The Living Legacy of Fela’s Shakara
A Look at Fela’s Shakara on its 50th anniversary by Michelle Mojisola Savage
When Fela Anikulapo-Kuti released Shakara in 1972, little did he know how influential it would become. The two-tracked album defined a musical era and birthed another. In fact, ‘shakara’ became part of the West African pidgin lexicon. It was an album like no other.
Fifty years later, to better understand the influence of Shakara in the lives of ordinary Nigerians, I hit the streets. Well, I just took my portable speaker to a group of old men on my street who played draughts and had strong opinions about everything.
If you call am woman, African woman, no go gree
She go say, she go say, “I be lady oh.”
These are the famous lyrics of ‘Lady,’ the first track on the album. As the music flowed from my speaker, I saw these men transform into dancing machines. The oldest one, whose limbs would not allow such energetic movements, spoke of his memories of the song. “When I used to fight with my wife, I would just slip the song into our arguments; ‘She go say im equal to man. She go say im get power like man.’” Immediately, his backup singers drowned his voice. I did not ask if they thought the song was misogynistic. One did not ask such questions from men like them.
The album moved to its second track - Shakara (Oloje). Initially, I skipped the song to Fela’s intro but was quickly reprimanded. “Take it back,” they ordered. So, I sat through exactly 6:27 minutes of instrumentals. With their varying degrees of horrible voices, they sang along like men who remembered the naughty vices of their youth while displaying inferior imitations of Fela’s dance moves. I left their midst during their performance, for I had heard and seen what mattered - the spirit that Shakara invoked.