FELA NEVER SOLD OUT RECORDS – THE DECCA RECORDS FIASCO THAT PROPELLED FELA TO GREATNESS.
No one can truly celebrate Fela until they have understanding of the degree of pain and the depth of sorrow he was subjected to in his quest to attain greatness by speaking the truth.
Mostly in the business of the music industry, the first yardsticks for how successful artists are is by the amount in albums sales they can push. This was different in the case of Fela because he barely hard that luxury. In his heydays, Fela recorded the lowest album sales figures in contrast to his colleagues like the Ebenezer Obey, King Sunny Ade, Chief Stephen Osita Osadebe and Oliver De Coque.
In hindsight, this abnormality in sales figure was never as a result of Fela inabilities to attract massive audience. His followers were ridiculously huge and always ready to purchase his albums. Neither was it due to his shortfall in albums to sell; he out produces every artist in his time. But the government officials that Fela sang about their injustices, decided to make decisions that influenced the record label he was signed on to from putting out his albums in a proper and timely manner for effective sales.
In the context of this editorial, I’m zeroing my analysis on Fela’s contractual brouhaha with Decca Records, one of the major record companies in the history of the Nigerian music industry. According to my research, within 1978-1979, Fela was very transactional with his music business. He produces album and sell to the highest bidder from any record companies for the sum of fifty thousand naira. Then, that was major money for a record.
In his quest to do more business and survive in a tough environment where government was cracking down on his music, Decca Records came calling. He reached a contractual agreement to release six albums at the price of 250 thousand naira. He kept to his word and produced the albums, but Decca fail to release properly and timely during the duration of arguably the one-year contract. Then, MKO Abiola was the Chairman of the Decca records.
As one of the most successful business entrepreneur, MKO had deals with the Nigerian government. Considering the fact that Fela’s music was speaking against all the ills by government officials, with his message resonating with millions of natives, somewhere somehow, the record label could not afford to jeopardize their relationship with the government; so, they held Fela’s album from timely release.
With Fela’s vitriol-filled hate towards the Nigerian government, the aftermath of the song ‘Zombie’ that resulted in unknown soldiers burning down his Kalakuta republic, that affected his finances. He was so broke, with no home. Himself and his Kalakuta entourages moved into Parisona Hotel now renamed Prince of Anthony hotel, Anthony, Lagos. As at that time, Fela realize he ought to have made money from the sale of his album, but nothing was forthcoming from Decca Records. He went to their office several times to get paid, but they kept saying they haven’t made money off his album sales.
Fela got angry, took his entire Kalukuta family, storm Decca office, drove them out, and he made the office a home for weeks. After several attempt to eject him, despite a public editorial advert from Decca in the newspaper declaring the low album sales figures, he refuse to move out until one of his best friend in the Police, mediated and pleaded with him to take faith and move on. That drama with Decca arguably became the downfall of the company and the major reasons why Fela in his music, sang about the abuse of power by MKO Abiola and the government.
But despite Fela having low record sales due to the obstruction in selling physical copies of his album, his music sold out in the heart of his audience that go watch him perform three times a week. His sound became the greatest ideology, a form of religion that was preached from the tiniest street to the western world. This obstruction and brutalization that arguably form parts of Fela’s deepest sorrow propelled his music to greatness. Fela never sold out records but he sold out the greatest ideology.
Words by Sesan Adeniji