led to a turning point in Fela’s music. One of these changes can be seen in his song, “Unknown Soldier,” which directly addresses the events that occurred during the Kalakuta destruction in 1977. The more the government attacked Fela and his music, the more defiant he became. This back and forth relationship between Fela and the government continued throughout his musical career.

 

By comparing Fela’s music with much of today’s top hits heard on the radio, it is evident that Fela’s unique sound goes against the music of our modern pop culture. Unlike songs of today, his music refuses to align with “KIS,” or the theme of “Keep It Simple.” Instead, his lyrics are packed with substance, meaning, and political messages. Listeners are able to find something to connect with through his lyrics, usually drawing from their own personal experiences or background.

 

Despite its differences from what is coined as today’s “top hits,” Fela Kuti’s work still resides with many individuals as a reflection of his musical genius. Afrobeat is all about social, political, and cultural change. That change, believed by Fela Kuti and many others, is essential to society and can be initiated through the power of music.

 

thanks for reading

– madauer

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civic media: week eight

beneath the lyrics

 

Did you ever think about the power of artistic expression to communicate underlying problems or issues within society?

 

When thinking about this topic, some of the most common forms of artistic expression that come to mind first include graffiti or hip-hop music. Through our recent mural project, it is evident that many citizens turn to outward artistic expression in order to convey their feelings or beliefs about a certain subject, such as through street murals. However, other forms of this social activism can also include break dancing, DJing, or rapping.

 

Through these various expressions, which began to occur throughout the 1970s in the South Bronx, individuals started to voice their opinions about political frustration and disenfranchisement. Furthermore, these individuals often belonged to neglected communities and cultures and represented the community’s feelings of disconnectedness through their lyrics or artistic forms.

 

Among these various expressions, we began to focus on hip-hop music and its power throughout the years amid American culture and society. Hip-hop music is often polarizing – some see the negative aspects of hip-hop while others see the positive side to this form of expression. Specifically, American politicians often speak out against hip-hop music, stating that this music was and still is corrosive to the values of human society. However, hip-hop artists counter this argument with the statement that these politicians are either unaware or unwilling to address the socioeconomic problems that their songs touch on.

 

Although it may be discrete, there is usually a hidden message beneath the lyrics of hip-hop music, pointing to an issue within society. This issue often engages with its listener, urging him or her with a call to action.

 

“Rap’s poetic voice is deeply political in content and spirit, but its hidden struggle – that of access to public space and community resources and the interpretation of Black expression – constitutes rap’s hidden politics.” – Tricia Rose

 

Through these various artistic expressions and engagement within the community, these artists are striving to bring about change. Although it may take some searching beneath the surface, these various forms – murals, street art, graffiti, rapping, hip-hop, etc. – all point to a deeper call to action.

 

Have you ever discovered a deeper call to action in a particular song or artwork? Let me know in the comments below…

 

thanks for reading

– madauer

 

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