I really don’t know what I did to deserve this: First you make me struggle with a lot of demons, musical and otherwise, until I finally learn to love your music and then, years later, when I try to honour you in writing, the whole tragic process of trying to figure you out, of understanding our complicated relationship, starts all over again.
I don’t believe in voodoo, I don’t think you put a spell on me, not before or after your death in 1997. I don’t think you personally cared about me liking you or not. I was just one of the many, maybe one of the few, who claimed to be music lovers without seeing (or feeling, or imagining) the revolutionary brilliance of your music. You know, I had the same with Bob Marley. For a long time I could only stand his 1975 live album, even though I owned all his other classic albums. Only this album didn’t make me feel bored, only this album didn’t sound whiny to me. Weird, right? Weird that I struggled so hard and so long with you and with Bob Marley, two of the main non-Western names in the history of popular music.
I will tell you a funny story. Years ago, when I was barely 20, I had a huge and embarrassing fight with my girlfriend. She already loved your music and wanted me to listen to one of your records (it was Zombie). She basically put you on a silver plate, ready to be consumed. The only thing I had to do was walk over to the stereo and play your damn music. But the record sleeve kept staring at me, daring me to make a first move, or sit still and do nothing. I remember that my girlfriend also kept staring at me, eyes filled with a strange mixture of hope, love and eager anticipation. All eyes on me. I flinched, knowing very well what the right course of action was. I couldn’t and declined, softly repeating the all too familiar mantra of not liking ‘world music’. You would have laughed at me, would have called me a racist in disguise, would have asked me what I was so afraid of, would have dared me to the gates of hell and back.
We did have a long fight back then. She wanted me to understand something she intuitively grasped. She also wanted me to make the effort as a token of love. I buckled under the pressure. I don’t remember the whole embarrassing scene, just my lame arguments, all of which now feel dishonest, mean, maybe racist, definitely sexist. She knew me better than I did. It took me years to come to grips with that scene, and the resulting fallout, musically, but also emotionally. No surprise the relationship didn’t last.
I’m not surprised you make me work so hard. This is nothing more than a second lesson in coming to grips with you, your music as well as your personality, the full scale of the many dark corners of your life and your soul. It is also a second lesson in understanding myself, why it took me so long to understand, feel and appreciate the full revolutionary impact of your music. They call it Afrobeat, the style you invented. I call it Punk in difference circumstances, under a different sun, a different system, less frivolous than its Western equivalent. You also wouldn’t have accepted the opinion of a woman, too much of a sexist yourself. I understand you now, and I understand myself much better. I might still be a racist, and I know you would violently agree with that assessment, but at least I know the difference between truthfulness and self-justification.