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Editorials

FELA : Where is Mr T? Written by: Simbo Olorunfemi

Every one of the few personal encounters with Fela was remarkable. Each, a story, never to be fully told.

As a JJC to the Republic, you find yourself moving towards the only vacant seat in the living room only to be stopped in your tracks, it is reserved for Baba. You have to find a place among others on the floor.

He comes in, asks to know your name. He wants to know if it is a foreign name so he can school you on the impropriety of an African bearing a foreign name. He introduces one of his guests who had come visiting all the way from Maiduguri, his first time in Lagos.

On one occasion, he digs into the etymology of some words in English, tracking their roots to similar-sounding ones in Yoruba. Technology was from Te-ki-na-lo-ji, Germany, from Ijamani, etc.

On another occasion, Fela had the map of the world with him, explaining the relationship among the continents, drawing attention to the shapes – one with a mouth open as if about to swallow the other.

An enigma. Abami Eda. Some encountered him through stories passed around in one form or the other. But many encountered him through the pulsating beat of his music and his fiery, prophetic lyrics.

The music. I found myself singing ‘Water no get enemy’ this morning and my mind drifted way back and I found myself asking – Where is Mr T?

If you ever had cause to pass through Ikeja roundabout (Lagos) in the late 80s and 90s, you could not miss it. Fela’s music was always there, blaring from the speakers into the air around Ikeja bus stop, from morning to very late into the night, every day, from many years. Exclusively Fela!

That was Mr T. Taiye Olagorusi. He played and sold only Fela. In fact, the story then was that he was the only one authorised by Fela to ‘sell’ Fela’s unrecorded or rather unreleased music.

Fela played by his own rules. Played long, as long as15 mins, excluding the instrumental, refusing to abide by commercial consideration to compress a track into the required 3 minutes range. Would not write down his music,at the point of inspiration. He could not forget, he said. And if he did, it was not meant to be. Would not play ‘live’ his recorded music, but rather only record and release after many years of playing it ‘live’.

Mr T had this rich, exclusive library of Fela’s yet-to-be-released music. He had a rich, if not the complete repertoire of his work. He was close to Fela.

He was charged along with Fela to court over the unfortunate incident of the death of the electrician, Sanwo, in controversial circumstances.

Mr T. Fantastic guy.

Mr T’s life centred around Fela. Whatever happened to Mr T’s All-Fela-Music-Centre, Ikeja? Whatever happened to Mr T? Did they say he left for France at some point?

Fela would have been 79 on October 15, 2017.

Simbo Olorunfemi works for Hoofbeatdotcom, a Nigerian Communications Consultancy and publishers of Africa Enterprise .

Twitter: @simboolorunfemi

Great man.

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