I have long been a fan of Fela Kuti. I remember being first introduced to him during my quest for self and identity during my heady and exciting but confusing and lonely college days. I remember dancing to his music with my unborn son five months in my womb and I think I owe it to Fela when the little foetus started fluttering and kicking around, keeping me company as I lost myself in Fela’s tragic, honest, painful lyrics wrapped in the sweet, sweet sound of his sax and  around aaall those intricate layered rhythms. And that beat. Man, that beat. That Afro (heart) Beat.

Fela was the son of a Protestant minister father and a Feminist activist mother (in the anti-colonial movement). Like most respectable Nigerian families of means, he was sent off to London to study medicine and become a doctor like his two older brothers. A rebel from pretty early on, he enrolled in Trinity College of Music instead and, cutting to the chase, essentially pioneered a new genre of music called Afro-Beat.

Fela was baad. After the completed his studies in London,  he moved back to Nigeria and set up a commune for himself, his band and musicians, his dancers and singers and called it Kalakuta Republic. He also set up a nightclub, which became known as the Shrine, where he performed his music regularly and officiated traditional Yoruba ceremonies in honour of Nigeria’s ancestral practices of worship. He also changed his middle name to Anikulapo (meaning “He who carries death in his pouch”, with the interpretation: “I will be the master of my own destiny and will decide when it is time for death to take me”),[8][5] stating that his original middle name of Ransome was a slave name.

He sang in pidgin English so his music could be enjoyed widely over Africa and as his music became more and more popular, his unpopularity with the Nigerian government grew and there were frequent raids at the Kalakuta Republic. In 1977, after the release of his immensely popular album called Zombie, in reference to the Nigerian military, his home was raided by 1,000 soldiers and Fela was severly beaten.

He was a fascinating, deeply charismatic and talented musician. You know what? Better you just read the book…

Fela

One last thing though, to mark the one year-anniversary of the raid on Kalakuta Republic , he married, in one fell swoop, 27 women, most of which were his dancers, composers and singers! Anyway, much as I admire Fela’s spirit and music, all this was basically a preamble leading to the next topic… Fela’s Wives

I mean, these women were bad bitches. Check these out…

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Fela 5

Wowza! I mean, breathtaking, right?!

Dig a little deeper and a little more research led me to Mami Wata

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Mami Wata is a water spirit venerated in West, Central and Southern Africa, as well as the African diaspora in the Americas. She, alongside Fela and Fela’s Wives, were the inspiration for my latest photo art project. Whether she be called Ma Ganga in India, Yemanja along the shores of Bahia in Brazil; whether she be the trickster siren which lures sailors to meet their maker with her shape shifting melody or an alluring mermaid with silver-green fins, may the ambiguous, two-spirited energy of water (at times destructive and dangerous; at other times, healing, cleansing and life-sustaining ) be properly worshipped and revered. Om! Axé!

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Big ❤ and thanks to…

Photography: Lars Kastilan

Africa Pride Mala Beads: Heart of Joy Mala Beads

Eco Yoga Pants: Kismet Yoga-Style

Hair: Saloon Two Sisters (Sörnäinen, Helsinki)

 

3 thoughts on “Axé Axé … Mami Wata

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