Sunday, February 27, 2011

Beyoncé goes Nigerian in a tribute to Fela Anikulapo Kuti (Baba 70)

Written by Victory Oyeleke
Sunday, 27 February 2011

FELA's genius is recognised worldwide in his musicianship and those that know what good music entails learn from him. There have been tributes made to him from Broadway shows to film and they all had positive feedbacks with critics calling it inspirational. However, the recent aim of L'Officiel, to celebrate the work


of Fela in an African Queen themed 90th anniversary issue, is causing controversy because the pin up for the 90th issue, Beyoncé, voluntarily darkened her face for the shoot. The shoot featured Beyoncé in a variety of African-inspired clothing and headpieces which critics have failed to acknowledge but rather they are interested in the decision to darken her face for the shoot which they have deemed “another instance of offensive blackface for the sake of fashion.

Beyoncé is not new to skin colour controversy. In 2008, critics protested over L'Oreal advert. Claiming her skin colour was altered in their advert. The company issued a statement indicating that, the colour of her skin wasn't altered. More recently, she has been criticised for deliberately having her hair and skin lightened for other photo shoots and now she is looking too black. Most critics are calling the image “offensive” and the reduction of an entire continent full of different nations, tribes, cultures and histories into one brown colour. According to Atlanta Post, a reader complained saying “As a fan of Fela Kuti, a man who was passionate about the freedom of blacks/Africans throughout the Diaspora, I'm not quite sure as to how Blackface pays tribute to him. Writer Charing Ball from Atlanta post also wrote: “blackface is not fashion forward or edgy and in my opinion it is just flat-out offensive. Although there has been no word from Beyoncé's camp, the magazine is defending the spread. According to them, 'the designs are all reflective of the African influence on fashion this season. As for the artistic make-up, the inspiration came from several African rituals during which paint is used on the face. We find the images beautiful and inspiring”.

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Looking at the spread, I agree with the Magazine. It is a work of art and should be interpreted as such without any sinister undertone and those bringing race into it should be careful because they are implying that all they see is a skin colour when even the Godfather for race relations, Dr Martin Luther King JR in his I have a dream speech delivered on August 28th, 1963, said “ I have a dream that my four children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the colour of their skin but by the content of their character”.

To start with, Beyoncé is an African-American, the shoot had pictures of her without the dark face and for me, I merely interpreted the different skin tone to mean people are all the same though with different shades and by painting her face, she is actually representing the whole continent where face painting is used by most of the culture for reasons such as religious, hunting and military purposes.

Amidst these hullabaloos, the most important person has been forgotten “Fela Anikulapo Kuti” who was Born on the 15th October, 1938, in Abeokuta Nigeria, to a feminist and anti-colonialist mother and a political activist father. When he was 20 years old, he was sent to London to study medicine but the head- strong socialist, studied music instead and formed a group called Koola Lobitos, which he later renamed Nigeria 70 and played his creation “Afrobeat” which was a mixture of American jazz, pop, funk and west African highlife music. He was a great musician and played multiple instrument from saxophone, keyboards, trumpet, drums to guitar. Apart from music, Fela's socialist views made him a proactive activist for Pan-Africanism and anti-colonialism he had many run-ins with the authorities of several African countries. He attempted running for Nigeria presidency several times but was never allowed to. Fela died in 1997 at 61 to aids related illness. He is one of the greatest music icons of all time.

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