Fela Kuti’s ‘Zombie’: an exegesis of an Afrikan psychologist

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 Fela Kuti’s ‘Zombie’ was produced by Coconut Records in 1976, Nigeria. Amongst other artistic and philosophical reasons, the song was employed as a ‘tool’ by Fela Kuti to address his perceived degeneration in the morals and professional conduct of the Nigerian military and subsequently the Nigerian government as a whole.

“I hold death in my pouch, I cannot die.” – Fela Kuti.

Zombie O, zombie

Zombie O, zombie

Zombie no go go unless you tell am to go

Zombie no go stop unless you tell am to stop

Zombie no go turn unless you tell am to turn

Zombie no go think unless you tell am to think

Tell am to go straight

A joro jara joro

No break no job no sense

A joro jara joro

Tell am to go kill

A joro jara joro

No break no job no sense

A joro jara joro

Tell am to go quench

A joro jara joro

No break no job no sense

A joro jara joro … – An excerpt from Fela Kuti’s 1976 hit song ‘Zombie’.

The creations of artistic endeavours; poems, songs, stories, novels and dance movements to mention but a few are in actual essence the materialized deep-seated intentions and reflections of the artist in question. To him, it is the most viable time-proof means by which he can foremost express his innermost feelings and observations of the world around him, and employ it as a formative and/or reformative tool for the just advancement of a common humanity.

The noble art of Self-expression is very important in any society, for it does not only confer on its proponent the respite of an unburdened psyche, but adds to the collective creative energy as some of these expressions emanating from individuals with whom we share commonality have served as catalysts for social progress irrespective of whether they challenged the misdirected ‘progress’ of society’s status quo or filled in a missing gap; as did Michael Jackson’s moonwalk.

The political, social and cultural terrain of Nigeria from 1966 when the first coup d’état of Alhaji Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa was carried out to the formation of Nigeria’s Second Republic when Olusegun Obasanjo handed over power to Shehu Shagari was one characterized by assassinations, murders, loot, and the preponderance of an utter state of lawlessness. It was a caricature representation of the Hobbesian warre; a state of being within a society where ‘everyone is against everyone’.

As allowed by Nina Simone; “an artist’s duty is to reflect the times”. Fela Kuti made it his destiny’s mission to put his artistry in focus; a revolutionary focus by which he did his own bit of ‘reflecting the times’ so to speak. The song ‘Zombie’ did more than criticize the unruly socio-culturally destructive operations of the Nigerian military back then, it also provided a window through which we saw and can still see in this present-now the nature of our individual and collective conscious psyche.

Fela Kuti’s observations of the behaviour of his kinsmen at the time, painted in the melodious imagery of ‘Zombie’ reveals an unspoken dire truth given the average African; whose folded arms and folded minds have made him a victim of manipulation and exploitation against himself as an individual, and against those who he calls tribesmen. “…zombie no go think unless you tell am to think…”

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Of course, the Nigerian Military of Fela Kuti’s days were ‘organized’ along the lines of authority-ranks; sometimes earned through meritorious deeds, other times through sheer brute force and was animated by orders and decrees from the ‘higher-ups’ to the ‘lower-downs’ whose purpose for living given their presence in a military career was to obey these orders and decrees usually without question. This scenario is not far removed from the modus operandi by which society as a whole is led, especially societies within the modernized Afrikan enclave.

It seems that the average majority are not the watchmen of their own conscious minds given our Afrikan communities. The average Afrikan has abandoned the gates of his central processor, simultaneously granting that position to whosoever is unsatisfactory with his own measure of freedom. The average Afrikan has freely handed over the keys of his innate freedom to control-obsessed cohorts who have gladly made it their bona fide property, so his thoughts are not truly his, neither are the fruits of the deeds borne of it and to this, he is born of. “…zombie no go turn unless you tell am to turn…”.

The question now arises as to ‘why has the average Afrikan rendered himself powerless in a world ruled by power of varying quality and quantity?’ or rather; ‘who has rendered the average African powerless in a world teeming with the force of power?’. I am of the assertion that these two questions are so salient they are not mutually exclusive; they are a continuum of dire necessity. “…zombie no go go unless you tell am to go…”.

The philosopher John Locke in his ‘An Essay Concerning Human Understanding, 1689‘ postulated the age-old concept of ‘Tabula rasa’; a Latin phrase whose connotative translation roughly reads; ‘clean slate’. The basic assumption of this concept is that; we are all born with virgin minds and consequent state of consciousness. A stage in our baby years where and when we are most innocent yet most vulnerable. What then forms; the bases of our knowing, foundations for our beliefs, belief system and motivations for our actions or the absence thereof as a people? It must have something to do with those experiences with which we came into contact with in our formative years. As we mature in; the awareness of the developmental processes our cognition and emotion go through, and in our interactions with our natural world and the Self within, we create on the clean slate those mental algorithms that will subsequently map out the quality and functional efficiency of our thoughts and those actions ensuing from them.

In our formative years, we tend not to have significant control over the circumstances within which we draw the experiences that shape us, albeit they are our most crucial years. Those whose decisions were almost always made ‘on their behalf’ or had the singular formative privilege of deciding for themselves completely overridden by the parent’s and/or guardian’s authority as youngsters tend to walk into the responsibility-filled world of adulthood without the crowned development of a well-rounded sense of Self. Is this the cause of our timidity, or rather the wheels underlying our hospitable drive; two phenomena that have made us susceptible to control and manipulation. A predicament not so different from the butterfly that could not fly because one farmer decided to ‘help’ it out of its cocoon. “…zombie no go stop unless you tell am to stop…”

The ability to; think through issues, critique the fundamental premises upon which their edifices have been built, provide equally viable alternate ideas to warrant their substitution when needed and reject or accept the phenomena contained in circumstances from a standpoint of understanding and resolve is a must-have arsenal given all persons, especially those of Afrikan descent who for a very long time have been victims of situations.

The Afrikan must also guard his mind against manipulative conditioning cues present all around his community. In order for the average Afrikan to empower himself and the society wherein he lives so as to purposefully direct himself and the course of his life, he must be wary of what he feeds his senses and be aware of all the arsenals arrayed against the rise of Blackness for we cannot continue down the path of increasing decline. Fela Kuti was a Social Psychologist after all, and a phenomenal one to infuse a well-informed psychoanalytic message into a song. The Afrikan ‘Zombie’ must now more than ever regain his composure and steady his walk.

 “…tell am to go straight…”

Last Edited by:Victor Ativie Updated: June 5, 2020


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