Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 19 September 2020

Anthony Joshua honoured Nigerian legend Fela Kuti as he walked into the boxing ring in Saudi

The British boxer's ring entrance song was 'Water No Get Enemy' by the late Nigerian musician

Anthony Joshua after his win in Riyadh on Saturday, left, and Fela Kuti in the UK in 1984. Getty 
Anthony Joshua after his win in Riyadh on Saturday, left, and Fela Kuti in the UK in 1984. Getty 

Anthony Joshua regained his boxing world titles on Saturday night by beating Andy Ruiz Jr in Riyadh. He is, once again, the heavyweight champion of the world.

And before the 30-year-old clinched the title he won the hearts of fans, particularly those in Nigeria, by choosing to walk into the ring to a song by Fela Kuti.

The boxer strutted up toward the fight accompanied by the distinctive beat of Kuti's tune Water No Get Enemy – a classy choice.

Joshua's mother Yeta is Nigerian, while his father is of both Nigerian and Irish ancestry. Earlier this year, the boxer told Pulse FM that he is "massively into Nigerian culture".

Considering Kuti's unmatched status as a musical legend in Nigeria, it's safe to say Joshua would have listened to plenty of the musician in his family home: "Growing up in my househould was like Nigeria when you come home, it's the culture and food. My parents, lived there and grew up there, so they know the culture."

The 1975 track Water No Get Enemy is sung in a mixture of Yoruba and pidgin English. After a hypnotic instrumental start, Kuti sings about water's metaphorical and actual power and importance. It refers to how water is so essential to people's lives that no one can take issue with it: it's a more subtly philosophical song than many of his direct rally cries, but it is still very much a revolution song. The message is, be essential and life-affirming to the bulk of people, and you will prevail.

Kuti, who was born in 1938 and died aged 58 in 1997 (more than one million people attended his funeral), was a pioneer of the Afrobeat genre. He was also a human rights activist, and a political giant to the people of Nigeria throughout the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s.

He spoke out against the corruption of government officials, and was frank about the dire consequences colonialism had for African people. His criticism of the regime meant he made many enemies: he was arrested more than 200 times.

Today he's remembered as a brave voice, a cultural legend and a musical pioneer.

The National spoke to Kuti's son Seun last year, who is also a musician, and he dismissed the question he's often asked about in regard to living in his father's shadow: “My dad didn’t leave a shadow, but instead a light. It is his light that is still pointing the way forward and helping us navigate these turbulent times.”

Joshua's decision to walk out to Kuti's music isn't the first time he's made a nod to Nigeria just before a fight. In 2017 he chose Ojuelegba by Nigerian artist Wizkid as his walk out song.

Updated: December 8, 2019 12:39 PM

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