Wednesday, April 08, 2015

Progressive Music Classics. Fela Kuti: "Shuffering and Shmiling"



Welcome to another edition of Progressive Music Classics, a salute to left-leaning music that champions the cause of working-class people around the world.

It's interesting how, for such a supposedly discredited philosopher, so much of Marx's teachings hold up well today. Case in point: Marx's famous statement, "Religion is the opium of the people."

The great Nigerian musician Fela Kuti also took aim at organized religion in his masterful 1978 track, "Shuffering and Shmiling," (sic).

Specifically, Kuti was targeting imported religions like Christianity and Islam, which he believed were causing many African working-class people to be passive in the face of corrupt Western-supported political regimes.

As Lenin once stated, "Those who toil and live in want all their lives are taught by religion to be submissive and patient while here on earth, and to take comfort in the hope of a heavenly reward."

Like Lenin, Kuti could clearly see that the African masses were being cynically manipulated by the Nigerian kleptocracy, as it systematically looted the nation.

The message of "Shuffering and Shmiling" initially takes the listener by surprise. As is the case with many Kuti tracks, the song takes a while to unfold, before delivering a jolt.

Kuti begins by gently asking for the listener's attention:

"You Africans, listen to me as Africans,
And you non-Africans, listen to me with open mind."

Then, out of nowhere, Kuti delivers his angry message to startling effect:

"I want you all to please take your minds
Out of this musical contraption,
And put your minds into any goddamn church,
Any goddamn mosque."

This is definitely no "Don't Worry, Be Happy," sing-along track. Like many Kuti works, it's a song that has both a strong groove, as well as a message. (It's the sort of brave statement that earned Kuti the violent wrath of Nigeria's power elite).

The Nigeria of 1978 is seemingly a long ways from the America of 2015. But in some ways, the differences aren't that great. One only has to see how today's GOP has cynically manipulated many working-class Americans to vote against their own interests, via "Christian" hot-button issues like abortion and gay marriage.

Today's Republican Party has wrapped itself in the flag and in a virulent form of fundamentalist "Christianity" that takes the teachings of Jesus and somehow converts them into a jingoistic, bigoted, twisted value system that has nothing but contempt for working-class people.

In that sense, the GOP is every bit as cynical as the corrupt 1970s Nigerian kleptocracy that looted and impoverished that nation. And Kuti's message is still ever bit as relevant today as it was in 1978.