Baba Ani @ 85 and music as weapon for socio-political development

Arogundade at 60: He is promoter of press freedom -Buhari
Lanre Arogundade



Music is universal. It conveys meaning to people irrespective of cultural, racial, language and geographical diversities.

The English dictionary defines music as vocal or instrumental sounds (or both) combined in such a way as to produce beauty of form, harmony, and expression of emotion. Music is also defined as the written or printed signs representing vocal or instrumental sound.

Music is a powerful communication tool and channel; and the power lies in the effect on audiences irrespective of age, vocation, profession, social status, etc. In music, there is always something for someone or if you like something for everybody as there is not a single human race that does not have its own genre of music.

Martin Chilton explains in an article that several scientific and psychological studies have shown that “music can lift our moods, combat depression, improve blood flow in ways similar to statins, lower levels of stress-related hormones such as cortisol, and ease pain”.

The author further notes that music can improve the outcomes for patients after surgery revealing that a recent study reported in Nature Neuroscience even demonstrated that the levels of the feel-good chemical dopamine in the brain rose by up to nine per cent when people listened to music they enjoyed.

If Fela was the Field Marshall of the Afrobeat ensemble described above, then the Commander-in-Chief was Baba Ani as it was his responsibility as Fela’s second (and longest band manager after Ben Idonije), to ensure that the rhythm of the Afrobeat was maintained either at rehearsals or live performances.

The telekinetic effect that music could have on audiences makes it a potent weapon of mobilisation for political and other actions. In the era of the struggle against the apartheid regime in South-Africa, combatants went to battle with extra motivation from protest songs and dances. Music was therefore an inseparable part of the struggle even during the phase of the armed struggle. The likes of Miriam Makeba, Hugh Masekela, etc, are products of the radical tradition of South-African music.

We can easily recall the telepathic effect on audiences around the world of the song ‘We are the World’ written by Michael Jackson and Lionel Ritchie in 1984 and recorded along with several other leading musicians in 1985 to raise funds to fight famine in Africa which had killed about one million people.

Wikipedia describes the song, which was released on March 7, 1985, as a “worldwide commercial success, topping music charts throughout the world and becoming the fastest-selling U.S. pop single in history”.

At independence, Zimbabwe brought Bob Marley to perform, and the audience was moved to its feet by the rendition of his ‘Exodus’ because the protest lyrics, especially the anti-racist ones, of the foremost Reggae artist resonated with audiences. When Marley died at the young age of 33 in 1981, he was globally mourned with his songs played across continents.

The few examples cited above confirm the submission of Daily News writer, Eitan Gavish that “history shows us that music and politics are well compatible” and that “colorful tones, pulsating rhythms and meaningful lyrics have been a catalyst or soundtrack for movements of change”.

His article additionally listed the Greeks as one of the first people to truly realize the potential power of music and how it could help move a society to rebel against their government.

The article referenced how in America music as a form of protest could be heard on the cotton fields of the South during the times of slavery, with biblical songs that depicted themes of freedom and servitude, such as “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot” and “Go Down Moses.”

Wikipedia has further highlighted the fact that the power of music is seen when it exudes anti-establishment or protest themes, including anti-war songs even though pro-establishment ideas could be represented in national anthems, patriotic songs, and political campaigns. Despite the latter, we do occasionally witness the rejection of the current Nigerian national anthem – ‘Arise o Compatriots’ – and preference for the old national item – ‘Nigeria We Hail Thee’ – by students during protests.

Politics and Music in Nigeria

In his research gate publication, Remi Oke notes that Nigerian musicians: Fela Anikulapo-Kuti, Sony Okosun, Onyeka Onwenu, Christie Essien Igbokwe, Dan Maraya Jos, Femi Kuti, Bisade Ologunde (Lagbaja), among others, have harnessed the power of music to mobilise the populace towards social change. I will add to this list the likes of Olanrewaju Adepoju and Tubosun Oladapo who used the ‘Ewi’ genre to speak for the people by condemning abuse of power and injustice. I will also add late Hubert Ogunde and indeed late Dr. Victor Olaiya, whose 1983 LP ‘Ilu le o’ (Country Hard o) drew attention to the debilitating effect of inflation in the 1980s. I only wonder what Olaiya would sing about the Nigeria of today where a Five Hundred Naira (N500) loaf of bread can no longer feed a family of four were he still around.

In the more contemporary era, Nigeria musicians who have used their music to express political opinions also include Eedris Abdulkareem, who deployed the tracks in ‘Mr Lecturer’ and ‘Nigeria Jagajaga’, to condemn the state of disorderliness in the country and Chinagorom Onuoha, also known as African China, whose song, ‘Crisis’, called out the Nigerian government on its lack of concern for the plight of the ordinary people. Bisade Ologunde (Lagbaja), has oftentimes used his music to demand social reform, political honesty, brotherhood and unity.

Blackface also used his music to expose the poor state of the country with the track ‘hard life’, same way that Sound Sultan did and Femi and Seun Kuti have consistently done. There is also Nowamagbe of Edo State who is renown for his socially conscious music, and we cannot but mention Grammy Award winner Burna Boy in this category.

Fela  Anikulapo-Kuti, described as a “musical and sociopolitical voice” of international significance of course stands out in the tradition under examination.

Baba Ani @ 85 and music as weapon for socio-political development
Baba Ani

The place of Fela’s Afrobeat

Fela’s Afrobeat remains and would forever be a perfect living example of the power of music in mobilising the people for political action, change and development.

Fela’s numerous lyrics against injustice, abuse of power and the general megalomania of successive leaders in the country have continued to connect generations in unimaginable ways; so much so that those who were not around in his lifetime could relate with the lyrics and link the messages with their own social conditions.

In the introduction to my book ‘Fela: Yesterday’s Message as Today’s Reality’ I captured the phenomenon in the following words: “If Fela’s music connects generations, if his music fills the air during mass movements as witnessed during the anti-fuel price hike protests and rallies of January 2012 and if his music continues to dominate the airwaves, not only during the October Felabration but at other times, it is because in the final analysis, he remains the ultimate prophet that saw our tomorrow, and perhaps beyond….”

During the protest referred to above, Fela’s music blared across every nook and cranny of Lagos apart from the epicentre of the struggle at the Gani Fawehinmi park in Ojota as mass anger clouded the atmosphere. From ‘Suffering and Smiling’ to ‘Zombie’; from ‘ITT’ (International Thief Thief) to ‘VIP (Vagabonds in Power); from ‘Confusion Break Bone’ to ‘Unknown Soldier’ to ‘Overtake Don Overtake’ etc, it was Fela that ruled the airwaves.

Those who follow the media closely would have also observed that whenever the country is confronted with protests or crisis situations, it is Fela’s music that always comes in handy for producers and presenters because through it, they also express their opinion about the development in the country.

As a form of protest music Afrobeat makes you to think, reflect and act and it was Fela himself that summarised this essence in the following lyrics of ‘Just Like That’:

“Nothing dey for town to give di youths good example

How our big people and traditional rulers dey do

Den don spoil di tradition and corrupt all di town

Den come make di youths look up to Europe and U.S.A.

In those places sef people don lose den common sense

Na di number of nuclear arms and guns you

Get na him give you power pass

We in Afrika we must start to think our own

In our tradition where human beings and nature grow

Where creativity and understanding must be

Right now, think now, fight now, right now

Suffer must stop.

Just like that

Just like that”

Therefore, as it was in 2012, so it was during the previous struggles – including the campus ones in which my generation actively participated – to rid Nigeria of brutal military rule especially in those days of the June 12 1993 battles. It has been so ever since.

We can therefore say with confidence that Fela’s music and those of other Nigerians who deployed their lyrics as weapons of social justice including but not limited to the likes of Sonny Okosuns, Onyeka Onwenu, Majek Fashek, The Mandators, Ras Kimono, Daddy Showkey, Femi Kuti, Seun Kuti, etc, contributed to the victory of Nigerian peoples over the military and helped us to transit to where we are today.

I must stress however that the struggle certainly continues given the failure of successive regimes to fundamentally resolve the myriad of problems confronting the country. A Nation that is abundantly endowed with human and natural resources has now been turned to a beggar for loans with the future of the current and coming generations being increasingly mortgaged. We live in perilous times with daily if not hourly kidnappings and killings by armed elements. Our hospitals are in a state of abject neglect and Doctors who are defying the odds to work there and attend to distressed patients are being owed salaries and allowances. They have consequently gone on strike again and instead of negotiating with them the Buhari government is threatening them with sack or non-payment of salaries under a so-called ‘no work, no pay’ rule, which recalls one of our protest songs:

‘Se democracy leyi

Se democracy leyi o

Tologun lan so

Se democracy leyi o’.

Fela did provide the answer long time ago. It is all about demonstration of craze and crazy demonstration in the name of democracy.

Baba Ani, we owe you a depth of gratitude for this and I believe that current and future generations will not forget your monumental contribution in ensuring that Fela’s music constituted and continues to constitute a potent weapon for social-political development in Nigeria, Africa and the black and white world.

The Baba Ani factor

It is in the context of the role of music, and in this instance, that of Fela’s Afrobeat in shaping the struggles of Nigerian peoples, that we can properly situate the monumental contributions of Lekan Animashaun – the Baba Ani of our time whose 85th anniversary we are celebrating.

A music or song may have all the correct messages but if the output is eclectic or erratic and therefore displeasing to the ears, then it won’t have the right audiences and in the process the message might be lost. Therefore, if the message in Fela’s Afrobeat never got lost and has continued to resonate, it was (and still is) because of its emergence from an intricate synchronisation of the trumpets, the saxophones, the guitars, the gongs, the percussions, the gourds, the choruses and the dances.

If Fela was the Field Marshall of the Afrobeat ensemble described above, then the Commander-in-Chief was Baba Ani as it was his responsibility as Fela’s second (and longest band manager after Ben Idonije), to ensure that the rhythm of the Afrobeat was maintained either at rehearsals or live performances.

With his background as a trained musician, key boardist and baritone saxophonist, no other person could have been better suited for the role than Baba Ani. Be it as Africa 70 or Egypt 80 therefore, Baba Ani easily added value to Fela’s music as band manager.

In those days, one of the best ways to have a good insight into the significant role of Baba Ani was to witness Fela’s rehearsals or arrive early for Fela’s Friday yabis night or the Saturday comprehensive show. I was more accustomed to the later, so countless times prior to Fela’s arrival, I would witness Baba Ani conducting the first round of sound check and then taking the band through the rendition of some old tunes including some of his own. Beyond the arrangement of the band he would on those occasions serve as the lead vocalist, occasionally assisted in that role by keji Hamilton, Show Boy, Dede Mabiaku and Seun Kuti.

Fela would saunter to the stage to commence another round of sound check, but often an easier task because of the professionally sound foundation that Baba Ani would have laid. Yet, it was whenever Fela mounted the stage that Baba Ani’s real task of coordinating the band in addition to his own responsibility of playing the baritone sax would begin. In any case, Fela would not even mount the stage without being first introduced by Baba Ani: “At this stage ladies and gentlemen, I want to bring on stage that great son of Africa, that man who is always speaking the truth, the creator of Afrobeat, the Abami Eda gangan….. Fela Anikulapo Kutiiiiiiiii…..” his sonorous voice would repeatedly pierce the smoke filled Afrika Shrine atmosphere. It is to Baba Ani’s eternal credit, that even after Fela had passed on, he stood by Seun Anikulapo-Kuti and the Egypt 80 Band and accorded him the same support, band coordination and respectful introduction.

In concluding this piece, it would however be wrong to attribute the important role that Baba Ani played in Fela’s life and band merely to his musical prowess. In this regard, one important element that we must not overlook is that Baba Ani is himself a crusader and principled fighter for fundamental human rights and social justice. His album ‘Low profile’ eloquently speaks to this. If he had been otherwise, if he had been a right wing reactionary, if he had been a traitor, if he had been a treacherous element, he would not have been Fela’s dependable ally for so many years; and obviously we would not be here to celebrate him.

Baba Ani, we owe you a depth of gratitude for this and I believe that current and future generations will not forget your monumental contribution in ensuring that Fela’s music constituted and continues to constitute a potent weapon for social-political development in Nigeria, Africa and the black and white world.

Thank you, Baba Ani. Happy 85th birthday.

Egbe…..wain, Egbe……wain

*Arogundade, journalist, Executive Director of International Press Centre and author of ‘Fela: Yesterday’s Message As Today’s Reality’ delivered this as a key note speech at a symposium to mark the 85th anniversary of Lekan Animashaun (Baba Ani) on Wednesday August 18, 2021.