Ayo Olumilua runs into a minefield
“Music is a weapon,” Fela Kuti often said. To the iconic mastermind of the original afrobeat, music wasn’t just about grooves and rhythm; it was complex thing with roots that ran beneath the surface.
“Music is spiritual. You don’t play with music.”
A lot of time has gone by since the 70s—Fela’s decade of musical peak. Icons of Western music like Paul McCartney came all the way to Nigeria just to witness the spirits of sound in person.
Alongside highlife, afrobeat was the rave of the moment. These days, afropop is the sound of the new generation. With a blend of genres spreading across the span of the globe, afropop’s irresistible appeal is no surprise.
Currently, the genre’s popularity is at an all-time high. With the recent worldwide explosion of Wizkid’s album “Made In Lagos”, debates are starting to spring up about legacies. There is a growing impression that the likes of Wizkid are now on par with Fela Kuti whose legacy seemed unreachable not too long ago.
But for one to compare, one has to assess the facts and analyze their impact on their respective generations.
Most of Fela Kuti’s music was politically charged. He incorporated African instruments into jazz, and created a sound unique to him. He was a harsh critic of nepotism and the oppression of Nigerians by supposed rulers.
On the other hand, Wizkid is more focused on melodies. His approach is less centered on revolutionary or groundbreaking lyrics. In a nutshell, Wizkid will make you dance, bob your head, and catch a vibe. The pro-Fela crowd of this argument often use the sociopolitical bankruptcy of Wizkid’s lyrics to undermine the 31-year-old’s music.
Wizkid’s 2015 single called Expensive Shit (apparently inspired by a Fela song/album of the same name) was barely a tribute to the afrobeat pioneer’s musical legacy. Instead, it was a song about showing off expensive money and clothes. His change of the title’s context seemed to diminish the interesting backstory of the original. But what Wizkid lacks in social advocacy, he makes up for with his ability to make catchy irresistible songs.
At the end of the day, music is essentially about sound. One can have music with just instrumentation, but one can’t with just words. Wizkid might not have invented his own peculiar genre like Fela, but he knows how to put his skills to excellent use and generate sensational music that crosses borders.
Ultimately, it seems futile to compare both artistes. Both are legends in their own rights and will forever be remembered for their contributions. But for now, it’s Wizkid’s time to shine in front of the world’s full glare. But it is doubtful if Wizkid can ever match the level Fela reached musically.
Credit: Africa Music.