Nigeria’s anthem of defiance

From them, Olufela Ransome-Kuti, better known by his chosen name Fela Aníkúlápó Kuti, learnt to demand more, creating a discography of protest and opposition to oppression. Beasts of No Nation has all the ingredients that make a hit Fela record – the intoxicating, almost overpowering blasts of trumpets, sax, and horns in a cantankerous marriage with drums, guitar, and pianos that come together in the end, going on for minutes before the singing finally enters; the instrumental then makes way for the punned satire – in this case a quote from the South African president PW Botha – with which Fela indicts.

“This uprising will bring out the beast in us!” Fela screeches as he contorts himself into dance positions that bring to mind a possessed person undergoing exorcism of whatever holds them captive. And that was what it was, a kind of supernatural possession that he could neither escape nor prevent himself from responding to – the repeated arrests, or the military throwing his 77-year-old mother from the second-floor window of his home, causing injuries that led to her death 14 months later, could not stop him. It had him screaming unintelligible incantation-like chants spasmodically at the end of records and performances, either because there was more musical energy in him than he could put into actual lyrics or because he was simply no longer in control at such moments of creative release.

Aside from craftily quoting Botha, Fela points out in different parts of the song that different leaders are nothing but animals in human skin: “animal he wear agbada,” and “animal he put suit oh” he sings as the song comes to an end. While the suit stood for the white leaders mentioned in the song, the agbada represented Nigerian leaders who had come to favour the Yoruba outfit that is made with over six yards of clothing and drapes over the wearer like an extravagantly large priestly vestment. Before he wraps up the song, he names political leaders of the era – Buhari, Botha, Reagan, and Thatcher.

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