‘Lady’ A Feminine Critique of Fela

Fela’s attempt to invalidate or mock Lady, an African woman transcending the rigid gender norm is anti-feminine, anti-feminist and anti-Nigerian. Women in many pre-colonial societies in what is now known as Nigeria were empowered in ways that Fela’s 'Lady' made fun of.

In Fela’s song, ‘Lady’ (1972, Shakara), the eponymous Lady is an African woman who challenges the behavioural expectations of women in post-colonial Nigerian society. Although the lyrics imply that Lady protested patriarchy through her actions, Lady is an object of ridicule for Fela. That Lady demonstrates all the nonchalance and aggression usually reserved for men is an aberration in Fela’s moral universe. Today, Lady, with her insistence on being equal to men, is likely to describe herself as a feminist. But for Fela, ‘African woman’, the antithesis of Lady, ‘know him man na master’.

Although Fela zealously challenged the government and neo-colonial oppression in Nigeria, he was not interested in dismantling patriarchal oppression despite how closely the oppression of Africans by government and neo-colonial actors mirrors the oppression of Nigerian women by Nigerian men. Like most Nigerians, Fela had internalized the rigid colonial gender system, which strictly masculinized and feminized men and women respectively.

For Fela, it was important that the African individual is actively seeking self-autonomy and independence of action and thought. He advocated actively for the freedom to be, to think and to live African. Fela’s legacy continues to inspire and motivate generations of Nigerians who are engaging in unlearning ideas rooted in western ideology and imperialism. Fela provides many Nigerians with a reference in language, lifestyle, and artistic expression of what it means to interrogate and engage with African identity in a post-colonial world.

Many years since gaining independence, Nigerian men and women still internalize and express colonial patriarchal ideas. Empowering women and the feminine, however, could offer tools for building a more authentic and liberated society.

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