The hall of fame, any hall of fame, is an odd thing. On one hand, it celebrates the status quo and scarcity. On the other, it’s a mark of transitions, evolution and diversity. The people inducted into Cooperstown or some other hall of fame in 2021 probably don’t look or act the way the founders of that institution imagined.
The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is accepting votes right now, and Fela Kuti is up against Iron Maiden and other stalwarts of the genre.
And his nomination helps us understand what Scott Page means when he talks about the value of diversity within organizations. There are no all-clarinet orchestras because the combination of instruments is precisely why orchestras work.
Pythagoras discovered the fifth hammer, the one that doesn’t sound quite like the others–and that is the hammer that makes the chord work.
Fela Kuti was from a country 2/3 the size of the USA, and yet Nigeria has few musical stars in the US. His impact can be felt in just about all the music we hear, because his music was different, singular and remarkable.
If some of the musicians in the Hall had never existed, rock and roll would not be that different. There are easily available substitutes. But sometimes, a skilled, passionate and talented voice changes things.
Change can happen when a person’s contribution is unanticipated and boundary-stretching. As Carole King’s was. As Fela Kuti’s was.
Change isn’t easy to recognize as it’s arriving, but it’s impossible to forget once it’s here.