Unto where should we carry our cross, Captain Kenya?
Back in the day, we were happy-go-lucky brass youth, savouring the pleasures of Afrobeat. It was the midday of African self-awareness. A cultural restoration was in progress. James Brown of American Soul had taught us how to say, “Say louder, I’m black and I’m proud.” Our Black pride would climax in the Second World Black and African Festival of Arts and Culture (FESTAC) ’77, in Lagos Nigeria.
Everyone who mattered in the African arts was there. Dancers, songsters, writers, dramatists, sculptors, potters, painters – virtually everybody. Our people assembled in Ogaland to celebrate legacies that had travelled through diverse times and spaces to reach them. It was a veritable celebration of a heritage.
For those of us enjoying rebellion and adolescence, Afrobeat was the spice. Our heroes were Fela Anikulapo Kuti, the man who coined the name Afrobeat. Others were Sonny Okosun of Oziddi Band, Manu Dibango and his magical saxophone and the mystic William Onyaebor.
But you had heard nothing, if you had not listened to the all-powerful Osibisa. Eh! This African troupe had been founded in London, in 1969, by a couple of African and Caribbean youth. Osibisa blended rock, Latino, funk, jazz and rhythm and blues to give the world Afro-fusion at its most ambitious and successful. African art had travelled around the world aboard American slave ships to come back home enriched with offshore flavours.
Osibisa swooned you with such compositions as “Woiyaya, We are Going” and “Uhuru.” Never mind if you have never heard of these strange people and their forgotten art. They are beautiful blasts from the past.
They are today tales told by idiots – full of sound and fury and perhaps, signifying nothing. Someday, however, a genuine African renaissance will come. Future generations will want to understand who they were. In the rediscovery of their roots, these artists will be reborn.
Such is the character of heritage and legacy. It is a long-term affair – very long-term. If you wish to have your name inscribed in the annals of heritage, you must take a mental flight into the future. Figure out what the world will be like and make a contribution to those futuristic times.
It need not be in the arts. It could be in anything else. The critical things are that it must be life defining and long lasting. When your name is mentioned 300 years hence, the people will proudly remember you, although they never met you. Their hearts glow with the embers of love and nostalgia, such as those who have never heard of Osibisa before will do upon hearing the baritone rhythmic resonations of, “We are going; Heaven knows where we are going: we know we’ll get there.”
Then, as now, we knew we were going – we didn’t know where. We still don’t know. But we always knew that heaven knew where we were going. We knew we would get there, but how, only heaven knew. Today, we still know that we are going, although we don’t know where, or how.
In my country Kenya, nobody knows where we are going – not even the captain of the ship of state. None of the four captains, so far, has ever known where the ship was going. But they steered it all the same. For, we were going. The first captain told us to each carry our own crosses on the journey into the unknown. He told poachers in our parks and sundry coffee smugglers to each carry their own cross. Even today, the new captain still says, “We are going. Heaven knows where we are going. Everyone carry your own cross.”
Trouble is that we have never seen anybody carrying a cross. If our police should see you carrying a cross, they would arrest you. They would think that you were trying to make yourself “Jesu Kristo.” If you make yourself “Jesu Kristo,” there is real danger of people trembling and falling down before you – on heir knees. They might try to worship you and your cross.
Now, what would happen to the captain if some people made themselves “Jesu Kristo”? The captain has no cross of his own to carry on our journey to nowhere. He can’t even borrow one. Whose? Now, just imagine 45 million people trembling like poplars before some nondescript, cross-carrying subaltern junior pseudo captain. And our captain has no cross. It is safe to encourage people to find and carry some cross.
But it is safer that all crosses are hidden. If you see a man about to carry a cross, take it away very quickly and hide it. Burn it even. Scatter the ashes in the Indian Ocean. Your name is not Simon of Cyrene to encourage people with carrying crosses. Yes, we are going . . . We the children of Afrobeat are going . . . Heaven knows where we are going . . . Carrying imaginary crosses . . . Heaven knows that we will get there . . . We know we will . . . And Heaven knows how we will. For, this is our heritage, our legacy. Look no farther. Dance the body music . . . Music makes you happy.
- The writer is a strategic public communications adviser.
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Festival of Arts and CultureNigeriaFESTACCulture