Contrary to expectations from one believed to possess expensive shit, Wizkid, with a meagre 5, 772 capacities sold out show, cheaply warmed his way into the hearts of Nigerians. With just a handful of international collaborations, a somewhat impressive ‘Ojuelegba’ track and a decent performance at the just concluded Felabration, Nigerians, mostly youths of the Facebook age, who had no idea of what Fela stood for, have crowned him a reincarnation of Africa’s greatest music export. Some even think he is greater—a clear expression of intellectual recession.
The comparison would not have been a blatant disrespect to the legacies of a musician who dared the shenanigans of our corrupt military leaders in the face, threw caution to the wind, swirled the truth in his mouth and blew it into the lungs of Obasanjo, Buhari and other dim-witted leaders that led the nation down the corridors of penury, if Wizkid, whose music merely touched on the banalities and vanity of mortal existence—booze, women, flashy cars and nothingness—didn’t just sing songs, but sang songs that expressed the pains on the faces of that little boy with a threadbare skin, or the depression that hangs, like a failed dream on the weary faces of gaunt market women, or even the frustration that competent graduate hide in the worsted suits they wear, looking for jobs that do not exist. These were the music that Fela sang; music that gave voices to people whose voices would never have been heard; the music of a generation. That was what the Abami Eda stood for. And of course, he paid dearly for it; we know of more than 300 arrests, public beating by men in khaki. Wizkid’s fragile, Gucci-cleaving skin would not allow him to go through the furnace of socio-musical revolution.
Perhaps, it is an obvious fact that Wizkid possesses a great deal of musical prowess that has helped him stay in the fore front of musicianship in the country since his Holla at your boy track jarred into our thoughts that Saturday morning in January, 2010. After that, he has gone on to keep up the pace, dropping hit singles that spoke volumes of the ingenuity that is harboured in the skin of the Ojuelegba-born artiste.
However, these are not enough justifications to slap his name unto the tables where artistes like Fela, Bob Marley and other impressive music legends who stood against oppression, poverty, dictatorship and corruption, even when they had to pay with their lives, feast—that would be too much a fantasy for the diminutive artiste. For Wizkid, apart from his fortuitous collaborations with Drake, Future and other Grammy winners—something that has become the norm these days—nothing else makes him worthy of the mantle ignorant youths have worn him. In fact, 2baba, P-square and Dbanj are other artistes that have achieved giant feats in their careers, yet, no one claims them greater than Fela. They all pay homage. As such, it becomes unclear as to why Wizkid has been declared the next Fela. Kudos to Wizkid’s manager, for being able to create a PR stunt that won his client the Fela title. It is the strongest publicity stunt so far in the history of Nigerian music. Even Skibi’s death hoax pales beside it but Wikid is not Fela.
Wizkid’s only claim to the Afrobeat title was his collaboration with Femi Kuti on his Jaiye Jaiye track a couple of years back, nothing more, nothing glamorous justifies his being compared to the greatest of all time, which makes it curious as to the way Nigerians have totally accepted that claim, without so much as critically analysing the intricacies involved.
Fela’s brand of music was a sound fashioned out of years of trials and errors with various genres. At the initial stage, it was purely a resonating highlife, carved out of his sojourn in Ghana. Then, under the managership of Benson Idonije, it became jazz, soulful rendition of thunderous percussions, before finally settling on the sound that finally became a soulmate—Afrobeat. The Abami Eda never did a song that played to the gallery and celebrated vanity. His was a music that regurgitated the pains and oppressions that men mete out on his fellow beings, the intimidation and low self-esteem that colonization brought, the reckless abandon with which dictatorship wore various khaki designs, and the celebration of what being black really was; never was it a jamboree of loud beats, colourful videos, celebrating booties and alcohol.
Every music period deserves a poster boy, not necessarily an artiste whose songs have deep contents that equivocally state the problems of that period. Wizkid is merely a poster boy for the new sound emanating from the Nigerian music terrain. Even though I find it difficult to grasp the songs, which are often backed up with bland videos saturated with inglorious flaunting of sensual female body parts, I still consider him a worthy candidate for the poster boy position.
There are other artistes with songs with better, engaging contents. Brymo, for me, is the best song writer in the country now. But never has he been placed on the same pedestal with Fela. Seun, if not for his blind loyalty to the late sage, would have been an ideal candidate. What with his heart of steel that reminds one of the excesses of Fela, but the trueness to his father’s style, the abandonment of his own voice, to embrace the voice of his father, puts him two steps away from the much coveted ‘New Fela’ tag.
Replacing Fela Anikulapo Kuti is like waiting for Godot in a Samuel Beckett play. It will never happen, just like Jamaica will never be able to replace Bob Marley and Peter Tosh. These were legends who lived what they sang, men who were defiant enough to question the shamelessness of the government, musicians who were not afraid to speak the truth, even when their feet were shackled. These were cultural icons, not mere musicians. It will take more than a collaboration with a Fela’s offspring or a foreign musician to replicate Fela’s style of Afrobeat. Afrobeat is a genre of sweat, toil, musical perfection and a denial of self to speak the truth, no matter the consequences. For now, I do not see any Nigerian artiste, especially the young ones, qualified to wholly wear that garb, let alone being regarded as Fela.