Mini-Review: Fela Kuti: Music is the Weapon (1982)

Fela Kuti: Music is the Weapon [Musique au poing] (1982)

Starring Fela Kuti

Directed by Jean-Jacques Flori & Stéphane Tchalgadjieff

Expectations: Very High. I love Fela Kuti.


Fela Kuti is one of my favorite musical artists. He created the Afrobeat genre and sound together with his band the Africa ’70 (and later the Egypt ’80). He seems to have entered more of the mainstream consciousness with the recent success of the Broadway musical Fela!, but the real heart of his music lies in Nigeria and the political struggles he faced there.

This film features a couple of live performances from Fela and the band, none of them full songs, but enough to allow you to get a sense of his personal style on-stage. The film also covers a history of Fela and his music, covering his trip to America where he met Black Panthers who inspired him to become more political in his own country. The problem is, if you know much of anything about Fela and his music, this documentary doesn’t offer much that you haven’t already heard. It’s not that big of a problem though, as any Fela fan will enjoy the live performances and the extensive interviews with Fela himself.

The film does do a good job of showing the poor living conditions in the Nigeria’s largest city, Lagos. These scenes are cut to Fela’s song Sorrow, Tears, and Blood and it is a perfect choice. The images of people’s everyday struggles echo the lyrics to the song and like never before I was really able to grasp the power of his words. His music is so much fun, but underlying that is the immense Nigerian social problems. Seeing it all at once brought it home and shows how Fela was so much more than just a bandleader. He sought above all to improve the lives of the Nigerian people through his music.

Music is the weapon.

I’ll leave you with some of the lyrics to the song I mentioned above, Sorrow, Tears, and Blood. Seek it out if you’ve never heard it (YouTube video below!).

Everybody run run run
Everybody scatter scatter
Some people lost some bread
Some one nearly die
Some one just die
Police dey come, Army dey come
Confusion everywhere

Seven minutes later
All done cool down, brother
Police don go away
Army don disappear

Dem leave Sorrow, Tears, and Blood (2x)
Dem regular trade mark
*(CHORUS) DEM REGULAR TRADE MARK
Dem regular trade mark
*(CHORUS) DEM REGULAR TRADE MARK

My people self dey fear too much
Dem fear for the thing we no see
Dem fear for the air around us

We fear to fight for freedom
We fear to fight for liberty
We fear to fight for justice
We fear to fight for happiness
We always get reason to fear

We no want die
We no want quench** **(destroy)
Mama dey for house
Papa dey for house
I get one wife
I get one car
I get one house
I just build house
I wan enjoy

So policeman go slap your face
You no go talk
Army man go whip your yansh** **(ass)
You go dey look like donkey
Rhodesia dey do dem own
Our leaders dey yab for nothing
South Africa dey do dem own

Dem leave Sorrow, Tears, and Blood
*(CHORUS) DEM REGULAR TRADE MARK
Dem regular trade mark
*(CHORUS) DEM REGULAR TRADE MARK

That is why-y-y

Everybody run run run
Everybody scatter scatter
Some people lost some bread
Some one nearly die
Some one just die
Police dey come, Army dey come
Confusion everywhere

Time dey go
Time no wait for nobody
Police dey come
Like this
**[make siren noise with voice]

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r_ODwq7jm3E

4 comments to Mini-Review: Fela Kuti: Music is the Weapon (1982)

  • Uncle Jasper

    Mrs. Jasper and I caught this last night. I have to agree, I always knew Fela’s music was politically charged, but I always enjoyed it simply because it was great, awesome music. However, like you mentioned, hearing it alongside footage of the godawful living conditions in Lagos gave it a new power and urgency that I never understood before.
    I was also unaware of just how much Fela and his “family” were pursued by the Nigerian goverment. Holy shit, that scene where he shows off his collection of welts and scars really stuck with me.

    • Yeah, all the things he’s singing about are directly from the culture of Lagos and it’s hard to grasp that without seeing it firsthand. I’d never read his lyrics at all either until I got those lyrics and I was blown away at how well crafted they were. The police fucked with him endlessly. Those scars were gnarly!

  • Was just listening to Sorrow Tears and Blood this morning. Didn’t know this movie existed, I can’t believe I didn’t know this movie existed, Fela is very much the man and I have got to see this now. Thanks for the heads up and good review, man.

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