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Book: Body Talk and Cultural Identity in the African World

Chapter: 2. Fela’s Clenched Fists: The Double Black Power Salute and Political Ideology from Afrobeat to Occupy Nigeria

DOI: 10.1558/equinox.24091


Upon his return to Nigeria from the United States in 1970, Fela Kuti had absorbed much of the ethos of the Black Power Movement (BPM). In addition to assimilating the philosophies of the movement, Fela had come to appreciate the significance of the Black Power salute as a symbol of solidarity and resilience; and subsequently incorporated it into his Afrobeat performances. Recent scholarship on Fela has drawn primarily on his musical output in theorizing the man and his works. This extensive focus on his music means that scant attention has been paid to the ways in which his body, as a communicative apparatus, enacted the complex ideologies that he advocated. This paper examines the significance of Fela’s double “Black Power” salute as a performative gesture in the evolution and circulation of his political ideologies. It analyzes the ways in which Fela’s salute con versed with, augmented and even preserved Afrobeat and its politics. In addition, it examines how, embodied by protesters in the 2012 Occupy Nigeria movement, the salute acquired nuanced political meanings. The chapter employs a close reading of images, lyrics and Fela’s stage performances where the salute was enacted and put them in conversation with its employment in the Occupy Nigeria movement to argue that Fela’s double “Black Power” salute figured critically in the evolution of his art as well as in the posthumous appreciation of his legacy

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