A Different Utopia Project for a New Kalakuta Republic 2003
By Paul D. Miller a.k.a. Dj Spooky that Subliminal Kid
In a world of constant upheaval and continuous transformation, sometimes we look to music as a way of escaping the problems of the world. Fela did the opposite: his music was about immersion in the ebb and flow of the conflicts that described and circumscribed the nation state he inhabited. His home was Nigeria, a place of so many contradictions and fictions that it might as well exist as a story, a fable spun from the fevered imagination of a very strange storyteller. The name "Nigeria" itself is an inheritance from a colonial past bequeathed to the confused and angry people who found themselves confined and defined within its borders after the colonial powers decided what would be the best route to economic balance between Europe and Africa. As a country, Nigeria and most of the Sub-Saharan continent were created on maps drawn on a palindrome of political and economic expedience - all of which did not involve those who were most relevant to the process: the people who actually lived there.
"The Metropolis strives to reach a mythical point where the world is completely fabricated by man, so that it absolutely coincides with his desires. The Metropolis is an addictive machine, from which there is no escape, unless it offers that too... Through this pervasiveness, its existence has become like the Nature it has replaced: taken for granted, almost invisible, certainly indescribeable..." Rem Koolhaas, Delirious New York In the world of post-colonial Africa, what Fela did was foster a unique circumstance - he created a utopia. His "Kalakuta Republic" was a way of producing a space that reflected his desires as an African to build an independent cultural zone, a place that literally, following the definition of the term "utopia" didn't exist. The "Kalakuta Republic" was essentially a space that reflected his values and needs - something all too rare in the post World War II African political and cultural landscape. It was an artificial place in the midst of an artificial situation what could be a better metaphor for contemporary Africa? Place one mirage in front of another and you get a hall of mirrors, a place where reality comes only by design, and that's a good starting point to look at the "Kalakuta Republic" By creating a social space bounded by and founded on African needs, he had to secede from the imaginary space of mass culture that was called "Nigeria" to create a new story, a new fiction founded on music, and culture indigenous to the people who lived there. Fictional spaces and imaginary cities - new forms demand new functions - that's what Fela told us with his Shrine Project. The logic of the "Kalakuta Republic" flows from a twisted cross-roads of modernity on the edge of the post-modern: where other young countries like Brazil would bring in someone like Oscar Niemeyer to construct a new capital like Brasilia, or Le Corbusier, at Chandigarh, India, in the 1950's or the United States with Pierre L'Enfant's 1791 design of Washington D.C., Nigeria, with Fela, was pressed by so many demands in so many different directions that his new city had to improvise on the spot in response to a scenario where, to say the least, the people running the government didn't want a new more dynamic architecture to represent their "new" nation state. Unlike the European notion of "Utopia" as a planned and designed place of Reason and Rationality bequeathed from Thomas Moore, Plato, and Francis Bacon. Fela's "republic" would be made invi al city blocks. The city Fela found himself in was a "found-object" to be manipulated and remixed at will, and essentially, that's what provides the foundation for my investigation into his concepts of architecture.
The "A Different Utopia" project imagines a remix of the architecture of Fela's "Kalakuta Republic" along lines imagined by proportion and ratio - it poses two different cultures in conflict, and like a dj, it asks them to understand the rhythms of the different cultures that inspired the structures that Fela engaged. Thesis, Anti-thesis - Synthesis. "A Different Utopia" is a dialectical triangulation between the forces of modernity and it's fixed forms, and the fluid dynamic needs of a critique of post-colonial reason and rationality. The original "Kalakuta Republic" attempted to secede from Nigeria several times, and in this day and age when artists like C.M. Von Hausswolf arbitrarily create nation states with their own passports, and artists collectives routinely create collective fictions of nation-states, like , well, all I can say is that art-history has caught up to people like Fela. The philosopher Santayana said in his 1905, "The Life Of Reason" collection of essays and observations: "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." A "Different Utopia" is meant to highlight the linkages between the urge to create your own space and the world context of living in a highly regulated contemporary information culture. What happens when you can access different versions of the past, and sample them? What happens when the culture you live in is dispersed throughout the globe and you are left to play with the fragments? That's what this project is about. Diaspora and convergence, reality in the 21st century as a nomadic flux based on the dynamic interaction of many cultures in the same space - living, working, and breathing at the same time. Different kinds of reason imply different modes of thinking about how to exist in an environment that denies you any and all aspects of "subjectivity." After all â€š that's what nation states are about: there are subjects, and there are rulers. What I propose in "Different Utopia" is a landscape based on Plato's "Republic" the text is remixed and reconfigure eems, and we're left to our own devices to actually engage the songs of freedom that Fela made room for in a post , and now , neo-colonial world
utopia \U*to"pi*a\, n. [NL., fr. Gr. not + ? a place.] 1. An imaginary island, represented by Sir Thomas More, in a work called Utopia, as enjoying the greatest perfection in politics, laws, and the like. See Utopia, in the Dictionary of Noted Names in Fiction. 2. Hence, any place or state of ideal perfection. Source: Webster's Revised Unabridged Dictionary, 1996, 1998 MICRA, Inc.
It was in 1985 that Fela created his "Kalakuta Republic" in which he essentially christened an autonomous zone where the rule of law in Nigeria was left at it borders. In essence, what he did was take his idea of a nightclub and turn it upside down and inside out - there was no invocation of pleasure in his declaration of independence. As always, Fela was a trickster, and even in the case of attempting to set up a new country that comprised only several city blocks, he thought of creating a new relationship between himself, language and the way he lived in a world governed by rules he felt did not apply to him. He needed a term to describe the thought process of living in a post-colonial mentality, and that's what the Shrine and the Republic were about: "It was when I was in a police cell at the C.I.D. (Central Intelligence Division) headquarters in Lagos; the cell I was in was named "The Kalakuta Republic" by the prisoners. I found out when I went to East Africa that "Kalakuta" is a Swahili word that means "rascal." So, if rascality is going to get us what we want, we will use it; because we are dealing with corrupt people, we have to be rascally with them."
In Platos "Republic" all aspects of living in the Utopian City are governed by rules of proportion and ratio (ratio, of course, being the root word of "rationality" and the psychological impact of the arts, and contemplation of forms that are both visible and intelligible - it's the same myth that drove the making of the film "The Matrix" but its a story that was told several thousand years ago: shadow and act, phantom and fiction ¬ the future "Republic" in Plato's story would be governed by people who had seen past the shadows of an illusion and tried to bring light to people whose imaginations had been chained. Fela publicized in some of the flyers for the "New Afrika Shrine" Republic something similar to the "Republic" that Plato had said so long ago in his "myth of the cave" (Book VII) of the "Republic" "When ruling becomes a thing fought over, such a war - a domestic war, one within the family - destroys these men themselves and the rest of the family. pp199
It's this kind of internecine conflict that led to the destruction of Fela's compound, and in a way, the digital reconstruction of it that takes place in my project is a blue-print for a different rhythm, a different ratio - a different drummer. The "Kalakuta Republic" I imagine is one of pan-humanism based on a universal architecture of networks and correspondences, it is an environment based transactions placed in a web of coded languages and vernacular systems. In our information based economy, we inhabit a world where the structures we inhabit reflect our desires in so many ways - they are flexible, modular, and above all else - transitory. Goethe and Schelling said so long ago "architecture is nothing but frozen music." "A Different Utopia" inverts the question and asks: what happens when you dethaw the process? It's a project based on Tony Allen's 1979 record "No Accommodation for Lagos" and incorporates the afro-rhythms he used for that project to create a map/blueprint of an "imaginary city" based on the proportions of beats and pulses that the artist Ghariokwu Osunlila (who designed many of the covers for Fela and Tony Allen's Afrika 70 collaborations) would imagine - a cartoon universe where sounds of an imaginary landscape built of ratio and proportion defined the record cover sleeves to reflect the same concerns George Clinton and Pedro Mayer (the artist who designed many of the Funkadelic record cover sleeves) an Afro-Futurist landscape of sonic fiction made to be more real than the "real" that the musicians invoked with their sounds. As Fela wrote in an advertisement in the magazine "Punch" in 1979, the Shrine was meant to be a place of new values: "After a long battle with the authority, we are staging a big comeback at the new Afrika Shrine... We want the authority, the news media, the public and everybody concerned to know that Afrika Shrine is NOT A NIGHTCLUB - it is a place where we can worship the gods of our ancestors."
He went on to blur the lines between Church and Shrine with a 7 point description:
a) The Church is an ideological centre for the spreading of European and American cultural and political awareness The Shrine is an ideological centre for the spreading of Afrikan cultural and political awareness.
b) The Church is a place where songs are rendered for worship. The Shrine is a place where songs are rendered for worship.
c) The Church is a place where they collect money. The Shrine is a place where we collect money.
d) The Church is a place where they drink while worshipping ("holy communion"). The Shrine is a place where we drink while worshipping.
e) The Church is a place where they smoke during worship (burning of incense). The Shrine is a place where we smoke during worship.
f) The Church is a place where they dress the way they like for worship. The Shrine is a place where we dress the way we like for worship.
g) The Church is a place where they practice foreign religion. The Shrine is a place where we practice Afrikan religion.
Another quotation: "And finally, in the very last episode, the Tower of Babel suddenly appears and some strongmen actually finish it under a new song of hope, and as they complete the top, the Ruler (of the Olympus, probably) runs off making a fool of himself while Mankind, suddenly understanding everything, finally takes its rightful place and right away begins its new life with new insights into everything..." Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Demons.
In the here and now, "A Different Utopia" is a bridge between the visions of reason that held together Europe and Africa, the U.S. and Nigeria and proposes a philosophy of rhythm. The text becomes shareware. The beats and pulses, bass-lines and sounds, they are threads of a sonic tapestry woven out of desire and dreams. They are vanishing points on the landscape of the imagination - that's to say that they're points alright, but they punctuate a different architectural syntax, a place that Rem Koolhas would call the "culture of congestion" or that Tony Allen would simply call "No Accommodation." Here, the soundlines and vectors of an invisible social sculpture become indexical - they're signifiers of meaning at the edge of understanding. Ratio and rationality, rhyme and reason â€š these get remixed again and again. In a "Different Utopia" the Santayana phrase becomes a new axiom: those who do not understand history remix it to create their own.
============================================================================ "None are more hopelessly enslaved than those who falsely believe they are free...." Johann Wolfgang von Goethe Port:status>OPEN wildstyle access: www.djspooky.com Paul D. Miller a.k.a. Dj Spooky that Subliminal Kid Office Mailing Address: Subliminal Kid Inc. 101 W. 23rd St. #2463 New York, NY 10011
Jul 21, 2010
Jul 20, 2010
A Basic Aikido philosophy states that the strength is not in muscular force, but in flexibility, timing, control and modesty, its humanitarian purpose is to purify one’s aggressive reactions to conflicts of ego, “But people will say Femi, you don’t take the kind of risks Fela took…” this witty statement by Omoyele Sowore, that was meant to be followed by a question, will lead to a (no)interview with the son of the Afrobeat legend, Femi Kuti at the Fela! Broadway performance in New York. Before the arrival of the question that never came, revelation came; one could sense plenty ghosts of pretense past all came knocking at Femi’s heart for freedom, but for a Femi who is always on guard, swiftly seek escape routes to cover his open sore, like a boxer he counter-attacked “Who says?” having no clue of who Sowore was, he went on with his jabs “…Are you talking as a Nigerian or as a fool or as a naïve person?” amidst his many rehash “Do you want me to be killed like my father before you know that I am taking risks? you have to apologise before i answer your questions” Femi categorically stated that absolutely nothing was wrong with a Fela! on Broadway which was what concerns me the most and eventually prompted the coming alive of this piece of writing.
Fela! On Broadway.
"Moneymaking and historical memory are allies in the extension of capitalism. You cry with one eye and wipe it off with a cold beer, leaving the other eye open for gambling."
Toyin Falola, Nigerian historian
Folk heroes will at one moment or the other pay the price they refused to pay while alive, Bob Marley did, even Che Guevara did pay the marketable price he owe the world, and now it’s perhaps the time for Fela Kuti despite his Felasophy. Fela! Will be on Broadway till the 2nd of January 2011 and tickets range from 59$ to 127$. According to sources from Wikipedia “Broadway theatre is usually considered to represent the highest level of commercial theatre in the English-speaking world. The Broadway Theatre district is a popular tourist attraction in New York.” And according to The Broadway League, “Broadway shows sold approximately $1.02 billion worth of tickets in the 2009-2010 season, compared to $1 billion in the 2008-2009 season” in essence the dialectic of shows on Broadway is primarily linked to how much rather than how well, and this fundamentally go against Felasophy.
Some purists may find this development derailing, because more than a musical rhythm, Afrobeat is a rhythm of “otherness” realized largely in songs and lyrics, but also in cultural and political actions. Most acolyte of Afrobeat and its protégés often think of Afrobeat as a tool for speaking out the obvious truth in the name of the masses, but Afrobeat is above all an aesthetics of cultural politics. Its performance is equally characterized by the creation of a liberal cultural space that is admissive of a free discourse of society’s fears, doubts, and inhibitions. Now that Fela is on Broadway – or rather Broadway is on Fela – there is no reason to appear condescending about that; it will be fair enough on the legend and his legacy, to make way for a free discourse on the pros and cons of these “goodwill” that might require us to “cry with one eye and wipe it off with a cold beer, leaving the other eye open for gambling."
Femi Kuti, Seun Kuti and many other legitimate personalities have lent their voices to the pros of having Fela! On Broadway, which is the reason why I focus more on the cons for a balanced discourse. Even though I have not seen this show after a brief encounter with (the choreographer) Bill T Jones during a US tour in 2008, but knowing what a Broadway show entails and the publicity claim of it being “the true story of Fela Kuti” is deafening. Here I speak solely of its significance and not a reviewer of the show. The grandeur of Fela Kuti diminishes, as I’m certain that its exploitation on Broadway will certainly drain off deep content to attract consumers, and so its power worn-out by the parasitic deconstruction of commercial productions. Afrobeat is the symbol of this Fela! for mass media. By associating a symbol with a product, rather than letting it exist as the signifier of its framing experiences, it is robbed of its meaning and sense of truth. The commercial exploitation of Fela Kuti and all that he represents will only help in widening the rift between ideals and festivity, between choice of words and the truth. It will therefore, assault the ideal realm and appropriate subjective significance of Felasophy, and might in the end lose its ability to inspire metaphysical truth.
A set of Fela’s ideological outlook referred to as Felasophy (as stated in Sola Olorunyomi’s book AFROBEAT! fela and the imagined continent), builds the basis at which Afrobeat lies, the Afrobeat as championed by Fela engage a broad spectrum of ideas such as the African art and civilization, notions of slavery and western technology; views on religion and colonialism; his reaction to multiple imperialism and collaborating elites; his vision of Pan-Africanism and his version of “what to be done.” Other concerns range from the nature of knowledge production and its distribution, architecture, spirituality, citizenship, economy and development, to traditional medicine and the use of herbs, the environment, the judiciary and administration of justice, international relations and a myriad of other domestic issues.
Femi Kuti's relation to this Felasophy is quite misleading, as one might already note that in the tribute version of “Water No Get Enemy,” one of Fela’s most anthemic songs, in which other American hip-hop, soul and funk stars collaborated with Femi Kuti, for the Red Hot Organization. A line was deliberately omitted from the track:
T’omi ba pa ọmọ rẹ, omi na lo ma lo was not translated, thus, If water kill your child, na water you go use was substituted by “we don’t want that now.” Fela's point, which is part of his Felasophy manifesto, is that, as opposed to monotheist beliefs, nothing is intrinsically regard to as good or bad, that as pure as water could be, it has its negative/destructive attributes. In censoring Fela’s intellectual property, Femi has apparently dealt with things “diplomatically and gracefully.” As he explained to the New York Times.
I want that brand called FELA!
Many factors inform the classification of Fela’s musical practice as popular (music) art, as distinct from mass (music) art. Mass art as it were, presumably panders to the whims of its clientele and does not engage them in problematizing their social situations in a manner that popular art does.
In an interview conducted in 1992, Fela denounced Afrobeat as “a meaningless commercial nonsense with which recording labels exploited the artist.” With this latest development, Afrobeat steps one more mile away from popular music to mass music. It is imaginable to believe –or believable to imagine – that the son looks like his father, and aspires to transcend his role, then begins by evoking aspects of his symbolism, both in form and in content, until the son becomes the father of his own son and so on. Without any doubt in my mind Femi Kuti is a skillful musician and a major custodian of part of the Felagacy that most of us benefit. What however, makes it almost impossible and pitiable for Femi Kuti –as well as numerous proponents of Afrobeat ideals – is that, some are temperamentally apolitical and lacks the technical and intellectual capital required, to trail the path of the great Fela and the Afrobeat agenda. Voila the birth of a new age of Afrobeat for sale, that still sing on behalf of the masses and express a Pan-African yearning without a prior knowledge of the underline ideology from which Fela easily drew his vocabulary and allusions.
The American public has been flooded by an eternal parade of commodities and fabricated spectacles that keep it preoccupied with the ideals and values of consumerism. Traditional cultural values of Western society are already degenerating under the influences of corporate politics, the commercialization of everything and the impact of mass media. Fela! on Broadway is only but an accomplice in the collective viewing experience and consumer trends, without integrating it “in problematizing their social conditions,” which is the basic transformative experience in encountering Fela Kuti and his ideology. Now that Fela! Will begin national and international tours, in Which Lagos will be one of its destinations. Even though Fela drew his musical temperament from Lagos, but contemporary reality no longer thrives on the social context in which he did. Lagos is now a unipolar world of its own, with the abiding influence of the intellectual Lagos youth being determined more by Lady Gaga and Stock market, than Fela Kuti or Kwame Nkrumah. So, a dissimilar approach to FELA! In Lagos is not guaranteed.
Alternative chitchat also has it that following FELA’s! success on Broadway, the big screen is taking its turn on the legendary. Steve McQueen, the producer of the popular film “hunger.” That stormed Cannes festival in 2008, is presently working on a biopic movie still on Fela! He shall be writing the script, in collaboration with Biyi Bandele; one Nigeria’s most versatile and prolific writers in the U.K. ‘capable of wild surrealism and wit as well as political engagement.’ The movie will be based on Michael Veal’s book, Fela: The Life and Times of an African Musical Icon and It will be co-produced by James Schamus, who said ‘The Broadway show is pure joy, but Steve and Biyi’s vision is very cinematic and distinctive. Fela was a revolution figure in world culture’. To accompany the team, Fela will be played by Chiwetel Ejiofor, Nigerian-British actor who already worked on a fiction linked to Steve Biko “Red Dust” in 2004 and many others. If this production turns out to be a well-done, perhaps it will attempt redemption of the Fela imagery, and if it fails, the next thing is to expect an amusement park called FELALAND somewhere in the west.