Suffering and Smiling

by Fatima Dupres-Griffiths

London Premiere (English and Yoruba, Eng subtitles, 65mins)


The intelligent and thought provoking Human Rights Watch film, Suffering and Smiling is a must see when it comes on general release. Focusing on the corruption prevailing in Nigerian government, the film shows this through the music of the legendary musician and Nigerian activist, the late Fela Anikulapo Kuti and his son, Femi. We see Fela's tireless commitment to bettering the socio/political conditions of ordinary Nigerians, and his constant fight for giving them the financial stabilit deserved from the discovery of oil. Fela is rightly outraged at the lack of amenities present for Nigerians who have nevertheless had their land mined for minerals, oil and natural resources. Where's the equality, he demands.

Both Fela and Femi protest the violations of human rights, exposing the horrors experienced by their family for fighting for peace, equality and justice. Their protest songs in pidgin English speak of the despair, dire poverty and abuses that occur almost daily for Nigerians living in squalor in regions once, and sometimes still rich in oil. Fela and Femi question why multinationals, outsiders and a few top Nigerian government officials have grown fat, whilst the majority of Nigerians have not. To put back something good and necessary into their community to counteract the degradation, lawlessness and illiteracy resulting from the government neglect, Fela Kuti's family have set up a local grassroots organisation, known affectionately as the New African Shrine. There people can come to seek various types of assistance,dance to music, play sports, discuss their hopes and fears and generally feel hopeful.

rositaThe late Fela Kuti and his son, Femi question via music, why a few, fat and rich Nigerian officials continue to monopolise the country's wealth and power ignoring the cries of those begging for adequate food, housing, clean running water and basic necessities. Pointing the finger at the corrupt Nigerian government and its oppressive military forces, both musicians accuse the aforementioned of allowing Nigeria 's oil to be plundered without ensuring that local people justly benefited, or that there was a fair and equal distribution of wealth. They maintain that this is what Nigerians merit. Following Nigeria 's independence in 1960, Fela's music addressed the all-round suffering of the Nigerian people, and an undemocratic regime. Sadly, he did not live to see the changes he advocated in his lifetime. Prosperity still has not reached the majority of Nigerians as Femi's protest songs and the film show. Fela's sister, in despair advises against pushing too hard for change, as she knows all too well the high personal cost paid for political freedom by Fela and Femi's immediate and extended families. The film shows her being world weary and beaten down by the constant oppression and threats of reprisals by those in power.

Fela and Femi hoped the Nigerian masses would rise up, mobilize themselves and destabilize the ruling government. Tragically, Fela's late mother suffered for his out-spokeness. She was rendered homeless by ĎAn Unknown Soldier' and she subsequently died as a result of injuries inflicted during eviction. Fela himself died in 1997, but his son wears his father's political and musical mantle well. Continuing the political legacy of his father, Femi passionately asks why a continent so rich in oil and natural resources still has the poorest people globally? He highlights it as a crime against humanity as did his father, Fela before him. Their activist musicianship rhetorically asks how comes average poor Nigerians are still Suffering and Smiling.


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