‘Why we didn’t use Fela’s abusive song against military in ‘76’

AHEAD of its screening at the 2016 Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF), a question some critics that have seen ‘76 directed by Izu Ojukwu ask is why one of Fela’s songs criticising the military is not used in the movie instead of his 1971 hit, ‘Buy Africa?

‘Buy Africa’ signposts an era when the military government announced Africa as the centrepiece of Nigeria’s foreign policy but as everybody knows, Fela had a history of rebellion with the military and never held back in his songs against the institution.

Explaining why ‘Buy Africa’ was chosen, executive producer, Tonye Princewill said:“We had a very good working relationship with the Nigerian Army. The Army may have wanted us to make them less brutal, but that would have been unrealistic. Having a good relationship with the Army did not make them immune to criticism. ’76 shows it as it is. A good working relationship involves mutual respect. Interestingly the army sees the movie as a platform that would further cement understanding between the military and civilians, even admitting that times are different now.”

But Fela is not the only Nigerian musician whose song is used in the film. There is a rich and interesting parade of the golden oldies. Though a couple of them have passed on, their memories are still alive through their timeless works. Of the featured soundtracks in the movie, only Miriam Makeba’s ‘The Naughty Little Flea’ and ‘Where Does it Lead’ are sourced from an artiste outside Nigeria.

Explaining how they got the rights to the songs in the movie, Adonijah Owiriwa who shares credit as executive producer with Princewill said they had to deal with a number of publishing companies within and outside the continent.

Their first port of call was the Copyright Society of Nigeria (COSON). He said, “COSON was very helpful and assisted with linking us up with publishers that had rights to some specific songs. COSON also assisted with negotiating fair deals with the publishing companies on our behalf.”

However, some rights were obtained directly from the owners of the songs. The administrators of Fela’s Estate in Nigeria, according to Owiriwa, “were gracious enough to give us the right to use one of Fela’s greatest songs in the movie without charge. In fact, the representative of the family that attended to us during the discussion said: “This is indeed a laudable project, preserving our music and culture. I am sure Fela would have even offered to perform live in your movie if he were alive today.”

Four of the artistes featured in ’76 have passed on. They include highlife music giant, Cardinal Rex Lawson who led the Port Harcourt –based Majors Dance Band. His hit ‘Jolly Papa’ is relived in the movie. Released in 1976, the year that the movie is set, Nelly Uchendu’s ‘Love Nwantinti’ makes it all a bit noteworthy.

Prince Nico Mbarga’s, ‘Sweet Mother’ also helps to create nostalgia in the movie. Mbarga has the privilege of having another song, ‘Aki Special’ in the movie.

With Mbarga and Makeba, ’76 has the distinction of being a celebration of Africa and the resilience of the African spirit.

The two Victors – Victor Olaiya and Victor Uwaifo also register their presence with their creative works, ‘Baby Jowo’ and ‘GiodoGiodo’ respectively. Olaiya’s song has been recently remixed with popular Nigerian pop artiste 2Baba as ‘Baby Mi Da’.