Fela’s law I guess. The Fela Anikulapo-Kuti documentary, Music is the Weapon, was the victim of a technical hitch on the night, and so could not be shown. Kalabash have promised to have it on again soon. So who’s to replace the father, if not the son? The Afrobeat king’s musician son, Femi Kuti, was going to be on the programme anyway, and so his documentary, ‘Suffering and Smiling’ played first. You could say with Nigeria, you’ve got to laugh to keep from crying sometimes – and so the audience took it upon themselves to prove the truth of the film’s title (taken from Fela’s classic, Shuffering and Shmilling) and laughed at every new item in the country’s endless litany of woes. But there came a time when for many, it wasn’t funny anymore.
I suppose the documentary allowed me to understand Femi Kuti more. But his sister Yeni is pretty arresting when she's on film, speaking truth to power (at least on camera) such that one almost regretted the fact that she never took the microphone to sing too (who said the Afrobeat legacy was only for Fela’s sons?). In one scene, the family has bought crates of drinks for the throngs that come to the New Afrika Shrine daily. But it all turns into chaos, because the people would not be satisfied with helping themselves to one bottle in an orderly fashion. They’s rather take six each, robbing others of a drink. Yeni looks from the balcony in despair, saying the people have become exactly like their leaders. But it’s difficult to watch Ms Kuti for long; her pessimism is almost catching. You shudder and hope, as we Naijas oftens say, that “Nigeria go better”.
After the Femi Kuti film came Nigeria’s Oil War, a 20-minute documentary that erased all laughter. There's a darkly hilarious moment however, when warlord Asari Dokubo is supposedly possessed by - is it the Holy Ghost or some other spirit? Then it was time for the panel, including myself, Eki Gbinigie of the ALISC (African Liberation Support Campaign) Network, Ben Amunwa of the Remember Saro-Wiwa Organisation, and Inemo Samiama, a musician and Niger Deltan. Moderated by Kate Glinsman, one of the organisers of the event, the panel stood; the room was that full. What emerged during the panel discussion was how seriously members of the audience took this opportunity to air and share views on Nigeria. One young man delivered a blistering speech even as he made his way from his seat through the crowded room for the exit. As I told a fellow panellist, it was a performance.
Ben Amunwa informed the audience of a surprise match involving the Ken Saro-Wiwa memorial landing in front of Shell headquarters on October 23rd, urging all those who could make it, to come along. And Eki Gbinigie (who I first met earlier this year at the Chima Ubani tribute event at SOAS) had brought along copies of Kilombo, a Pan-African Magazine on activism.
A successful evening overall, made only better by my running into 2007 Caine winner Monica Arac de Nyeko outside the venue afterwards. Now, what were the chances of that? We simply had to pose for a couple of pictures to believe it ourselves.