Nigerian Idol… Top Six Offer Outstanding Tribute To Fela Kuti
Last week brought the extra into the extraordinary, as the top six contenders in the Nigerian Idols Season Six snoozed their usual performances to deliver a stellar tribute to the legendary Afrobeat founder, Fela Kuti, by belting out special renditions of his classics.
Shortly before the saddening eviction of the sonorous Beyonce Ajomiwe, the tribute was kicked off with a group performance of Fela’s 1975 hit, Water No Get Enemy, by the top seven. Following the group performance, Faith, Akunna, Comfort, Kingdom, Francis and Emmanuel continued the heated run for the star prize with individual, jaw-dropping renditions of Fela’s revered records.
The Nigerian Idol took a wise cue to include a Fela Week within the show, as the Father of Afrobeats, whom most of the Nigerian music genres in massive circulation are modelled from, has become a central figure in Nigeria’s music history and identity. Fela Kuti, who coined the legendary ‘Afrobeat’ genre – a hybrid of Jazz, Highlife, Funk, Fuji and other non-categorised African melodies – in the ‘70s, became a global music sensation with his musical activism and Kalakuta brand, which has continued to breathe, two decades after his demise, in the music of his children and grandchildren.
Just recently, he was nominated for the prestigious ‘Rock n Roll’ hall of fame, which is a global holy grail of the musical hall of fame.
From Kalakuta to the world, to Kalakuta to Nigerians, these Idol aspirants became animated into a modern-day Fela Kuti with wigs and weaves, and RnB falsettos and whatnot, delivering an exciting and commendable tribute to the respected music legend. These finalists, in preparation for their performances, were taken during the week to the birthmark of Afrobeat itself, Kalakuta Museum, where they were groomed by the Grammy-nominated musician and an undisputable Fela carbon-copy, Seun Kuti, who took them through the philosophy, backstories and even rehearsals of the songs.
At first, it seemed like a daunting task for Kingdom who had to serve a fiery slice of a 31-minute classic in barely under 3 minutes, but when he started delivering his powerful rendition of Fela’s 1973 record, Gentleman, even DJ Sose and Obi Asika were bobbing their feet and heads as they enjoyed the performance. Any faithful Fela loyalist would have been left in a feast of claps as Kingdom served Fela piping hot, from his Fela-esque costume to his energy and pace.
Akunna raised the energy of the night with her jaw-dropping rendition of one of Fela’s most acclaimed songs, the femme-feting anthem Lady, as she sang the notes with all her energy that you could nearly see her veins bulging through her skin. Her outfit also deserves an award on its own for a louder but silent tribute to the iconic singer.
With a painted face, Comfort comfortably portrayed her growth on stage with her cover of Fela’s 1977 record, Observation Is No Crime, which left the judges in awe. And if you observed well, the only crime she committed was not being the actual Fela, as all the judges reeled out positive commendations.
Fantastic Faith took his performance as a personal palaver between himself and Fela Kuti, as he delivered a strong performance of Fela’s 1972 hit, Trouble Sleep Yanga Go Wake Am, while Francis carried on boldly with the normal happiness-fever that comes with performing Fela’s ’71 record, Yellow Fever, with some backing from the live band. Emmanuel settled with No Agreement, which spurred all three judges to their feet in positive acclaim.
Each of the performances ushered in the nostalgia of the great Fela Kuti era, as all the songs rang through the minds of listeners with depth. Most of Fela’s songs condemned colonialism, or commented on corruption within the Nigerian polity, or even just directly tried to uplift self-esteem. The contestants claimed that they selected these specific tracks to speak about issues they connected with.
Like when the show first honored African legends such as Angelique Kidjo, Majek Fashek, Victor Uwaifo, Prince Nico Mbarga, Salif Keita, Lucky Dube and Miriam Makeba, a few weeks ago, this Fela-themed tribute was a timely and unforgettable point of the show. It would be nice to see the show take on other ‘Nigerian Idols’ who have actually snoozed out of the scene, from the 60s to date. Names such as Salawa Abeni, Christy Essien Igbokwe, Osita Osadebe, Ebenezer Obey and even Pasuma, would be interesting indigenous renditions to see.