“International Thief Thief”- Fela Kuti

International Thief Thief” was written by the pioneer of Afrobeat, Fela Kuti (1938-97). Born in an upper middle class family – his mother was a feminist activist, his father a...

International Thief Thief” was written by the pioneer of Afrobeat, Fela Kuti (1938-97). Born in an upper middle class family – his mother was a feminist activist, his father a teacher and his brothers well-known doctors- and strongly influenced by his meeting with a partisan of the Black Panther Party in the US,  the Nigerian musician was always very involved in politics. Most of his songs have a strong political meaning behind them.

He was a vocal opponent of Muhammadu Buhari’s government and was jailed several times throughout the 1970s and 1980s for using his lyrics to criticize the Nigerian government and military. He became a prisoner of conscience and was freed thanks to the pressure of Amnesty International. In September 1984, Fela was arrested again, this time for attempting to unlawfully export foreign currency, which he had drawn from his British bank account. Once freed, Fela continued his political activism and created his own party, the Movement of the People.

International Thief Thief is a blatant attack on corrupt leaders, namely President Obasanjo and corporate business expert Mashood Abiola, then head of Nigerian branch of the infamously fraudulent communication company International Telephone and Telegraph Corporation (I.T.T), from which the title of the song is inspired. The I.T.T was one of the richest firms operating in Nigeria back in the day. Internationally it was involved and associated with many controversial political affairs; most notably it was linked to having financed the coup against Salvador Allende in Chile in 1973, which led to the worst dictatorship in the country.

The juxtaposition of the sweet sound of the backing vocalists with the forceful lyrics and hard beat represent the exploitation of the African people, and clearly depict the sense of anger of Fela Kuti’s song.

One of the artist’s lengthiest and most overtly political songs, with direct insults to the men in power, heads of big corporations and companies exploiting the richness of the African soil, and ruling classes of most of the African contemporary political regimes. Fela links the evil deeds of I.T.T to slavery and exploitation of the African people and the African land – a clear link to colonialism can be made here. This is a brave and stubborn statement that was groundbreaking then and is still very relevant today.

Now press play, and listen to this masterpiece of Afrobeat music.

Lyrics.

 

International Thief Thief!

I.T.T.

International thief

I.T.T.

International rogue

Well, well…

Ha!

Well, well…

Ha!

Motherfuckers, bastard motherfuckers

We yab dem, yeah

Hurry up there

Say “yeah”

[Chorus]

Well well!

Well well, na true I want talk again o

Na true I want talk again o

If I dey lie o

Make Osiris punish me

Make Ifa dey punish me o

Make Edumare punish me o

Make the land dey punish me o

Make Edumare punish me o

I read dem for book ee-o

I see so myself ee-o

Well-ee well-ee o

Well well… well well!

[Chorus]

Well well… well well!

Long time ago

Long, long time ago

[Chorus]

Long time ago

Long, long, long, long time ago

African man we no dey carry shit

We dey shit inside big big hole

For Yoruba-land na “Shalanga”

For Igbo-land na “Onunu-insi”

For Hausa-land na “Salga”

For Gaa-land na “Tiafi”

For Ashanti-land na “Yarni”

For Ethiopia-land na “Sagara-be”

For Kagyu-land na “Cho-Cho”

For Bemba-land na “Chimbuzi”

For Tunga-land na “Echibuzi”

Long, long, long, long time ago

African man we no dey carry shit

We dey shit inside big big hole

Long time ago!

Long, long, long, long time ago

Long, long, long, long time ago

Before them come force us away as slaves

During the time them come force us away as slaves

Na European man, na him dey carry shit

Na for them culture to carry shit

During the time them come colonize us

Them come teach us to carry shit

Long, long, long, long time ago

African man we no dey carry shit

Na European man teach us to carry shit

[Chorus]

Say am, say am!

Many foreign companies dey Africa carry all our money go

Many foreign companies dey Africa carry all our money go

Them go write big English for newspaper, dabaru we Africans

Them go write big English for newspaper, dabaru we Africans

I read about one of them inside book like that

Them call him name na I.T.T.

I read about one of them inside book like that

Them call him name na I.T.T.

Them go dey cause confusion (Confusion!)

Cause corruption (Corruption!)

Cause oppression (Oppression!)

Cause inflation (Inflation!)

Oppression, oppression, inflation

Corruption, oppression, inflation

Them get one style wey them dey use

Them go pick one African man

A man with low mentality

Them go give am million naira breads

To become of high position here

Him go bribe some thousand naira bread

To become one useless chief

Like rat they do them go do from

Corner corner, pass-ee pass-ee

Under under, pass-ee pass-ee

Inside inside, pass-ee pass-ee

In in, pass-ee pass-ee

Out out, pass-ee pass-ee

Peep peep, pass-ee pass-ee

Up up, pass-ee pass-ee…

Then he gradually, gradually, gradually, gradually…

Then he gradually, gradually, gradually, gradually…

Them go be:

Friend friend to journalist

Friend friend to Commissioner

Friend friend to Permanent Secretary

Friend friend to Minister

Friend friend to Head of State

Then start start to steal money

Start start them corruption

Start start them inflation

Start start them oppression

Start start them confusion

Start start them oppression

Start start to steal money

Start start to steal money

Like Obasanjo and Abiola

[Chorus]

Well well!

Well, well…

We don tire to carry anymore of them shit

We don tire to carry anymore of them shit

We don tire to carry anymore of them shit

Well, well…

“International Thief Thief”- Fela Kuti
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Virginia Vigliar

Virginia is a freelance journalist and editor based in Barcelona, consults for Oxfam in Spain and the Netherlands, and she is the Chief Editor of WIB. She is a passionate advocate of human rights and freedom of speech. And a meme enthusiast. She has worked in the development sector in Malawi and Kenya and Somalia before returning to Europe, where she gained experience in the United Kingdom, Norway, and Spain. To see her work, look at her website here: http://virginiavigliar.com/
3 Comments on this post.
  • junaidu bello suru
    20 November 2014 at 1:42 am
    Leave a Reply

    fela kuti

  • Zombie – Fela Kuti
    11 December 2015 at 11:02 am
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    […] is not Fela Kuti’s only song with a political meaning. On the contrary, Fela was a political activist who used music as his weapon against the Nigerian […]

  • Bigby
    8 September 2016 at 5:49 am
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    Timely

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