Digital generation making history with 'Femi Kuti and the Masses'

MISANI Special to the AmNews | 2/2/2012, 3:56 p.m.

"Let's Make History" is the final track on Femi Kuti's Grammy-nominated album "Day By Day" (Mercer Street/Downtown/Knitting Factory Records, 2008). On this resounding anthem, the internationally renowned Afropop icon, whose lauded "Africa for Africa" (Knitting Factory Records, 2011) is nominated for this year's Grammy Award for Best World Music Album, prophetically addresses Nigeria's younger generation, telling them they "have to think about how to make history." He makes it clear that they "are ones who have to change the world today. It's [their] time," he sings as he urges: "Let's make history."

Day by day, as history continues to unfold in Nigeria, an aware, educated, talented, hard-working younger generation of Nigerians who love their country are at the vanguard of not only making this history, but documenting it. Armed with digital and HD cameras, over the past three weeks they have been overtly filming and videotaping the massive demonstrations framing January's Occupy Nigeria protest.

The peaceful strikes commenced on Jan. 2, one day after the federal government of President Goodluck Jonathan announced that effective that day, the fuel subsidy of 65 naira (40 cents) allotted to Nigerians would be removed.

Nigerians determined that this action would inevitably result in a fuel price increase in the oil-rich West African nation, where the majority of the citizens exist on less than $2 a day, and it did-the price shot up to 141 naira (86 cents).

This ignited the Occupy Nigeria strike, which was patterned after the international protest movement Occupy, which principally targets economic and social inequality. As such, according to organizers, Occupy Nigeria was initiated to protest "the insensitive and inhumane treatment of Nigerians by the government and security agents."

Nigeria's younger generation instantly got into action. Through the use of a variety of digital age technology, they quickly mobilized, making use of various social media networks, such as Facebook and Twitter, to announce the who, what, where and when of the new movement.

On Jan. 16 in Lagos, Nigeria's former capital, thousands of citizens with signs came out to protest peacefully at Gani Fawehinmi Park in Ojota. They were joined at the front lines by superstar Afrobeat musician/composer/activist Kuti and other celebrities, who expressed their criticism and called for transparency in the government.

In various ways, Nigerians expressed that they wanted a share in the profits of their country's oil, of which it is said by many Nigerians that an estimated 80 percent of the financial profits go to 1 percent of the people.

Among those documenting this massive historical movement of the people against the government are some Nollywood filmmakers. Using digital and HD cameras for shooting and computer-based systems for editing, music and other post-production work, their films go directly to DVD and VCD discs.

Nollywood, the cinema of Nigeria, is the second-largest film industry in the world in the number of films produced annually. This $250 million movie industry, which produces an estimated 200 videos for the home video market monthly, is also the second most lucrative business in the country.

Also documenting the action are independent filmmakers such as the London Film Academy-trained Ororo Pattaya, whose 20km Films produced the brilliant short film, "Nigerian Oil SubsiDIE-Wakawakawaka" starring Kuti and "The Masses." Pattaya, the producer, writer and director of the film, which he calls a "docu-movie," described the film. "The story is about how Femi Kuti led a one-hour protest march from his Afrika Shrine performance venue to Ojota," he said.

On Monday, Jan. 23, Kuti addressed a capacity gathering of irate young Nigerian men squeezed into the Afrika Shrine, where he attempted to calm them following the government's ban of the protests. Later that afternoon, labor unions announced the end of the strike, and although the fuel subsidy was not reversed back to pre-strike prices, the newly announced government price of 97 naira (60 cents) per liter was displayed.

"Let's make history," Kuti urges the younger generation in his song. Nigeria's younger generation have heeded this call and are indeed making history.

"Let's make history," sings Femi Kuti. Nigeria's younger generation have heeded this call, and are indeed making history in Nigeria.

As we journey into Black History Month, "Africa Sings!" and the eyes of Harlem are focused on Femi Kuti, our Cycle 2 host, and filmmakers like Ororo who are committed to documenting Nigeria's present-day history for ensuing generations.