“I’m a Natural Man”
“With how many women are you married again? Twenty-seven? Twenty-eight?” Just for a moment visions shoot through my mind, but then my common sense returns. A harem is usually fun for two weeks, after that it’s more a burden than a pleasure. You could dump most guys at the heavy garbage pretty soon.
“Because I love sex I manage to keep this group of women together, I fuck as often as I can. On average I sleep with two or three women a day. That’s a necessity. If they don’t get their share regularly, they become very moody and there’ll be trouble.” Speaking is Fela Anikulapo Kuti, totally unknown in the Netherlands, but absolutely the most popular musician in Africa. The Nigerian is more, however, than a womaniser and a musician. He is the leader of the Movement of the People, a group progressive youngsters that fight for a Pan-African state and have declared war on Capitalism, Communism, Islam, Christianity, multinationals, military regimes and other obstacles that stand in the way of achieving their goal.
Fela received some seven wives in his hotel room last night and one of his boys is fetching eight breakfasts for room 216. That their way of life is different from ours is logical if you consider the circumstances they have to live with back home. Most of them are from Nigeria, a country in which about a quarter of the African population lives. The outfit has its headquarters just outside the capital of Lagos, the biggest conglomeration by far on the African continent. The city is built on many small islands and small peninsulas, between 5.5 and 6 million people live there in dismal slums. Fela: “do you think it’s strange that people get lynched in Lagos? Nigeria should be immensely rich with its many minerals, but the majority of the population doesn’t have light, gas, water and hardly any food. Groups of young people start to take care of themselves and start gangs. The police, you say? They don’t care about these kinds of futilities.” To keep afloat in surroundings like that you need a different attitude and code of conduct than ours. One shouldn’t see Fela’s ideas against the backdrop of our central heating system but against that of a country where a human life isn’t worth much.
Fela performed twice in Paris for 10.000 people and once in Brussels for 6.000 people. After I have made clear that I don’t work for some reactionary, racist magazine I am taken to the room of the African star. He is of rather short stature and delicately built. His tall, super slim wives almost seem to dwarf him. He sits opposite me in a worn armchair. The photographer and I each sit on a bed, about eight women sit and lie on the same bed. They wear wrap skirts in the most beautiful colours, their painted faces are true works of art. One of the exquisitely looking ladies starts tugging at me and makes clear I should move up closer to the woman next to me. Shyly I move across five centimetres, and then I am pushed even further in her direction. The reader mustn’t draw the wrong conclusions. She wants to make clear that I am accepted and that keeping your distance, as is customary among strangers in the West, is seen as an insult. The men too show that they consider you a “brother” in the struggle by greeting you with a clenched fist. During a very serious discussion about politics a woman sits behind Fela on the back of the chair and unashamedly starts to pinch him in his scrotum, in the meanwhile looking at us as of nothing is happening. Fela remarks laughingly: “We are Africans, man, we have a different mentality, you know?” In this entourage he enthusiastically starts to talk about his music which he uses as a medium to bring across an important message. Because the media in Africa don’t dare to broadcast his ideas, he is forced to make use of music. He tells us he is the representative of the MOP, Movement of the People. One of the most important goals of this movement is the realisation of a pan-African state which he grinningly calls USA, “United States of Africa”. Fela: “Pan-Africanism is an idea of Marcus Garvey and was implemented by, among others, Kwame N’krumah (The Jamaican Garvey was one of the founders of the “back to Africa” movement, which inspired both the Nation of Islam and the Rastafari-movement. N’Krumah turned the country Gold Coast into Ghana, the first independent colonial state in Africa). It’s the only way to save our culture. There are many ideologies in Africa that don’t belong there. The capitalist and communist systems have always regarded Africa as a milking cow and a territory to settle their own conflicts”.
Fela’s political ideas are progressive and among African youths he is viewed as a great revolutionary. Concerning sex and the liberation of women his thinking is less nuanced and modern. Or should we too see this within the African context?
“You Europeans let the church and the government tell you when you’re allowed to fuck a woman. I think that’s not normal, not natural. A woman isn’t sexually mature at a legally specified age, but at the moment she is ready for it. That time is dictated by nature and not by some law. If a woman is ready to get fucked, she gets fucked. We Africans are realists and that’s why we don’t believe in the women’s movement. We see that as a means to take over power. You cannot deny that there’s chaos and confusion in your men-women relations, do you? Man and woman don’t know anymore what their roles are. The universe consists of structures that intertwine like rhythms, each part must do its duty. A woman belongs in the kitchen and is the one that has children, that’s her task”.
“I don’t believe in your artificial laws. You call me conservative, but I’m a natural man. Can’t you see that a woman has a body to be violated, soft breasts, a soft ass, a hole to dig in to? She has a body that needs to be violated. If my women don’t get laid, they get sulky and they are hard to live with. If I’m busy and I can’t sleep with my women, there’s a terrible atmosphere. In Africa men are the boss, there’s no doubt about it. Women think this is perfectly normal. If you would forbid an African woman to stand in the kitchen, she’d attack you. She would think you hate her and you were expelling her from her territory”.
Before the gig I speak to one of Fela’s Queens, while Fela is not present. She actually supports the ideas of her husband. She even goes one step further, she is a proponent of female circumcision, which is still practiced frequently in Africa. It is after all an African tradition, she says, which means that it’s good without a doubt.
Source: OOR Music Magazine, 1981, article written by Roberto Palombit, pictures: Bernard Matussiere
Translation: Julio Punch