Story of the Fela Kuti & Africa 70’s “Mister Follow Follow”


“Mr. Follow Follow” is from Fela’s 1976 album Zombie, which was a watershed in Fela’s confrontational relationship with the Nigerian army. The fury stirred up among the authories by the albums Alagbon Close 1974 and and Kalakuta Show in 1976, and the harassments Fela and Africa 70 suffered as a consequence, were as nothing compared to the repsials following Zombie…

On the title track, in a typically forthright and memorable lyric, Fela ridiculed the mindset of the army and likened its footsoldiers to zombies. It’s one of history’s all-time best insults, and it goes on for over 12 minutes.

Within months of Zombie’s realise, a large-scale army attack left Kalakuta republic compound burnt to the ground, and many of its occupants, including Fela, assaulted and seriously injured. The sacking of Kalakuta was not, of course, brought about only by Zombie, but in the tension then existing between Fela and the military, it raised the temperature to boiling point.

On 18 February, 1977, around 1.000 soldiers, most of them armed, swooped on Fela’s Kalakuta Republic compound. They cordened of the surrounding area, broke down the wire fence around the community’s buildings, and battered their way into the into the central structure…

Occupants were stripped and barbarously abused: particularly unfortunate men had their testicles beaten with rifle butts; particularly unfortunate women were raped (one also nad her nipples crushed with stones)…

Fela was badly beaten, sustaining a fractured skull and several broken bones. His mother, then aged 77, was thrown out of a window, fractured a leg and suffering deep trauma. The army then set fire to the compound and prevented the fire brigade reaching the area…

The ensuing blaze gutted the premises, destroying six Africa 70 vehicles, all Fela’s master tapes and band equipment, a four-track recording studio, all the community member’s belongings and, for good measure, and the medical clinic run by Fela’s brother, Dr. Beko Ransome Kuti (who was severely beaten in the attack) …

The first journalists on the scene were assaulted by soldiers. Inquistive passers-by were similarly set upon. The army didn’t wanted any witnesses. They were unsuccessful at least in that; the photographers of the fire and its immediath aftermath apperead in Nigerian press within days.

Although Fela won the war of words which followed, he sensibly decided to leave Nigeria for a while, and in October relocated temporarily nearby Ghana, a country he knew well and where he had performed regularly with Koato Lobitos in the 1960’s Africa 70 in early 1970s…

But Fela’s political stence didn’t endear itself to the Ghanian authorities as either –particularly when protesting Ghanian students starting shouting “zombie!” at police and soldiers in the streets. After a few turbulent months, Fela was sent back to Nigeria.

“Mister Follow Follow” is more allusive than “Zombie”, but no less acute, counselling Nigerians to follow political leaders only with their eyes open. Don’t follow blindly, Fela advises, you will regret it.

Funkmeister George Clinton endorsed the sentiment and paid tribute to Fela on “Nubian Nut,” the breakout single from Clinton’s 1983 solo album, You Shouldn’t Nut Bit Fish.

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