65. Suffering and smiling

Posted on 27/08/2017

Fela Kuti wrote this epic song in the 1980’s. It describes the hard life of those living on very low incomes in Africa. Its title first points the hardship, but then to the joy which enables the hardship to be borne.

The first short clip gives a flavour of the mess that Nigeria, Kuti’s home country, was in a decade or two after independence. Military dictators of a very nasty kind ruled the show. The next clip summarises the song he wrote about it, which in the form lasts for 20 minutes plus:

Fela Kuti’s middle class mother was a revolutionary, though his father was a respectable doctor. Hence he became a revolutionary. The time was right for this, as the situation in Nigeria was terrible. Kuti suffered a  great deal for the ideal of a better run country. He harboured political ambitions: his band rebelled against him during a tour of Europe when it became known that he was thinking of devoting the proceeds of the tour to his presidential campaign. It did not happen, probably fortunately as he would not have been able to beat the entrenched interests ranged against him, and his band would have been unpaid. This included some 25 girls who were at once his chorus and his wives. He cut the numb er of wives down to 17 later on, saying that the larger number became too jealous.

His afrobeat was an infectious dance music to which his words fitted well. He wrote in pidgin English so as to be accessible to  audiences across Africa.

The words are impressive. This is only a small selection of them. Kuti invites his audience to think outside the ‘musical contraption’ that you are hearing him from and enter the daily life of Africans. He lists the churches, mosques and ‘themesticles‘ that people might worship in, but focuses upon the daily privations of life with ’49 sitting and 69 standing’ in the battered old bus that is carrying them to or from work.

“ In Spiritum Heavinus”
Moslems go dey call
“Allah wa Akbar”

Open your eye everywhere
Archbishop na miliki*
Pope na enjoyment
Imam na gbaladun*

Archbishop dey enjoy (with chorus)
Pope self dey enjoy (with chorus)
Imam self dey enjoy (with chorus)
My brother wetin* you say? (with chorus)
My brother wetin you say? (with chorus)

Every day – for house
Every day – for road
Every day – for bus
Every day – for work
My people my people my people
Every day my people inside bus
CHORUS: Suffering and smiling
Forty-nine sitting forty-nine standing
CHORUS: Suffering and smiling
Them go pack themselves in like sardine
CHORUS: Suffering and smiling
Them dey faint, them dey wake like cock

Them go reach road police go slap
CHORUS: Suffering and smiling
Them go reach road army go whip
CHORUS: Suffering and smiling
Them go look pocket money no dey
CHORUS: Suffering and smiling
Every day na the same thing
CHORUS: Suffering and smiling

Suffer suffer for World
Enjoy for Heaven

Its a great song. An anthem for the state of Africa, and particularly Nigeria, in the 1980’s.  The final video clip is Fela singing in the middle of his great decade of the 1980’s. He was a beacon of hope for millions. He wrote in pidgin English to be intelligible to as many Africans as possible.

He led a pretty unusual life, even for an African singer. He died before reaching 60, probably due to his rather broad taste in wives and girlfriends at a  time when Aids was laying waste to Africa. But his spirit comes over in these clips, and it was a fantastic one.


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