Fela and the creative burden


By Uthman Shodipe

SINCE the primordial stirrings of life on the plains of Serengetti, in the verdant valleys of Mesopotamia, in Attica, in Troy, in Rome — the human repose has not been known to be halted by finite submissions. There has been no yielding to a defined horizon. Man has always been latched to the quest eternal. There has been a permanence in the human journeys; the endless confrontations with the mystifying plumbings of nature, the perpetual stripping of the veil of heaven, the hallowed, inspirational glimpse at the visage of God.

The eternal restlessness in the human gathering has never been borne upon the wisdom of a collective nudging to explore the utmost limits of the creative stretch. The probing of the unknown, the seeking of the profound, the conquest of a challenge have all been answerable to the spur of an individual adventurer, the maverick with inspired sapience. It is the resolute vigour of this solitary discernment that subsisting societal values are liberated from the restrictive cord of tradition, that new knowledge is unloosened upon a hesitant world, that innovative daring proclaims itself with intrusional assertion, rousing a dormant world to some revolutionary verities.

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But the questing spirit lives a difficult life. Because of some fated mystery of providential nuance, the innate maverick, swollen with creative feverishness, inhabits a peculiar orbit -of self-possession. He is -the non-conformist herald with strange declarations and prophetic halo, haunting our dormant acquiescence. He is the intruder of the uncharted frontiers, the daring pathfinder hurrying along some spatial arcana, fathoming the abstruse configurations, severing the cruel fetters of traditional myth, firmly affirming a mastery of his course.

Amid the tumultuous journeys of the pathfinder there is an inevitable thronging of eternal hurdles; the grapple with new fears, the grim resistant ferment of the unbelievers, the lash of hate, the terrors of the truncheon and the stake.

But in the end there is always a validation of the pathfinder. He may be broken and shattered, destroyed by some withering crucible. His ultimate validation however transcends the vitiating fury of the whip. His signification endures in the compelling fixity of his revelation, the spiritual sweep of elan and purpose continuously dramatizing the superiority of a new course.

It is in the flourish of the consummating ardour, it is in the overwhelming depths of afflatus from whence the pathfinder is sourced that gives the creative mission a fated inevitability. For, in the end, the pathfinder is of a freighted destiny. He is imprisoned by an absorbing burden, the innate compulsion of the Tennysonian Ulysses: “to strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.”

In the harsh demands of these exertions where the creative symbol is engaged in ceaseless collisional en¬counters, there is an emergence of a unique representative profile, the strutting impositional value of defiance and personal assertion. It is this moulding in the bitter cauldron that gives the creative herald the emblem of ingenuous vastness. He now be¬comes a supreme architect of his own will, his own designs. Amid the fer¬vent bursts of inspired guidance, he transcends the limiting tableau of the mortal plains, ceding the fragility of the human classification. He has be-come an enigma, a challenge to all.

Alas, in the restless profundity of his genius, the enigma, being the diviner of the unknown, is often dis¬missed as a polluting deviant; a warped, incursional presence on the normative purity. But he remains unthwarted, serene with a consecrated grace despite the annoyances of diminished men.
But there comes a time when the enigmatic spirit seethes with the resentment of an outcast; his message hindered by the unredeeming obduracy of a degenerate society.

In such implacable cultural corrosion, the creative icon who had once assumed the original role of the purposeful herald may burrow into a self-centered uni¬verse, shuttered from the normative family. In his bitterness and confusion, he not only abandons the values of the world without creative enhancement, he subverts everything else with perverted relish, tragically consumed by the blindness which he had seen in others. He joins the victim’s train.

It is here the enigma becomes a defeated man, diminished in creativity and purpose, wandering in destructive orbit, incapable of retrieving the primal flow of the creative provenance. Here, in this disillusionment, in this withering of talent and a deepening in artificiality, the enigma is no longer capable of the contents of rationality. Here, nothing matters anymore. There are no en¬during values. There are no hopes. No fears. No dreams. There are no redemp¬tive nudgings. Life itself is now a meaningless encumbrance, disposable in vitiating excesses. The enigma sees no liberating horizons anymore. Once a man of large, ambitious vistas, he is now contended in bewildering, escapist darkness, crushed by the burden of fate.

While it is true that some enigmatic personages are unable to contain the se¬verity of fortune because they are naturally freighted with greater challenges than the rest of us, but even in their destruction enigma do not die! They are etched in eternal halo by their earlier moments of divine intimations, by the quondam majesty of their convictions, by their magical grace; the hypnotic totality of their charismatic profusion, their heroic defiance, their certitude and the will to dare, to peer into the darkness and beckon the rest of us with the liberative light.

There is this witness in the passage of that ancestral philosopher, Fela Anikulapo-Kuti, who in the bright days of coherence and resolution seemed driven by some seraphic charm. He was the evocative symbol of rebellion and cultural rescue. He was of compelling radiance and bravura, possessed of the deep, instinctive lore of the African Savannah. He was the proud incarnate of the spirit of the luminous gods who once strove upon the plains of Serengetti. He was the restless, questing pathfinder with the resonant link to the fount of the ancients. But see what happened to him! Time and fate eroded the pious eloquence, enfeebled the old devotions and certainties. The philosopher became hoarse, reduced to a despairing speciality.

But even here, in the end, there is no tarnishment in the lustre of old. The enigma retains an eternal reverence; the imperishable testimony of the gripping grandeur of the shining moments, the wondrous etchings of the brighter days when he walked with the gods. He is now deathless, a universal symbol of redeemable Africa, a moral to the world.
First published August, 1997

About the author

Uthman Shodipe

Uthman Ademilade Shodipe, a descendant of King Ado, the first King of Lagos, is from the Dosunmu Royal House. A student of Classical Antiquity and History of Political Thought, he studied Comparative Literature and Intellectual History of Europe 18th Century at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA).