Edosn Arantes Do Nascimento popularly known as Pele is one of the greatest players to have ever kicked a football. He starred at the 1958 World Cup in Sweden as a 17-year-old for the Samba nation Brazil. Pele went on to win the World Cup trophy two more times, Chile in 1962 as well as Mexico in 1970. The all-time leading scorer for his national team as well, his name has become an albatross for many footballers in Brazil. Every new exciting talent since Pele’s retirement is dubbed the new Pele by the fans and media alike and many have crumbled under the weight of this expectation. From Romario to Ronaldo Da Lima to Ronaldinho and even Neymar currently, each of these stars have been touted as the new Pele at one time or the other. Some of these stellar footballers went on to achieve their own bit of history and greatness but the truth is none became the new Pele, they only became great versions of themselves. This trend has been occurring on the Nigerian music for a while now with whispers of ‘new Fela’ turning into chants of ‘new Fela’. Once an artist shows any form of activism, declares his love for marijuana or walks on stage and lifts both fists up, we are quick to liken him to Fela or declare him the new Fela.
However, there cannot be another Fela, other artists can only be a great version of themselves. Fela is more than an artist, he has evolved into an institution and no artist in Nigeria both past and present has made an impact in channeling social commentary the way Fela did. Some fans of Burnaboy would swear he is the new Fela, this is particularly appealing because of his links to Fela’s family and his uncompromising attitude to life. Burnaboy’s Grandfather Benson Idonije was Fela’s band manager for so many years. His music also leans heavily on inspiration on Fela’s Afrobeat, so it’s easy for them to throw these projections up. Have you ever encountered Wizkid FC on twitter? They are brute and take no prisoners when it comes to their favorite and they swear by Ojuelegba that Wizkid is the new Fela. Wizkid’s Snapchat name actually says Felaback but that’s where the comparison ends in reality. Burnaboy and Wizkid are both two of the greatest artists to come out of African soil without a doubt but these Fela comparisons has to stop.
Burnaboy and Wizkid are going to be remembered as music greats when they are long gone for their amazing music and feats. Fela however is an institution on his own, a man whose impact is even more profoundly felt after his death. There can never be another Fela, his music inspired multitudes of people. He inspired his generation and was fearless in pursuing social justice. He was a source of constant irritation to the government with his music and the message. Any comparison with current artists is baseless because Fela is peerless. A one-man opposition to successive Military governments in Nigeria. He was imprisoned, his Mum was thrown over a balcony, his properties were set ablaze, but all this did not break the activist in him, rather he became even more vocal in his criticism. Fela Anikulapo-Kuti is a rare breed and such acts are tough to follow. Many of present-day artists cannot walk in Fela’s shoes, it’s not by releasing one or two songs of activism once in a while, Fela lived activism and it was not a hobby. Fela was an enigma and it irks me to no end that the tag new Fela is thrown around for artists who have barely been on the scene for 10 years
Apart from his musical genius, activism and his storied lifestyle with women, he consistently fought the government for years. At the height of his reign, his music was banned from the airwaves by the military government, but his music still became popular, can any of the present-day acts compared to Fela withstand so much heat and antagonism. Fela is an inspiration to many and his iconoclastic reverence should not be muddled by throwing tags of the new Fela at any artist. Everybody cannot be Fela and we are all unique in our own ways, so let us rest the new Fela undertones. Even his two Grammy nominated Musician sons don’t claim to be the new Fela, they know what the entity Fela means.