Language as a product of cultural contact

(This article was first published in 1998.)


Fela Kuti’s songs ‘Sorrow, Tears, and Blood’ (S.T.B.) and ‘Colonial Mentality’ (Colomentality) were released in 1977 on Kalakuta Records. This was actually the first release on Kalakuta Records, Fela Kuti’s own label.’Fear Not For Man’ was released in the same year on ‘Afrodisia’, Decca West Africa Ltd., a large Nigerian record company.’ Original Sufferhead’ and ‘Power Show’ came out in 1981 on Arista Records Ltd., one branch of the ‘super major’ Ariola. At this time Fela Kuti had already created the musical style which made him well-known all over the world. His fusion of Afro-American soul and funk elements, jazz skills he had acquired in the 1960’s by studying and playing in London, and African influences like Highlife music, ignited this new genre of music, Afrobeat: ‘The story of Fela Anikulapo Kuti is the history of Afrobeat music – that commercial and currently best known variety of modern African music’.1

I must point out that apart from his musical progressiveness he mixed up elements of at least three languages, namely Standard Nigerian English (STE), Nigerian Pidgin (English) (NP), and the West-African language Yoruba.2 In his very idiosyncratic manner he created lyrics, we may call ‘authentic lyrics’.

In most of the lyrics dealt with in this paper Nigerian Pidgin is predominant. ‘Original Sufferhead’ contains most Yoruba features, whereas ‘Fear Not For Man’ is almost completely STE in terms of syntax and lexicon. Nigerian Pidgin is a so called ‘extended pidgin’ with over 20 million speakers today. More than 1 million speak it as their first or native language3 which puts it close to a creole language.

In NP, English is the superstrate language, the Nigerian languages are the substrates.4 Linguistically, a substrate language refers to the presence of linguistic influence from the language(s) of the lower prestige group in a pidgin or creole. Superstrate language denotes the language of the group with the highest social prestige.5 As regards orthography the lyrics are written in an ‘anglicised form’. This, however, quite often leads to misunderstandings, respectively supplies controversial passages.

The intermingling of languages has certainly a particular meaning, as it is or at least was not such a widespread phenomenon in African music. Like the music is a fusion, Fela Kuti’s language is bound to such a process, too. Quite important, though supposingly restricted to Fela Kuti’s most popular times in the 1970’s and 1980’s was the impact of his language performance on Standard English and Nigerian Pidgin. His effort of making up new words by, for instance, compounding (‘Colomentality’ or ‘Sufferhead’), coining new and forceful semantics, directly influenced the English language and the minds of millions of Africans as well as of other people all over the world.

This was definitely due to Fela’s powerful ‘Afrobeat’ music and to the messages he conveyed in his songs. After all, the straight verbal attacks in his lyrics against the military government of Nigeria got him into jail several times. It is quite evident that he was the spokesman of the oppressed, fighting cultural imperialism in particular as well as imperialism in general. Hence his words weighed heavily.

What Remi Akano predicted about Fela Kuti in 1976 is the motto for this paper: ‘With his kind of social consciousness and political awareness Fela will continue to write outstanding and relevant lyrics and with his music the world is sure to keep on listening’.6

Parts of the lyrics differ very much in print from how they are actually performed. Whenever I noticed and found it relevant I added these passages in italics. This is most prominent in ‘Power Show’.

In chapter 1 and 2 I want to approach aspects of the linguistic backgrounds which play a role concerning Fela Kuti’s lyrics.

I started my ‘linguistic survey’ with ‘Original Sufferhead’. I deemed this song to be most suitable to reveal typical features of Nigerian Pidgin English and the West African language Yoruba.

In ‘Colonial Mentality’ (ch.4) I am going to point out particular linguistic features which are characteristic for the language in use.

In chapter 5 ‘Fear Not For Man’ – I will discuss some problems which come about by the intermixture of Standard English and Nigerian Pidgin. This song is the only one that contains merely these two languages.

Chapter 6 ‘Sorrow, Tears, and Blood’ and Chapter 7 ‘Power Show’ mereley provide the lyrics of the two songs and their translations. Both ‘texts’ are supposed to give more information on Fela Kuti’s topics. It is hardly suprising that Fela’s ‘straight’ lyrics had a crucial psychological effect on many people, especially those who directly faced the social conditions in Nigeria at that time. The final part of this paper will be a comment on the social and psychological conditions under which Fela Kuti appropriated his ‘position of enunciation’.

The treatment of the lyrics does not imply that certain features are restricted to one particular song only. (But the conclusions can just as well be applied to others.)

Passages left in the translation as they are in the original version are considered as Standard English. This refers, in particular, to tense, syntax, the use of pronouns and conjunctions, as well as to vocabulary.
Remark on references:
Significant parts of the lyrics which are quoted in the paper appear in fat type. The number of the line is cited immediately after the quote.

1 A Linguistic Approach to Fela Kuti’s Lyrics

What Fagborun calls code-mixing – in his eyes ‘the most interesting of all modes of communication in the Yoruba territories’7 – strongly inheres in Fela Kuti’s lyrics. Code-mixing ‘may, at times, comprise Yoruba, English and/or Pidgin in one and the same sentence, depending on the level of education of the speaker’.8

We can certainly state, that these lyrics supply a good example of the linguistic phenomenon that nowadays is called ‘code-changing’, or ‘code-mixing’. (With regard to their time of release, the lyrics are probably also a kind of early ‘official’ prototype of this linguistic mode.) Linguists evaluate this phenomenon against the background of contact between languages which evolves ‘the interweaving of linguistic elements from different sources’.9

Le Page and Tabouret distinguish between ‘focused’ language, indicating that the speaker is aware of the linguistic elements of his/her language, or parts of it, and oppositely ‘diffuse’ language which obviously comes about as an unconscious result of linguistic environment. These are not two strictly separated stereotypes of language, but in between processes like pidginization and creolistion have their origin10 and are at work. This is an interesting aspect of the development of languages, for one can hardly declare that linguistic changes as such derive from conscious processes. On the other hand there are various fields of human activity in which language is subject to change, as individuals or distinct groups use language on their own behalf. This includes variation and innovation in linguistic terms which, above all, oppose to language conventions. These linguistic alterations are frequently bound to social processes where language is activated merely in order to provoke or to serve a particular purpose like conveying discontent. This applies to Fela Kuti’s lyrics. On the whole, I assume that the words and phrases he uses are thoroughly chosen. I even presume that, concerning his contextual ambition, he occasionally varies the type of language. In Original Sufferhead, for instance, he uses the STE preposition ‘from’ (l.15/16) when addressing those who are not in Nigeria but in London or New York. On the other hand he uses the NP preposition ‘for’ (e.g. l.18) when Africa is concerned. Yet, this assumption can not be proved in this paper. Nevertheless, Nigerian Pidgin is the prevailing language in the lyrics, and occasionally the Yoruba particles just seem to be perfectly fitting with the musical arrangement.

2 Backgrounds of ‘Serial Verb System’ and ‘Linguistic Borrowing’ – Prominent Features in the Lyrics

The feature of ‘verb serialization’ occurring in Nigerian Pidgin obviously derives from indigenous West African languages.

In his chapter ‘substratum influence’ Eze points out:

‘The fundamental root of ‘clause sequence’ construction11 in Nigerian Pidgin is embedded in the ‘substratum languages’.

Concerning the influence of ‘substratum languages’ on Nigerian Pidgin he uses two West African languages to prove that there are corresponding syntactic structures: Igbo and Yoruba are characterised by ‘verb serialization’ in the surface structure of sentences.12 Yet, ‘linguistic borrowing’ in general strikes a broader field of language. Nigerian Pidgin has adopted some more features which derive from Igbo and Yoruba: referring also to the grammatical respectively syntactical level the ‘continuative verbs’, the deletion of recursive noun phrases, and the rarity of conjunctions (or their minor grammatical importance) have to be mentioned.13

In Fela Kuti’s songs there are a great deal of Yoruba features, which I will focus upon in Original Sufferhead and throughout the whole paper. Comparing the syntactical with the lexical structure of the lyrics, however, lexical features of Yoruba prevail, or are more obvious respectively . The syntax of the songs is largely NP, although a few passages turn out to be original Yoruba. In general, one should know that Fela Kuti has also performed lyrics in Yoruba exclusively.

Regarding the language of the songs dealt with in this paper, as already mentioned, we find an intermixture of Nigerian Pidgin, Standard Nigerian English and Yoruba. The spelling of the English-derived words is more or less close to the spelling in STE. (A consistency in spelling can not be expected!) I will tackle the problem of orthography in the chapter ‘Colomentality’.

Additionally Fela Kuti uses slang expressions as well as some words that can be found in the Krio -English dictionary, Krio being the creole language spoken in Sierra Leone.14

There are also expressions which do not belong to any particular language, but arise from Fela Kuti’s creative treatment of language. As mentioned in the introduction he invented or coined some significant new terms. In this respect he mainly uses English-derived words. However, rare examples of ‘code-mixing’ can be found.

3 Original Sufferhead – Lyrics and Translation

1 Water Light Water Light
2 Food House Food House
3 Ye paripa O Ye paripa O15
4 Wetin do them What are they doing?
5 You mean you don’t know You mean you don’t know?
6 Wetin do them What are they doing?
7 I go tell you I will tell you!
8 Wetin do them What are they doing?
9 You go hear am You will hear them
10 Wetin do them What are they doing?
11 That means to say you no dey This means you are not
12 For Nigeria be that in Nigeria for a fact
13 You see yourself You better look yourself
14 You no dey for Africa at all You are not in Africa at all
15 You must dey come from London You must be coming from London, from
16 New York, from Germany, from Italy… New York, from Germany, from Italy…
17 That means to say you no This means you are not
  dey Nigeria be that in Nigeria for sure
18 You see yourself you no de for You see yourself, you are not in
  Afrika at all Africa at all
19 If you dey for Africa where we dey If you are in Africa where we are
20 you go know you will know
21 I go know wetin I will know what?
22 Plenty, about water, light, food, house Plenty, about water, light, food, houses
23 I go know wetin I will know what?
24 Plenty plenty water for Africa More than plenty water in Africa
25 Na so-so water in Africa There is so much water in Africa
26 Water underground, water in the air Water underground, water in the air
27 Na so-so water in Africa There is so much water in Africa
28 Water for man to drink (i)nko O What about water to drink for Man?
29 E-no dey (chorus) It is not there!
30 E-no dey e dey It is not there, is it?
  E-no dey (chorus) No, it is not!
31 Water for town Water in the town?
32 E-no dey (chorus) It is not there!
33 Government sef e dey? Is there a government?
34 E-no dey (chorus) No, there is not!
35 Plenty, plenty light for Afrika Plenty, plenty light in Afrika
36 Na so-so energy for Africa There is so much energy in Afrika
37 Na the big-big men dey get electrica It is the very big men who get electricity
38 If them no get electric dem go If they don’t get electricity
  get plant O they will buy a plant, yes
39 Ordinary light for man nko O What about ordinary light for Man?
40 E-no dey (chorus) It is not there!
  E-no dey e dey? It is not there, is it?
  E-no dey (chorus) No, it is not!
41 Plenty, plenty food for Africa Plenty, plenty food in Africa
42 Food under-ground, food on Food underground, food on
  the ground the ground
43 Na so-so plenty food for Africa There is so much food in Africa
44 Ordinary food for man for chop16 nko O What about food for Man to eat?
45 E-no dey It is not there!…
46 Government sef e dey? And the government, is it there?
47 E no dey It is not!
48 Dodo nko? ten kobo for one What about Dodo?17 ten Kobo18 for one
49 Akara nko? twenty kobo for one (2x) What about Akara?19 twenty kobo for one
50 Bread nko? fourty kobo for one What about bread? fourty kobo for one
51 E no dey It is not there
52 Government sef e dey? Is there a government?
53 E no dey No, there isn’t!
54 House matter na different matter As regards houses this is a different matter
55 Those wey dey for London dem Those who are in London live like lords
  dey leave20 like lords  
56 Those wey dey New York dem Those who are in New York
  they leave dey like kings live there like kings
57 We wey ele for Afrika We who live in Africa
58 We dey leave like servants We live like servants
59 United Nations dem come21 The United Nations gave us a name
  get name for us  
60 Dem go call us under develope nation They will call us underdeveloped nation
61 We must be underdevelope We must be underdeveloped
62 To dey stay ten-ten in one room O Ten people stay in one room!
63 First and second dey The First and Second World
64 Dem go call us Thirdworld They will call us Third World
65 We must dey craze for head We must be crazy in the head
66 To dey sleep inside dustbin22 We sleep inside dustbins
67 Dem go call us none-alined nations They will call us none-aligned nations
68 We must dey craze for head We must be crazy in the head
69 To dey sleep under bridge O We sleep under bridges, yes
70 Ordinary house for man What about ordinary houses
  to leave nko O? for Man to live in?
71 E no dey (chorus) There are none!
72 Trouble Trouble?
73 E yen dey It is there!
74 Water? Water?
75 E no dey It is not there!
76 Wahala23 Affliction?
77 E yen dey It is there!
78 Food Food?
79 E no dey It is not there!
80 Trouble Trouble?
81 E yen dey It is there!
82 House Houses?
83 E no dey They are not there!
84 Wahala Affliction?
85 E yen dey It is there!
86 Dem come turn-us to suffer head to they came and made us suffer,
87 Original Sufferhead Original ‘sufferheads’
88 It’s time for Jefa-Head O It is time to become ‘jefaheads’
89 Original Jefa-Head24 O Original ‘jefaheads’
90 Dem turn us to Sufferhead O They turned us into’ sufferheads’
91 Original Sufferhead (chorus) Original ‘sufferheads’
92 It’s time for Jefa-Head O It is time to become ‘jefaheads’
93 I want to tell you my brother one I want to tell you one bitter truth,
  bitter truth my brother
92 Before we all are to Jefa-head O before we all can enjoy our lives
93 We must be ready to fight for am now we must be ready to fight for it, now!
94 Me I say sufferhead must go O O I say: ‘sufferhead’ must go, yes!
95 Original Sufferhead Original ‘Sufferhead’
96 Jefa-Head must come ‘Jefa-Head’ must come

3.1 Typical Features of Nigerian Pidgin in Original Sufferhead

There are good examples for the use of /wetin/ and /wey/ which are typical NP words. /Wey/ functions as relative pronoun. This is obvious in sentences like those wey dey for London (73) and we wey live for Africa. (57) /Wetin/, which can also be a subordinative conjunction in NP,25 appears in the phrases Wetin do them (4) and I go know wetin. Bearing the meaning ‘what’ in both cases, /wetin/ is an interrogative pronoun in Original Sufferhead. In general it seems to take the place ‘what’ holds in Standard English.

Another striking feature in Original Sufferhead is the reduplication of words, especially English loan-words. This is a significant morphological process in Pidgin English, a process of word formation that can be a process of lexical modification, too. It is an

‘African heritage, since, though it does occur in English, it is far less frequent and not so productive as it is in West African languages’.26

There are ‘three different kinds of reduplication in NP: ‘reduplication involving extension of meaning, reduplication involving the idea of intensity and reduplication involving no change in meaning (no semantic effect).27

We come across reduplication of different word types in Original Sufferhead. So, we find the doubled adjective big, which as big-big (37) is likely to be an intensifier of big. So-So (27) in this context means ‘so much’ and hence implies lexical expansion, like big-big, but also semantic change. Ten-ten as reduplication of the numeral ten means simply ten, although more emphasis is expressed. Yet, no change of meaning is involved.

An example for the reduplication of an entire clause within a sentence can be found in Power Show. The phrase ‘him car push‘ appears twice. (37)

3.2 Yoruba in Original Sufferhead

The language of Fela Kuti’s lyrics consists of at least three languages. The extent of mixing always depends on the particular song. As I have said there are also lyrics in Yoruba. Yet, we must distinguish between Yoruba features that have had an impact on NPE in general, as effect off substratum influence, and Yoruba expressions just inserted in the lyrics. I want to deal here with the latter.

It is more difficult to evaluate substratum influence regarding grammar, for one has to know the indigenous languages well. Yet, this is to a great extent what the linguistic research of pidgins and creoles is about.

Unless the lexical field is concerned this issue becomes quite complex. Ye pari pa O (4) is a Yoruba phrase, signifying an exclamation of despair. It is not possible to translate the single words and deduce the meaning of the phrase from this, despite the existence of a verb ‘pa’ and a word ‘pari’ in Yoruba. But, as Yoruba is a ‘tone’ language, and the stress in this context is different, the meaning is also distinct.28

The Yoruba word nko is frequently used in this song. (28, 39, 48, 49, 50) It is an interrogative pronoun and, here, stands at the end of the sentence exclusively. Only the emphatic particle O is following which, as regards grammar, is not part of the sentence. I will focus upon this particle in Colomentality, where it occurs in a special position.

As becomes obvious in the translation, nko has the meaning ‘what about’.29 Unlike STE, the question word appears in final position: Water for man to drink (i)nko O30 (28), Akara nko (49). This is obviously not a typically Yoruba feature, however.31

Original Sufferhead is the only one of all five songs containing nko.

There are two Yoruba terms which describe Nigerian food: akara and dodo. The former meaning ‘bean-cake’,32 the latter ‘fried ripe plantain’.33

The counterpart to the expression Sufferhead, which Fela Kuti coined, is the compound Jefa-Head. (88) Apart from the fact that ‘compound’ is a significantly morphological feature of NP34 this is a special case because ‘jefa’ is a Yoruba-derived word. It appears as an intransitive verb in the Yoruba dictionary, meaning ‘to enjoy good fortune’. This is presumably the etymological source of the word Fela uses. Regarding the context this would be plausible. Sufferhead must go OO (94), Jefa-Head must come (96). ‘Suffering’ has to come to an end. Fela shouts for a change, for better times to come, that those who suffer can commence to enjoy their lives.

There is one more Yoruba word in the lyrics, namely wahala (76) which means trouble. Eze declares wahala as ‘substratum loan word’ in Nigerian pidgin: ‘Substratum loan-words vary according to the dominant Nigerian language of a pidgin speech community.’ He considers akara, which I mentioned above, to be a ‘substratum loan word’, too: ‘For example, in the northern states the pidgin word for baked beans is ‘kwose’, derived from Hausa,35 in the southern states it is the Yoruba word ‘akara’.’

He states that some substratum words ‘are generally understood and used by competent pidgin speakers all over the country’. Among these is wahala, which in his opinion is of Hausa origin.36

In conclusion we must gather that the use of Yoruba-derived words – whether loan words or not – is more prominent in Original Sufferhead than in any of the other lyrics of this paper.

4 Colonial Mentality – Lyrics and Translation

1 He be say you be colonial man it is said you are a colonial man
2 You don be slave man before You have been a slave before
3 Dem don release you now They have released you now,
  but you but you
4 never release yourself have never released yourself
5 Colomentality Colomentality
6 He be so It is like this
7 He be so dem dey do, dem overdo It is like this what they do: they overdo
8 all the things dem dey do everything they do
9 He be so dem dey do, dem think say dem What they do: they think that they
  better pass dem brother. No be so? are better than their brothers. Is it not like this?. …
10 He be so It is like this!
12 The thing wey black no good The thing why blacks are not good
13 na foreign things dem is because they like foreign things
14 dey like. No be so? Isn’t it like this?
15 He be so/ I be so (chorus) It is!!!
16 Dem go turn Air Condition and close They will turn on the air-conditioning
  dem country away. Na be so? and forget their country.
17 He be so It is like this!
18 Dem judge him go put white wig that judge will put on a white wig
  and jail him brothers. and jail his brothers
  No be so? Is it not like this?
19 He be so It is like this!
20 Dem go proud of dem name and They become proud of their names
  put dem slave name for head put their slave names at their heads.
  No be so? Isn’t it like this?
21 He be so It’s like this!
22 Colomentality now make you hear me now Colomentality, you should hear me now
  Colo Mentality (chorus)37
23 Mr Ransome you38 make you hear Mr Ransome listen!
24 Mr Williams you make you hear Mr Williams listen!
25 Mr Allia you make you hear Mr Allah listen
26 Mr Mohammed you make you hear Mr Mohammed listen
27 Mr Aglican you make you hear Mr Anglican listen
28 Mr Bishop you make you hear Mr Bishop listen
29 Mr Catholic you make you hear Mr Catholic listen
30 Mr Muselim you make you hear Mr Muselim listen
31 Na Africa we dey O make you hear (2x) we are in Africa – you should hear this
32 Colomentality hear Colomentality! listen!
33 Mr Ransome you make you hear Mr Ransome, listen
34 Na Africa we dey o make you hear It is Africa where we are-you should hear this
35 Colomentality (Chorus) (various times)

4.1 Selected Linguistic Phenomena in Colomentality

The Phrase ‘He Be Say You Be Colonial Man’ against the Background of Orthography and Pronoun Usage

The first line represents a problem which is not unusual for scripts of orally performed language. A mistake has been made that can lead to a substantial misunderstanding of the lyrics, at least from a Standard English point of view.

Instead of He be say the line should read ‘e be say‘. Phonetically there is no difference in NP as /h/ is not pronounced anyway.

If the common meaning of He as a pronoun – like in Standard English – is applied, the sentence does not make any sense. Why ‘He’ is written down, however, is probably because of the unstable orthography in NP: ‘there has been to-date no consistent way of writing NP’.39 Evidence for the meaning of ‘he’ is given from line 6 onwards when he be so occurs permanently. This is the reply to Fela’s question No be so? which means ‘is it not so?’ . The answer is affirmative and hence must be ‘it is like this’. Regarding this we can presume that all the ‘He’s’ in ‘Colomentality’ are meant to be 3rd singular neuter. This is not very controversial if one is aware of the fact that in NP as well as in Yoruba one pronoun serves for all three genders. In NP this is ‘e’ in Yoruba ‘O’.40

Yet, the alternate or flexible use of pronouns is obviously not a problem occurring in Fela Kuti’s lyrics only.

Elugbe and Omamor call the spelling He ‘anglicised writing’. In general, the term means to them ‘the common practice of writing most NP words exactly as in English, while altering a few tell-tale examples.’

In order to illustrate their approach they quote the first two lines of the ‘celebrated’ poem ‘One wife for one man’ by the Nigerian writer Aig-Imoukhuede:

My fader before my fader get him wife borku
E no’ get equality palaver; he live well

Concerning the first line they point out that /fader/ is the only word of English origin that is not spelled as in Standard English, whereas /borku/ is the only word not of English origin.

Concerning the second line they stress the reference of both,’e‘ and ‘he‘ to ‘fader‘. ‘E‘ as well as he coming out as ‘i‘, but spelled differently in the same line.41

What can be considerd as the overall problem – this becomes clear in the second line – is the inconsistent spelling of the same pronoun by the same writer, even in the same line. (Whether or not this is of set purpose in this case remains open).

With regard to this, however, it is not surprising that we have to face this kind of inconsistent spelling in Fela Kuti’s lyrics, too. Moreover, we can presume that the one who wrote down the lyrics was not very ambitious concerning orthography.

We know that Fela Kuti also uses ‘he’ as the personal pronoun. This makes an understanding of the meaning a bit more difficult at first sight.

Nevertheless the first line of ‘Colomentality’, fundamental to the understanding of the chorus, must be interpreted as follows: ‘It is said you are a colonial man’.

4.2 Forms of Standard English ‘To Be’

The verbal form be also used in the the first line is apparently – as dey when it stands on its own – an equivalent to the Standard English verb ‘to be’. Yet, dey is distinct from be insofar as the latter denotes what someone is himself rather than the place where he is. This is covered by dey. Thus be in NP fulfills the function of ‘to be’ in STE in terms of providing for individual and characteristic descriptions of people, things, and conditions. Dey as a main verb, on the other hand, implies that the STE meaning of ‘to be’ is bound to ‘being somewhere’, respectively a certain location. This occurs for instance in ‘Colomentality‘: Na Africa we dey (31) (It is Africa where we are) or in ‘Original Sufferhead‘: If you dey for Africa where we dey (19).

Of similar importance, however, (and even conforming to the statement above) is the way in which the semantic equivalents of STE ‘it is’ and ‘it is not’ appear in Fela Kuti’s lyrics. In Colomentality, E be so (it is like this) (e.g.6) appears whereas in Original Sufferhead we find E no dey e dey (it is not, is it?) (e.g. 30).

The difference, one can presume, obviously lies in the reference. E be so refers to the question No be so and is an affirmative answer. I already explained this in 4.1.1. . The second phrase refers to the existence of, for instance, water. So, it refers to something ‘being ‘or ‘not being’ in existence.

There is also na which appears to correspond to the meaning of a 3rd singular present tense neuter of STE ‘to be’. This is evident in line 13 and 34: Na foreign things (13) and na Africa we dey (34).

Na is a frequently used throughout the songs, e.g. in Power Show, Na wrong show (2) and in Fear not for Man, Na Goat dey run (10).

4.3 Conjunctions in Colomentality

In line 9 say functions as a conjunction. It translates into STE ‘that’. This is due to the fact that ‘sey’ in NPE can be verb as well as ‘subordinator’.42 In this particular case it is a ‘subordinate conjunction’.

Also striking in this line is the syntactical function of pass. It can be found in the Krio dictionary meaning ‘greater than’, ‘better than’, ‘more than’.43 Fela Kuti, however, uses it as an equivalent of STE ‘than’.

4.4 Specific Functions of Pronouns

The way in which pronouns are used in ‘Colomentality‘ is strictly according to Pidgin English.44 This displays in various lines. In particular the use of dem as a personal pronoun as well as a possessive pronoun stands out: dem think say dem better pass dem brother (9). This is a largely consistent feature of Fela’s language throughout the different songs, with one exception: Considering the sentence dem judge, him go put white wig and jail him brother (18)45 two features are especially crucial with regard to pronouns:

Firstly, dem judge does most probably not mean ‘their judge’, as might be appropriate, referring to what I just stated. Instead, it presumably means ‘the judge’ or ‘that judge’.This might be due to a linguistic phenomenon Barbag-Stoll describes as follows:


‘Extension – NPE words acquire a new meaning in addition of that of the source form’. The example she gives resembles Fela’s construction: ‘dem pikin dem’ which is in Standard English ‘those children’.46

Thus, dem drops its pronominal function. This would match the context. (There is obviously also the option of a 3rd singular pronoun ‘dem’ as will be mentioned in the next paragraph.)

Secondly, ‘him’ is a possessive pronoun in him brother, deemed to be a regular feature of NPE.47 Yet, it is also used as a personal pronoun in him go put. This in a way levels what I stated earlier: Although the use of ‘e’ for all three genders is a valid rule, Fela does not use ‘e’ but ‘him’.

Nowadays, as speakers of Nigerian Pidgin strive for a standardised orthography a tendency appears to be simply transferring phonetics into spelling. Therefore ‘e’ is spelled ‘i’ and ‘him’ logically ‘im’. By this method the origin of words becomes less clear. This is, of course, a hint at a ‘Verselbständigung’ of the linguistic system at work and, moreover, a problem that affects speakers of STE in terms of understanding written NP. The following 3rd singular personal pronouns can be found in NP:

e or im48

dem (distant) / hi, i (non distant)49


Considering the time when the books were published one has to realise that in the 1970’s ‘im’ was still a word in what Eze calls ‘Pidgin Proper’51 but obviously 10 years later it has disappeared. If this holds true, this linguistic conclusion would contribute to the tendency of NPE departing from STE in general.

As Fela Kuti’s lyrics are from the late 1970’s, early 1980’s it is not astonishing that he uses him (im) for STE ‘he’ frequently.

4.5 The Verb ‘Make’ as an Imperative Marker

A special syntactical feature in this track appears in line 22: Colomentality, now make you hear me now. The verb phrase make you hear implies an imperative sentence. As is obvious in the translation the sentence means: ‘you should hear me now’. This demand is reinforced by an instrumental break; the line is actually shouted out, it is an emphatic exclamation.

Despite the fact that this seems to be addressed ‘to whom it may concern’ Fela Kuti becomes more precise by addressing particular persons. The demand, of course, relates to what he calls ‘Colomentality’ and its effects. It becomes clear that his criticism aims at conforming to colonial and non-African habits, modeling oneself on the ‘colonial master’. Fela tries to generate awareness of this sort of ‘post-colonial syndrome’. I will deal with this issue in my very last chapter more precisely.

Wrong on the text sheet is line 23. Addressing ‘Mr. Ransome’ must rather go: Mr. Ransome you make you hear. In terms of ‘make you hear’ as an imperative the line comes out as follows: Mr. Ransome you should hear this! The syntactic formation stays the same in the whole list (23-30).

The exclamation colomentality hear almost at the end (32) implies that there is no distinction made between ‘hear’ and ‘listen’, which is most likely another feature of NP. This justifies by all means the interpretation of Mr. Ransome you make you hear in just Mr. Ransome listen and appropriately in all the following lines containing ‘make you hear’.

4.6 The Yoruba Particle ‘O’ in Colomentality

In Na Africa we dey O make you hear (31) nobody as a person is addressed, but the reference is more generally to all of them and to ‘It is Africa where we are’ Hence an interpretation as ‘you should hear this’ or ‘you should listen to this’ makes the reference a bit clearer. The substance of this conclusion, however, is based on the knowledge that this line must be subdivided into three syntactical parts. These are, in syntactical terms, completely independent of each other, although phonetically they seem to belong together.

The first sentence is Na Africa we dey, consisting of noun, verb and object, the second as stated above, make you hear. In between stands the emphatic particle or phoneme /O/ which comes from the indigenous Nigerian language Yoruba. It functions as a particle to reinforce the meaning of what has been said before. /O/ in Yoruba appears at the end of sentences exclusively. It is usually an affirmative and emotional suffix.52 As I have mentioned earlier, it can also have other meanings depending on ‘tone’.

This knowledge is fundamental to the correct understanding of the line. The intonation on the record suggests that we are dealing with one coherent sentence consisting of two clauses. This is a deception!

Although the impression arises, listening to the record, that there is a syntactic connection we actually face two entirely independent sentences in a linguistic respect. The particle /O/ separates these sentences.

The /O/ is a frequent Yoruba features in the lyrics of Fela Kuti. As already stated it occurs in the Yoruba phrase Ye paripa O (Original Sufferhead, 3) and nko O (Original Sufferhead, 28), which is an ‘interrogative suffix’, meaning ‘what about?’, ‘what if?’ in STE.

In Power Show /O/ is even reduplicated, e.g. in the line Na that time dem go start dem Power Show O O (22/23).

Without doubt, this particle is also a good means of extending the lines. Therefore it can be regarded as a suitable supplement in order to fit music and vocals together.

5 Fear Not For Man – Lyrics and Translation

Fear Not For Man
1 Doctor Kwame Nkrumah Doctor Kwame Nkrumah
2 The Father of Pan-Africanism The Father of Pan-Africanism
3 Says to all black people Says to all black people
4 all over the world: all over the world:
5 ‘The secret of life is to have no fear’. ‘The secret of life is to have no fear’.
6 Now we all have to understand that Now, we all have to understand that
7 I’m a man I’m a man
8 I’m a man I’m a man
9 Run run run I no go run Running away? I will not run
10 Run run I no go run Running away, I will not run,
  brothers and sisters brothers and sisters
11 Na GOAT dey run, n MAN dey stand Goats run away, Man keep standing
12 I’m a man I’m a man I’m a man, I’m a man

5.1 Selected Problems of Fela Kuti’s Language as a Mixture of Nigerian Pidgin and Standard English in Fear Not For Man

One the whole the lyrics of ‘Fear Not For Man‘ are close to Standard English although a few stylistic features are bound to characteristics of Nigerian Pidgin. Significantly, the name of the song comprises both varieties, insofar as the syntax is strictly pidgin, the form of negation, however, is rather untypical for Nigerian Pidgin as ‘NP has only one negator no…’.53

There is fair evidence in all songs, that Fela usually applies the common ‘NP negation’, e.g. I no go run for ‘I will not run’ occurring in line 9 and 10.

In this particular case, however, the way of negating is typically Standard English, which does not simplify the understanding of the heading at all. Three different readings appear to be possible.

Firstly, if we assume that the preposition ‘for’ is used in its common meaning in Standard English – this would not be very inconsistent regarding the negation – then we can either interpret ‘do not fear for Man’ or ‘no fear for Man’. Of course, in the first case ‘fear’ is considered to be a verb and thus becoming part of a verb phrase in the Standard English version. The second interpretation contains ‘Fear’ as a noun, which instantly alters the implication of the phrase. It is no imperative any longer but rather a statement or wish expressed.

In Nigerian Pidgin ‘for’ is usually the only preposition. I have already pointed this out. Because of this the third reading might be ‘no fear of Man’; the meaning implied is entirely distinct from the former two.

In Standard English ‘fear’ does not go with prepositions except for ‘for’, but then it is an intransitive verb exclusively (in the sense of ‘to worry about’). It does not bear the meaning ‘to be scared of something’.

With regard to the content of this song’s lyrics ‘no fear for Man’ as well as ‘no fear of Man’ make sense. Compared to the use of ‘fear for’ in ‘Sorrow, Tears and Blood’ the latter might be corresponding: In the line Dem dey fear for the thing we no see (15) we could extract ‘fear for the thing’. Juxtaposed to the ‘heading’ the only difference is the negation particle ‘not’, otherwise the clause structure is alike. ‘Fear for the thing’ means ‘fear the thing’, the preposition is without meaning at all and hence dropped. If we drop the preposition in ‘Fear Not For Man’ consistently, if, respectively, we assume its redundancy, then the line is ‘fear not Man’ which in STE should be ‘don’t fear Man’ which means the same as ‘no fear of Man’.

Nevertheless, the wish or need for a state where nobody is in fear of anything is also strongly inherent in this song.

5.2 Features of Nigerian Pidgin in Fear Not For Man

There are few passages which feature pidgin elements explicitly. Apart from the negation in lines 8 and 9, the only complete pidgin line is Na Goat dey run, na Man dey stand (10).

As already pointed out ‘dey’ can either hold a ‘habitual’ or a ‘continuous’ function in Nigerian Pidgin. But it is ‘essentially a present tense form with a specifically imperfective meaning’. The interpretation depends on the context in which it occurs or the semantics of the following verb.54

As dey is a frequent word in NPE we must take this into account with respect to all the lyrics of Fela Kuti. Still, as I have mentioned earlier in chapter 3, this is only valid, if dey appears as part of verb serialization. If occurring on its own it is a means to express the English verb ‘to be’. I have discussed this in detail in ‘Colonial Mentality’.

Hence in Na Goat dey run, na Man dey stand ‘dey’ functions, as it stands, as a marker of a ‘habitual’ characteristic of goats on the one hand and Man on the other. ‘Na’ retains it’s common meaning ‘it is’.

I suppose that the translation meets with what Fela Kuti intends to say: ‘Goats run away, Man keeps standing’.

6 Sorrow, Tears, and Blood – Lyrics and Translation

1 Everybody run run run Everybody runs away
2 Everybody scatter scatter Everybody scatters
3 Some people lost some bread Some people (have) lost some money
4 Some one nearly die someone has nearly died
5 Some one just die someone has just died
6 Police dey come, Army dey come the police is coming, the army is coming
7 Confusion everywhere there is confusion everywhere
8 Several minutes later Several minutes later
9 All den cool down brother everything has calmed down, brother
10 Police don go away the police has gone then
11 Army don disappear The army has disappeared then
12 Dem leave Sorrow, Tears, and Blood They leave Sorrow,Tears, and Blood
13 Dem regular trade mark Their regular trade mark
14 My people self dey fear too much My people also has too much fear
15 Dem dey fear for the thing we no see We fear the things we can not see
16 Dem they fear for the air around us We fear the air around us
17 We fear to fight for freedom We fear to fight for freedom
18 We fear to fight for liberty We fear to fight for liberty
19 We fear to fight for justice We fear to fight for justice
20 We fear to fight for happiness We fear to fight for happiness
21 We always get reason to fear We always find a reason to fear:
22 We no want die We don’t want to die
23 We no want quench we don’t want to be extinguished
24 My mama dey for house my mother is at home
25 My pikin dey for house my children are at home
26 I get one wife I have a wife
27 I get one car I have a car
28 I get one house I have a house
29 I just marry I just got married
30 So policeman go slap your face So the policeman will slap your face and
31 You no go talk you will not say anything
32 Army man go whip your yansh the soldier will whip your back and
33 You go dey look like donkey you will look like a donkey
34 Rhodesia dey do dem own Rhodesia does not care
35 Our leaders dey yab for nothing Our leaders’ words are useless
36 South Africa dey do dem own South Africa, they do their own thing
37 Dem leave Sorrow, Tears, and Blood They leave Sorrow,Tears and Blood
38 Dem regular trade mark (Chorus), Their regular trademark
39 Dem regular trade mark Their regular trademark
40 Dem regular trade mark (Chorus) Their regular trade mark
41 That is why-y-y That is why everybody runs away
42 Everybody run run run…  

6.1 Aspects of Tense in Sorrow, Tears, and Blood with Respect to the Aspect and Tense Markers in Nigerian Pidgin

Assuming that Fela Kuti is describing a police action in progress even the very first lines give evidence that the language applied is not ‘pidgin­proper’.55 In ‘pidgin­ proper’ ‘e run’ is supposed to mean ‘he ran’.56 (‘E run’ = ‘e come run’, as the tense marker ‘come’ can be omitted without distorting the meaning of the sentence.)

There is no reason why we should expect past tense to be used in this particular context, especially as ‘Everybody run, run, run’ and ‘Everybody scatter, scatter’ occur later on in an indisputably ‘present tense context’. In line 3 Fela shows that he is aware of the grammatical structure of Standard English, using the preterite of ‘lose’. In Nigerian Pidgin English the verb in simple past should be formed with the time marker ‘come’ and the infinitive. The third line would be as follows: ‘some come lose some bread’ or with deletion of ‘come’, which is also possible, just ‘some lose some bread’. This is, of course, why ‘e run’ stands for ‘he ran’.

Line 4 of ‘Sorrow,Tears, and Blood’ corroborates to the use of the infinitive as a means of expressing past (if translated ‘someone nearly died’, referring to the previous past tense). However, the infinitive form could also indicate present perfect, e.g. in line 5.

As becomes obvious in my translation of both lines, I preferred present perfect, according to the context. Yet, this tense does not exist in Nigerian Pidgin. Basically there is a distinction of three different tenses in NP, namely past, present and future.57 However, there are certain ways of expressing, for example, present perfect although there are no such things as auxiliaries for forming verb phrases in the structure of NP. Rather, there are ‘aspect marker’:’there are two main aspectual notions in NP. These are the imperfective and the perfective. The imperfective can be interpreted as either habitual or continuous’. The perfective aspect in NP is marked by the particle ‘don’ ‘which indicates completion, plus present relevance’. The interpretation depends on the context, in which it occurs or the semantics of the particular verb involved.58 Hence, Police dey come(6) (imperfective aspect) can mean ‘the police is coming’ and ‘the police usually comes’. With regard to the present perfect Eve provides a sentence, which additionally hints at the deletion of ‘and’ in NP:

The chief of our village has come and then gone back to his house.
Di chief for we village e don come, go back for im house.59

There are some passages in Fela Kuti’s lyrics, which show this type of clause structure applying the aspect marker ‘don’. Moreover ‘and’ seems to be omitted. There is rare use of ‘and’ in the lyrics, although this might also be due to the linguistic structure of songs.

Lines 9­11 serve as an ideal example for the ‘perfective aspect’. In order to describe the situation after the ‘attack’ he sings: All don cool down brother, police don go away, army don disappear. This is definitely a sequence of tenses, which demands present perfect in Standard English.

It is striking that within the verb phrase there is no inflection of the verb. This is considered to be a rather common feature of pidgins and creoles: ‘Pidgins have reduced inflectional and derivational morphology as compared to the source languages.’60 Actually, there is no inflection of the Verb in NP like in STE.61

In line 4 it also becomes evident that Fela Kuti does not bother about the categories of tense. In ‘someone nearly die’ he does not use any kind of marker, but leaves tense interpretation to the listener or reader. In this lies a substantial problem for everyone without full command of the pidgin, because the particular clause attains its meaning only through the overall context. And this, is likely to be even more difficult to grasp. In line 5 we are finally provided with a hint at tense by the adverbial tense marker ‘just’. This implies present perfect or present progressive. I decided for the latter, fitting more sensibly into the context.

Police dey come, however, indicates a continuous form, for ‘dey’ is the tense marker for present tense and what Eve calls a ‘continuative verb’. He denotes three different tense marker in NP: go future, come ­ past, dey ­ present. Additionally three ‘continuative verbs’ are mentioned, indicating motion: go, come, and begin.62 Tense marker as well as ‘continuatives’ are preverbal markers in NP. I will not discuss their optional positions, meanings and functional roles at work in the ‘serial verb con­struction’ (29).63 I have explained some aspects of this in chapter 2.

7 Power Show – Lyrics and Translation

1 I open my eye I see for my land I open my eyes and I look at my land
2 Na wrong show O (chorus) it is the wrong show
3 Everywhere you dey Everywhere you are
4 Everywhere you go Everywhere you go
5 Everybody want do power show Everybody wants to show his power
6 Na wrong show O (chorus) It is the wrong show
7 You reach boarder immigration When you reach the boarder the
  officer dey immigration officer there
8 Him go bluff you He will bluff you
  Yes (chorus)  
9 Waist your time He will waist your time
  Yes (chorus)  
10 Chainge him pen him pants he will change his pants
  Yes (chorus)  
11 Some dey comb dem hair Some comb their hair
  den tidy dem table then tidy their table
  Yes (chorus)  
12 Den him/dem pull him/dem chair Then they pull their chairs
  Yes (chorus)64  
13 Before him go know say you they/ before knowing that you are there
  dey there  
14 If you no talk quick If you don’t talk quickly
15 Him go go for shit He will go to the toilet
16 Him go shit come-back When he returns
17 And you talk to am And you talk to him
18 Then you suprise when him Then you are surprised when he
19 shack for you has a go at you
20 Him go say you no go cross He will say you are not going to cross
21 You no go cross today You are not going to cross today
22 Na that time dem go start This is the time when they start
23 Dem Power Show O O Their Power Show O O
24 Na wrong show It is the wrong show
25 Go post office na the same When you go to the post office it is the same
26 Dem go bluff you They will bluff you
27 Waist your time Waist your time
28 Run you up Run up
29 And then run you down And then run down
30 Dem go tire your body They will tire your body
31 And then tire your mind And tire your mind
  and them tire your whole mind  
32 Dem go say no change for fifty Kobo They will say: we haven’t got change for fifty Kobo
33 Na that time dem go start them At this time they start their
34 Power Show O O Power Show, yes
35 Na wrong show O It is the wrong show
36 Motor car owner sef65 him go take Also the owner of the motor car, he will
37 him car push him car push66 labourer push the labourer down to
38 Down for road the road with his car
39 Then him start to yabb Then he starts to yap:
40 Foolish labourer Foolish labourer
41 Nonentity, him no get money Nonentity, he will get no money
42 Look him sandals e don tear finish Look at his sandals, they are torn completely
43 Look him trouser e don tear for yansh Look at his trousers, they are torn at the back
44 Look him singlet e don dirty finish Look at his singlet, it is totally dirty
45 Look him body e no bath this Look at his body, he had no bath
  this morning this morning
46 Look him pocket e don dry finish67 Look at his pocket, it is quite empty
47 You go suffer for nothing You will suffer for nothing (in vain)
48 You go suffer for nothing You will suffer for nothing
49 You no know me sha?68 You don’t know me, sha?
50 I be General for Army Office I I am a general at the army office
51 I be Officer for Police Station I am an officer at the police station
52 I be secratery for government office I am a secretary at the government office
53 You foolish labourer, you go suffer You foolish labourer, you will suffer
  for nothing for nothing
54 Nonentity, you go suffer Nonentity, you will suffer
55 for nothing for nothing
56 Na that time dem go start dem At this time they start their
  Power Show Power Show
57 Na wrong show O It is the wrong show, yes
58 Power Show na wrong thing ‘Power Show’ is the wrong thing
  Yes (chorus)  
59 Na sad thing It is a sad thing
60 Na sad thing It is a sad thing
61 Na wrong show O It is the wrong show, yes
62 Power na to help your land Power which does not help your land,
63 Na to help your mates which does not help your mates
64 Na wrong show O It is the wrong show, yes

7.1 The Treatment of ‘Don’ in Power Show

In ‘Power Show’ there are certain linguistic features, that have not been mentioned yet. The most crucial one is probably the treatment of the presumptive aspect marker ‘don’. As previously pointed to in Sorrow, Tears, and Blood, Fela Kuti uses the marker ‘don’ as equivalent to the perfective auxiliary verb ‘have’/’has’ in Standard English. ‘Don’ in Krio can mean ‘has or finished’ (done),69 which sheds some more light on its etymological origin.

From a Pidgin point of view it can be explained as follows: The perfective aspect in NP is marked by the particle ‘don’ which indicates completion, plus present relevance.70

In order to understand its range of application from a Standard English perspective, however, we must take into account the function of ‘don’ in the following phrase: Look him trouser e don tear for yansh.(43) This sentence, by the way, also provides other important features of NP: the distinctive use of pronouns, the lack of inflection of the verb, and a typically Nigerian ‘Pidgin Proper’ feature, namely, that ‘for’ is the only conjunction in use.71

Considering ‘don’ as a tense marker equivalent to the perfective auxiliary verb ‘have’/’has’ in Standard English, as mentioned above, this sentence should mean ‘it has torn at the back’.This might be possible in Standard English, using ‘tear’ as an intransitive verb. Here, it means something different, however. If we consider the other sentences with the same construction this becomes clear. Look him sandals e don tear finish (42) and look him pocket e don dry finish(46). In both cases there is no doubt that a state is described rather than an action. Moreover there is no passive voice: Nigerian Pidgin is characterised in its overall structure by the absence of passive construction.72

We can gather from this that in NP ‘don’ is additionally used in a context where in grammatical terms present tense is necessary in Standard English. This implies that ‘don’ fulfills the function of present tense as well as present perfect. The first sentence hence translates into Standard English as ‘Look at his trouser, it is torn at the back’.

We can presume that the use of’ don’ in this song is due to the fact that NP does not make a difference between ‘have’ and ‘be’ as found in STE, but ‘don’ can be both, equivalent of the auxiliary ‘have’ and main verb ‘ be’. This is actually confirmed by speakers of Nigerian Pidgin and by an example Elugbe gives: ‘I don don’ in NP means ‘it is cooked’.73

8 A Comment on the Sociohistorical Background of Fela Kuti’s Lyrics

Fela Kuti was kind of a ‘new’ African musician. One whose ‘fearless projection of anger’ released new creative possibilities. These resulted in his forceful and sometimes aggressive music and his socially and politically explosive lyrics.

‘Power Show’, for instance, is a harsh attack at the prevailing power relations and the military government in Nigeria in the 1970’s. Fela’s criticism spans the entire administrative body, and also points to how money or property does harm to human relations. The social division has always been a problem of societies. ‘Colomentality’, ‘Sorrow, Tears, and Blood’, ‘Original Sufferhead’ and finally ‘Fear Not For Man’, they all contain a potential of social and cultural criticism which is without compromise and certainly without comparison in African music.

Fela Kuti’s wrath about exploitation, discrimination, and oppression by the totalitarian military junta is expressed most explicitly, of course, by his words. Language is the means to strip off the traumatic heritage of the ‘colonial experience’, especially as he created a new type of language.

What Stuart Hall calls ‘cultural revolution’ is the process when artists are willing for the first time, for the first generation to articulate themselves, their ‘aspirations and hopes’ in creole or pidgin languages.74 He refers to the Caribbean. Yet, I hold that this is also valid for Nigeria: ‘Nigerian musicians share both a cultural and a colonial heritage with their Jamaican counterparts; most of Jamaica’s citizens are of West-African ancestry, and, as in Jamaica, the experience of British colonialism has been an extremely important influence on Nigerian society.’75

There is no substantial difference between these ‘centres of Atlantic creoles’ concerning ‘violent political change’76 and the conditions under which musicians (not conforming to the government in power) had to work: ‘After all Fela has been steadily persecuted by successive Nigerian government, Bob Marley was wounded in a Jamaican gun battle and Peter Tosh was murdered in Jamaica in the late 1980’s. Surely no musicians can work under more desperate circumstances than these.’77

Fela Kuti was exposed to totalitarian forces all the time. He performed his lyrics at the permanent risk of his liberty, what presumably made them even more valuable and, a psychological force. Fela Kuti provided a track on the search for an autonomous cultural identity. He suffered losses all right. His ‘fearless projection of anger’ however became a means of cultural resistance, something that left its traces around the world.


  • A Dictionary of the Yoruba Language, Oxford University Press, 1950.
  • Arends, Jaques, Mysken, Pieter, and Smith, Norval, Pidgins and Creoles – An Intro- duction, John Benjamins Publishing Company, Amsterdam, Philadelphia, 1995.
  • Barbag-Stoll, Anna, Social and Linguistic History of Nigerian Pidgin English – as spoken by the Yoruba with special Reference to the English derived Lexicon, Staufenberg Verlag, Tübingen, 1983.
  • Elugbe, Ben. O. and Omamor, Augusta. P., Nigerian Pidgin – Backgrounds and Prospects, Heinemann Educational Books (Nigeria) PLC, Ibadan, 1991.
  • Eze, Smart. N., Nigerian Pidgin English – Sentence Complexity, Beiträge zur Afrikanistik, Band 8, Institut für Afrikanistik und Ägyptologie der Universität Wien, 1980.
  • Fagborun, J. Gbenga, The Yoruba Koine: Its History and Linguistic Innovtions, Linguistic Edition No.6, LINCOM EUROPA, München, 1994.
  • Fyle, Clifford N. and Jones, Eldred D., A Krio-English Dictionary, Oxford University Press, 1980.
  • Hall, Stuart, ‘Cultural Identity and Diaspora’, in P.Williams and L.Chrisman (eds.), Colonial Discourse and Post-Colonial Theory. A Reader, Harvester Wheat- sheag, Hertfortshire, 1993 (first publ.), Columbia University Press, New York 1994, p.392-403.
  • Hall, Stuart: ‘Negotiating Caribbean Identities’, in New Left Review, No. 209, London, 1995, p.3-14.
  • Mercer, Kobena, ‘Diaspora Culture and the Dialogic Imagination’, in M. B. Cham and C. Andrade-Watkins (eds.), Blackframes: Critical Perspectives on Black Independent Cinema, The Mit Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1988, p.50-61.
  • Moore, Carlos, Fela, Fela – This Bitch of a Life, Allison & Busby, London, 1982 Le Page, R.B. and Tabouret-Keller, Andree, Acts of Identity – Creole-Based Approa- ches to Languge and Ethnicity, Cambridge University Press, 1985.
  • Robinson, Deanna, C., Buck, Elizabeth, B., and Cuthbert, Marlene, Music At The Margins – Popular Music and Global Cultural Diversity, SAGE Publications, Newbury Park (Calif.), London, New Delhi, 1991.
  • Todd, Loreto, Modern Englishes – Pidgins and Creoles, Basil Blackwell Publisher Limited, Oxford, Andre Deutsch Limited, London, 1984.
  • Rowlands, E.C., Teach yourself Yoruba, Hodder and Stoughton, London, 1969.
  • Wells, J.C., Accents of English 3: Beyond The British Isles, Cambridge University Press, 1982.


  • 1977 Sorrow, Tears, and Blood (S.T.B.), Kalakuta Records, KK 001-A
  • 1977 Colonial Mentality (Colomentality), Kalakuta Records, KK 001-A
  • 1977 Fear Not For Man, Decca (WA) Ltd., Afrodisia DWAPS 2035
  • 1981 Original Sufferhead, Arista Records Ltd., Spart 1117
  • 1981 Power Show, Arista Records Ltd., Spart 1117


  1. Remi Akano on the sleeve of the album ‘Up Side Down’, Afrodisia, Nigeria, 1976
  2. Fela Kuti lived in England for several years. The standard variety of English he speaks is likely to be close to ‘standard international English’ (Fagborun, 1994:73). Therefore I use the abbreviation STE for Fela Kuti’s variety of English. Usually, standard varieties of English are deemed to differ phonologically only, although lexical and grammatical deviation may be evident.
  3. Arends, Mysken, Smith: Pidgins and Creoles – An Introduction, Amsterdam, 1995, p. 342/343
  4. Elugbe and Omamor: Nigerian Pidgin – Backgrounds and Prospects, Ibadan, 1991, p. 88
  5. Arends, Mysken, Smith, p. 99
  6. Remi Akano on the album sleeve of ‘Up Side Down’ Afrodisia, Nigeria, 1976
  7. Fagborun: The Yoruba Koine – Its History and Linguistic Innovtions, München, 1994, p. 73 The author denotes the following modes of communication as coexisting in the Yoruba territories: Yoruba-speaking (including dialects), English-speaking (whether standard or otherwise), Pidgin English, Code-mixing (Yoruba, English, and Pidgin).
  8. Fagborun, p. 73
  9. ibid., p. 79
  10. Le Page and Tabouret-Keller: Acts of Identity – Creole-Based Approaches to Language and Ethnicity, Cambridge, 1985, p. 201/202
  11. Eze: Nigerian Pidgin English – Sentence Complexity, Beiträge zur Afrikanistik, Band 8, Wien, 1980, p. 67 The author’s definition of the term is as follows: Clause sequence… implies a concatenation of clause, which are chained loosely together … with the subject as the only syntactic binding force.
  12. Eze, p. 88
  13. ibid., p. 89-91
  14. There are similar lexical terms in NP and Krio, especially of Yoruba origin. There is also the assumption that Yoruba penetrated into NP via Krio. The use of words in Krio which are of Yoruba origin is due to Yoruba slaves that were shipped back from the Americas and the West Indies to Freetown around the beginning of the 19th century. (Fyle, Jones, A Krio-English Dictionary,1980: p. xviii)
  15. An Yoruba exclamation of despair (which cannot be translated). (comp. 3.2.)
  16. Nigerian pidgin for ‘to eat’
  17. Fruit, fried plantines
  18. Nigerian currency
  19. Fried beancakes
  20. A spelling mistake on the sheet: It should rather be ‘live’. This comes from the fact that there is no difference of pronunciation/ phonetic difference between ‘live’ and ‘leave’ in Np. Moreover, in this sentence the recursive nounphrase is not deleted – as marked as a NP feature in chapter 2 – but emphasised.
  21. Here, come appears as tense marker for the past as mentioned in chapter 3.
  22. The omission of the plural form appears to be a common feature in the lyrics and obviously in NP, too.
  23. According to the Yoruba – English dictionary ‘Wahala’ can mean ‘affliction’,’trouble’, ‘tribulation’.
  24. ‘Jefa’ is a Yoruba word. It means ‘to enjoy a good fortune’; Yoruba-English dictionary, p. 133. ‘Jefa-Head’here is the opposite of ‘Sufferhead’; both terms were coined by Fela Kuti.
  25. Eze, p. 56
  26. Barbag-Stoll: Social and Linguistic History of Nigerian Pidgin English – as spoken by the Yoruba with special Reference to the English derived Lexicon, Tübingen, 1983, p. 79
  27. Elugbe and Omamor, p. 53/54
  28. On this issue I consulted the Nigerian linguist Dr. Remi Sonaiya who is a guest lecturer at Mainz University.
  29. Rowlands: Teach yourself Yoruba, London, 1969, p. 276
  30. The spelling is not correct on the text sheet, compare line 39:’ordinary light for man nko O’
  31. Rowlands, p. ; 24 -28 and 34-38, (question words)
  32. Rowlands, p. 259.
  33. Yoruba-English dictionary, p. 66
  34. Eze, p. 64
  35. Hausa is the indigenous language spoken mainly in the North of Nigeria, the predominantly Islamic part.
  36. Eze, p. 64/65
  37. The chorus i. e. ‘colomentality’ is repeated after every line!
  38. All the ‘yous’ are not on the text sheet, but articulated on the record.
  39. Elugbe and Omamor, p. 113
  40. As Yoruba is a tone language ‘O’ can have various meanings, depending on stress. NP has also elements of a tone language.
  41. Elugbe and Omamor, p. 11
  42. Eze, p. 129
  43. Fyle and Jones, p. 283
  44. Eze, p. 57 ; Elugbe and Omamor p. 90
  45. The line is different on the text sheet, but actually sung as put down here.
  46. Barbag-Stoll, p. 95
  47. Eze, p. 57
  48. ibid.
  49. Barbag-Stoll, p. 72
  50. Elugbe and Omamor, p. 90
  51. Eze, p. 56. The author distinguishes between ‘hyper-anglisised pidgin’,’pidgin-proper’, and ‘impure pidgin’ in Nigeria.
  52. On this issue I consulted two native speakers of Yoruba.
  53. Elugbe and Omamor, p. 102
  54. Elugbe and Omamor, p. 100
  55. Eze, p. 56
  56. ibid., p. 70
  57. Elugbe and Omamor, p. 99/100
  58. ibid., p. 100
  59. Eze, p. 164
  60. Arends, Mysken, Smith, p.31. The linguistic discourse about pidgins and creoles has nowadays become rather controversial. According to the author Nigerian Pidgin is probably not a pidgin language, for it has all the features he applies to creoles. He states, however, that extended pidgins share more features with creole languages. The characteristics he points out for creoles are evident in NP: SVO word order, TMA expressd by preverbal markers, reduplication.(Arends, Mysken, Smith, 1995: 31­39)
  61. Elugbe and Omamor, p. 99-104
  62. Eze, p. 69-73
  63. Arends, Mysken, Smith, p. 107
  64. The chorus comes after every line.
  65. Sef implies an enumeration.
  66. This is the phrase Fela repeats in the song. This line appears differently on the sheet. Lines 36-38 belong together. This conclusion is decisive for the correct understanding of the following passages.
  67. According to the Nigerian linguist Dr. Sonaiya there is an idiom in Yoruba on which the meaning of this phrase grounds: ‘apo mi gbe’ (‘pocket my dry’). ‘My pocket is dry’ in the Yoruba original means ‘I have no money’.
  68. Sha can be found in the Krio-English dictionary, where it is marked with an ‘Y’. This indicates that Yoruba is the lexical source of the word. However, it is a verb meaning, ‘lose freshness, deteriorate’. (Fyle,Jones, 1980:329) Thus, it is obviously not suitable in this sentence. A word that appears to be more appropriate in this context is ‘shat’. Provided that Fela’s question is linked with what follws, the explanation of ‘shat’ would make more sense: ‘exclamation of admiration or mock admiration’. (Fyle,Jones, 1980:330). As the elision of ‘t’ in final position is a quite common phonetical feature in non-standard accents of English, this might be possible. Of course, this works on the assumption only that this phonetic phenomenon is transferred to the indigenous language.
  69. Fyle and Jones, p. 76
  70. Elugbe, p. 100
  71. Eze, p. 56
  72. Eze, p. 66
  73. Elugbe and Omamor, p. 73. At this passage the authors emphasise the different meanings of ‘don’ in Krio and NP: In Krio it means ‘finished’, in NP ‘cooked’.
  74. Hall: ‘Negotiating Caribbean Identities’, in New Left Review, No.205, London, 1995, p. 11
  75. Robinson, Buck, Cuthbert: Music At The Margins – Popular Music and Global Cultural Diversity, Newbury Park, London, New Delhi,1991, p. 91
  76. Robinson, Buck, Cuthbert, p. 95
  77. ibid.