“If you call her a woman, African woman no go gree, she go say, she go say I be lady oh.” These are the lines of one of Fela Kuti’s hits titled “Lady.” I am a die hard fan of Fela and his music. Although he passed away a long time ago, like other great legends in music (i.e Bob Marley, Michael Jackson etc), his music continues to live on past his death and it remains a great example of what being original entails. It is from this context that I suggest that for the future we want with African fashion, we have to be as original as Fela Kuti who managed to propel Afrobeat music to new heights. Take for example, Fela’s chorus singers, their call-and-response pattern, was extraordinary on its own, and powerfully effective in helping to make his music remain etched in your mind, long after it has ended. This kind of power, that allows something to linger on in ones mind for a long time is the kind of originality that African Fashion needs. Another element of his music was his use of Pidgin English. Fela’s use of Pidgin English made perfect sense given that Pidgin is a universal language spoken in Nigeria, thus making Fela’s music accessible to many and not just for the elite or people in the West. His music crossed so many racial and ethnic boundaries, so much so that Fela once said that “you cannot use good music to sing African music…Good English cannot convey the message in African music.”Again, this is the type of originality that African Fashion needs.
We cannot have the future we want if we continue to rely on what we think people in the West will like. African fashion has it’s own Pidgin, whether it with our Adire materials or with our traditional way of making beading jewelry as seen above in our feature image for today. Until we find this distinct African way of portraying the African experience with fashion, then I am afraid that the future we want will remain out of reach. There can and there should be a distinctive way to make sense of fashion that is both profoundly African and widely accessible. This is what influenced Fela’s appeal and what I know we can achieve for the future we want with African Fashion.
Image credit: Nigerian wedding instagram