Democracy is a young force that claims to be swaddling Nigeria, but through lack of democratic enforcement and minimal efforts from the federal power, the grasslands, and dry harbored factions, has been nullified into a state of limbo.
Through a lack of resources and the encroachment of corruption, Nigeria is still in the struggle for social, economic, and political strengthening. In the early 1960s, Nigeria officially declared its independence from the western powers, although, this did not stop the inconsistent power struggle within Nigeria’s shambled political system.
During Nigeria’s inconsistent political stability and South Africa’s discourse against apartheid in the twentieth century, the continent of Africa saw the emergence of beat drummers and mystic speakers expressing their dismay of the lack of power the countries’ denizens had.
Nigerian activist and musician Fela Kuti was one of the more influential speakers that not only spoke his mind against Nigeria’s dehumanizing disregard for its people but also initiated the “Afrobeat” musical style that has been integrated into music all around the world today.
Kuti had the early advantage of studying percussion and the piano during his years before college. Initially encouraged to study medicine, he instead attended Trinity College London in 1959 to study classical music. After completing his studies, he came back to Nigeria, performing smaller shows with various Jazz and Rock bands.
During the 1960s as Nigeria was going through a shift in their political climate, Kuti saw the opportunity to articulate the pain and power of his people through the form of his shamanic performances.
His grievances against the corruption of the Nigerian government and the antisocial behavior exhibited by the United Nations was apparent. Through various acts of rebellion, he was eventually landed in prison for two years under a five-year sentence.
What allowed Kuti to cultivate such ubiquitous inspiration was his Afrobeat style. Afrobeat in its essence is the integration of African drums and chanting with the prevailing sounds of American Jazz and Blues at the time.
This unique and successful approach allowed Kuti to have him constantly jailed and his nightly performances constantly raided by authorities.
Around this time, the United Nations butted their heads against each other, as their hands continued to lobby and support the Nigerian government’s unjust power over its own people. Kuti had already released conscious compositions such as Shuffering and Shmiling, Afrodisiac, and Teacher Don’t Teach Me Nonsense.
In the Bandcamp page of the single Beasts Of No Nation, the description explains his inspiration behind the half an hour composition. His listeners were inspired by his previous music foretelling his experiences of prison life and wanted more of his prison stories shortly after he was just released.
Kuti saw this as an opportunity to instead sing about the “crazed world” he told his people about. The “crazed world” which involved police brutality, inhumane and cowardly political figures, and an unjust court system.
Beasts Of No Nation was released in 1989. The composition is over twenty-eight minutes long. The instrumental ensemble keeps its pace and tone through the duration. The instrumental will heighten and slow down their volume depending on the timing.
The ensemble includes a crenulated pattern of electric chords, lightly-felt percussion, and Kuti’s occasional saxophone. With the ensemble’s instrumental pattern comes the vocal chorus that appears again and again throughout the duration.
“Many leaders as you see dem. Nah different disguise dem dey oh. Animal in human skin. Animal I put you tie oh. Animal I wear agbada. Animal I put you suit you.”
Through the course of the composition, at some points supported by his chorus, he sings about the “inside” and “outside” world. The inside world representing the enclosed space from the outside world. He retorts the term “outside” with the word ‘craze.” The “craze” world represents the world where he states the police, magistrates, and courts.
“The time wey I dey for prison, I call am inside world. The time wey I dey outside prison, I call am outside world. Nah craze world, no be outside world.
Nah craze world, no be outside the police dey
No be outside world the soldier dey
No be outside world the court dem dey
One of the Kuti’s last lines before ending the composition summarizes the fragments of his thoughts. Instead of spacing in between each line, he expresses his inspired grievance with these few lines with full breath.
“How animal go know say dem no born me as slave? How animal go know say slave trade don pass? And dey wan dash us human rights. Animal must talk to human beings. Give dem human rights.”
Consistently throughout the composition, Kuti refers to the song’s antagonists as animals. Referring back to the Bandcamp description, he details how the acts of animals taking one’s possessions without any right relates to the acts committed by the Nigerian justice system, the political puppeteering from Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher, and the Nigerian government itself.
The animals lie to their people and actively attempt to manipulate their history in order to maximize their powers over their geography. Kuti understood this, as his voice, as well as the voice of other political combatants, continue to pursue the act of defiance.
After 1989, major portions of the African continent witnessed progression and changes within their climate. The most apparent is the end of the apartheid in South Africa in 1994. It seems that even if the piece itself didn’t have a direct influence at the time, it spiritually prophesized the calls and cries of a distressed people.
Kuti’s pervasive exposure even today demonstrates the spiritual strength his voice and compositions had for people witnessing such appalling moments in history. The spirits through his music still cry and plead for the continent’s revelation, which continues to inspire the modern fighters of today.