A Take on Fela’s Water No Get Enemy
The waves created by the song Water No Get Enemy by Afrobeat maestro, Fela Anikulapo-Kuti in 1975 on the Soundwork label can be likened to the wave generating capacity of water, the liquid from which the song draws its title. Indeed, Water No Get Enemy’s rippling message is as relevant as ever; is still felt today and speaks to the realities of our time. Part of the album, ‘Expensive shit’, the song’s longevity is arguably hinged on its originality and the prevailing social-economic and political circumstances at the time of its release, when Nigerians were persecuted for expressing their opinions on the activities of the then military government.
Inspired by Anikulapo-Kuti’s experience with the Nigeria Police when they allegedly planted hard drugs on the musician to implicate him and cause his arrest, the song lasts for 10 minutes. The first 5 are devoted to a solo characterised by a confident and aggressive display of skill on the saxophone, keyboard and percussions. The flow of brassy jazz, entailing funky groove, solo is broken by the 3 – minute intrusion of lyrics: “T’o ba fe l’o we omi l’o mal’o, if you wan to go wash, na water you go use; T’o ba fe se’be, omi l’o ma l’o, if you wan cook soup, na water you go use; T’o ri ba n’gbona, omi l’ero re, if your head dey hurt, na water go cool am”, meaning that if you want to have your bath or prepare soup, water is what you will use. When your head hurts, water is the relief.
Related: Evergreen ‘Iyogogo’ by Onyeka Onwenu
These words depict the indispensability and usefulness of water in our daily life.
“T’omo ba n’dagba, omi lo ma l’o, if your child dey grow, na water he go use; if water kills your child, na water you go use; t’omi ba pa’mo re, omi na lo ma l’o; ko s’oun to le se ko ma lo’mi ooo; Nothing without water…” Here, the artiste continues to extol the virtues of water and its importance, cutting across several generations of people. He gives the example of parents who are compelled to use water, even though their child drowned in it. Indeed, as Anikulapo-Kuti asserts, nothing can be done without water, it’s an all-purpose element.
In typical manner, Anikulapo-Kuti elicits responses from his vocalists, to a varied series of chants. A process also known as ‘give and take’. They chant: “Water, him no get enemy,” to his separate calls; “Omi o l’ota o”; “If you fight am, unless you wan die”; “I say water no get enemy”; and “If you fight am, unless, you wan die”. Perhaps the deeper meaning of the song unfolds here, one in which the artiste employs the regenerative power and invincibility of water as a metaphor for his capabilities and spirituality as a black man. “I dey talk of black man power; I dey talk of black power, I say”. It could also be said further that Anikulapo-Kuti was painting a picture, through his lyrics, of the challenges and victories he had gained over the Nigerian military government, which was against the freedom of expression. He attributes his victories to being a black man, who is generally known for his perseverance and long suffering.
The legend, Fela Anikulapo-Kuti was not a conventional man, a trait that perhaps led to his invention of the Afrobeat genre, a complicated mix of jazz, funky, highlife rhythms embellished with chants. He is well known for the distinguishing act of playing two saxophones in his songs. In his unusual private life, he married 27 wives at once, many of whom were his vocalists and dancers. He divorced all of them in 1986 on the ground that marriage brings about confusion and jealousy.
Born on October 15, 1938, Anikulapo-Kuti was persecuted, hounded, beaten and arrested over 20 times for his outspokenness against the Nigerian military authorities for more than 30 years. He is the only Nigerian musician till date to have had such vast political presence that he once nurtured a presidential ambition. He drew inspiration from all his challenges and sufferings, for his music. He died allegedly of AIDS on August 2, 1997.
Water No Get Enemy remains one of the best-known acclaimed masterpieces by Fela Anikulapo-Kuti. It continues to remain in the hearts of Africans all over the world, as it speaks so strongly to the black man’s cause.
July 26, 2019