Outside, it is Charly Boy, Inside It is Charles Oputa
Who is Charly Boy?
Who is Charles Oputa?
Are these two characters interfacing in any way?
Or are they intruding on each other’s comfort zone?
Do they share common values that make them symbiotic?
Or are these two distinct entities that only share a common body, a common soul?
Are they two separate entities destined to share a common structure?
The ultimate questions: can one divorce the other and still survive?
Are they destined to live together forever till the ultimate end terminate their relationship?
Simple as these questions appear, they are not so easy to answer. To unwrap them, we have to dismantle the two entities that we are confronted with:
Charles Oputa and Charly Boy are two distinct personalities, two separate characters, two entities that need each other to survive but yet are separate-able.
The resolution, to distinguish between the two or not lies on the chief promoter of the brand Charly Boy, the bearer of the entity called Charles Oputa. But this is as far as one would want to push the semantics. The fact is, the name Charly Boy rings a bell side by side Charles Oputa, who hails from Oguta.
It was Charles Oputa that started a musical career with the famous song then, “Nwata Miss”, but it was Charly Boy that inherited that musical career, with the coming of the album, “1990”, which aside from the razzmatazz that heralded its birth, was indeed a breaking point in the history of contemporary pop music.
At the time “1990” came, perhaps there was only one publicly anointed artiste licensed to be so daring as to deploy his music to talk down on Nigeria’s military rulers. That artiste was Fela Anikulapo-Kuti. There were others who were doing the same, especially among the folk music groups, but Fela was the icon of political music.
Then came Charly Boy who not only sang to the face of the corrupt, inept military rulers but also invited them to his public performances and told them to their faces that they were rogues in uniform.
That was the birth of the brand Charly Boy.
And with that background in focus, it would be clear that the Charly Boy character did not worm into the public consciousness as the queer fellow who decked himself in leather suits with safety pins strewn all over his body and gradually graduated to body piercing.
It is these political fundaments or if you like essentials of the character Charly Boy, that have overtime manifested in the public consciousness as an interventionist, a mediator, a public intellectual and street philosopher who shocks and motivates and mesmerizes the public with his communicative eloquence and irrepressible nuisances.
Intriguingly, while the self-comforting public, with its puritanical pre-tensions, desires the personality Charles Oputa, the America-trained public communicator, son of a respected Justice, it is the character Charly Boy that they have fallen in love with.
Thus, the contradiction that seems to rule the perception of the character Charly Boy is more the burden of the public than that of Charles Oputa.
At this point, I invite us to search, deep within our beings, for the truth why we are reluctant to accept the strange character Charly Boy as a necessary member of the moral-driven self-preserving society? Why are we comfortable even when we pretend this is not so… to clandestinely carry out caesarean surgery on the dual foetus, just so we could have the one that seems more accommodate-able within our consciousness of self-righteousness or socio-political correctness?
I think that we are reluctant to accept the Character Charly Boy with all its nuisance values because of the flaws in our own orientation, our own socialization process, and because of the sort of society, we were brought up in.
In spite of the loud proclamations of the existence of our individual inalienable rights to be who we choose to be, our society thrives on pretences… we as Nigerians, as Africans do not live out of our own convictions but according to the dictates of others.
We thrive under pressures of expectations from our parents, friends, our society.
We get married not because we are sure we need a life-partner but because if we do not marry, we would be labelled.
We belong to peer groups not because we are convinced that we need it but because if we do not belong to such groups we could be termed strange.
This attitude to life is a subversion of truth, a subversion of reality, and these are the bases of the disorderliness that have characterized our communities. When you have people living through forced ethos, running their affairs through faked norms, you cannot expect them to run a successful society, progressive community.
This I repeat is the basis of our troubled humanity…
Our society thrives on deception and untruths.
We could say then that perhaps the reason other societies thrive better than us and we are forced most of the time say ‘in advanced countries’, ‘in civilized societies’, ‘in advanced societies’… we are only referring to the degree of truths that reign in those societies.
When we point at the inadequacies of our own society, wondering why our communal life is so chaotic, we are only referring to the almost total absence of truths or contradictory realities that rule our society.
And this is coming directly from the fact that we do not allow our people to live their own reality; we compel them to live within the box of our own truth.
Thus we see a character like Charly Boy, like Fela, like my favourite visual artist called Junkman, who decide to live outside of our box of societal expectations, we are quick to pontificate that they are ‘subversionists’.
The intrigue here, however, is that deep within us, we admire the character of Charly Boy…
we dream that we could be like him;
we wish to be free to live our lives the way we like,
to be free to make our choices,
author our own truth,
create our own happiness,
make our own mistakes,
make our own corrections.
But the truth is we cannot at least publicly, or outwardly live like Charly Boy, or accept the values of such character, because we have been conditioned by our socialization to subvert the truth, the reality; not living our life according to the reality that characterizes our creation by God.
I say here, therefore, that failure to wholeheartedly accept Charly Boy and accept the character, not as an outnorm, outcast is because we cannot be seen to be accepting the truth as authored by the creator in consonance with the realities of our existence.
The other side of this argument, of course, is the fact that Charles Oputa —the shy, introverted, kind-hearted personae — is the nosey, less sure-footed personality who keeps intruding into the affairs of Charly Boy, daring, multi-talented artiste, who fishes in the cauldron of non-conformist, almost anti-norm values to operate as a public Communicator, and in the process draw attention to itself and its work.
To a great extent, Charles Oputa will not dare what Charly Boy will attempt. It is even very possible that Chales Oputa does not approve of so many things that Charly Boy does.
Of course, one could say that Charly Boy is a pain in the ass of Charles Oputa, but the two are destined to occupy one body, to share souls even as one inflicts pain on the other.
Beyond the face values of this statement, we could begin to question, how much of Charly Boy’s actions are real as in genuinely motivated, how much are showbiz, albeit put up to attract attention to oneself.
Again, the job of unravelling this is the burden of the public and not of Charles Oputa or Charly Boy. This is one of the tricks by which the brand Charly Boy has kept itself glued in the public consciousness. The brand has kept the public glued to the examination of attempting to unravel its mystery, even when the real answer is so close at hand.
You could ask, for instance, that: is it real when Charly Boy appears in public almost naked, his whole body pierced with pins?
Is it real or public showcasing when the same character that you would think irresponsible because of the actions described above, felt moved by the plight of pensioners that he mobilised them for a confrontation with those holding the proceed of their working life?
Or when he led Okada riders to demand their right to engage in economic activities?
Or when he led the struggle to raise fund for a beloved dying friend?
If you have resolved this then you could proceed to ask:
Is Charly Boy, then as an artist,
or a reactionary?
Can Charly Boy then fall in the Seer category of say a Wole Soyinka?
How enduring is his art?
What yardstick should we use to decide who is a visionary and who is reactionary?
Does he speak a kind of truth?
What truth-telling does he engage in?
Is an alternative lifestyle from the norm artistry?
These pins and needles and Okada riding, is it total art?.
Agree he disturbs our perception of what is decent but does it go as far as to make us think about our relationship with others?
Like a mobile one-man theatre, this man from Oguta has recreated what it means to live one’s art.
Can anyone live on art in Nigeria and not leave the world before his/her time?
What does it mean to live as an Artist in a country still locked in the struggle for the creation of self-identity?
We are neither traditionalists nor citizens of a modern world.
We cannot afford to be hybrids without roots.
To tell the story of Artists as rebels in modern Nigeria or anywhere else for that matter, permit me to use the life of Charly Boy as my departure point and trace how a cross-fertilization of concepts is now becoming a brand with a definite identity.
An appraisal of this identity is not the main burden of this presentation, we shall leave that to another day. Our main concern, for now, is to trace the source of the river that created the waves on screen, on the streets of Gbagada and now Abuja and now on sheets as printed text.
How did Charly Boy start and what were the social conditions in existence at the time he came onto the scene…
Why did he decide to be different?
In a study of why artists tend to be anti-norm, why they choose to rebel against the social order, Dr Karen Henricks, from the University Melbourne’s School of Behavioural Science, found that many highly creative people, particularly in the arts, have a number of distinctive personality traits.
She says, “The main factor of personality I found linked directly to creativity was two-dimensional, with one aspect being what we termed‚ ‘healthy rebellion’‚ and the other being a predisposition towards Psychosis.’
‘The ‘healthy rebellion’ aspect of this factor involves things like questioning social conventions, being high on sensation-seeking, and being open to new or radical ideas.’
The studies of a wide group of artists, she says, show that there may be similar cognitive processes between creative people and individuals suffering psychosis, such as attending to a wide array of stimuli, which most people would filter out as irrelevant. These processes may be a driving force for creativity, giving people an ability to see things originally and generate unique ideas, or it may underlie psychotic think-ing. These similarities may help explain the age-old view of there being a fine line between creativity and mental illness.
The differences between the personalities of writers, performing artistes and visual artists. On average, writers scored the highest on most personality disorder scales‚ also proving to be more neurotic and less agreeable. Writers scored significantly higher on a measure of psycho-sis-proneness compared with all other groups. In addition, compared with non-artists, writers scored significantly higher on neuroticism. They also scored lower on the agreeableness scale, suggesting that they feel more at odds with the world and maybe more prone to socially rebellious attitudes.
‘Performing artists (like musicians and actors) stood out as scoring highly on the openness to experience scale, which suggests that they enjoy actively seeking out new experiences and exploring novel things. We also found that the performing artist group scored the highest on the narcissistic personality scale, although this probably reflects their greater feelings of confidence, something which could be quite advantageous in such a career.
Did Charly Boy commit a class suicide or is he liking the sweet side of his class connections?
What are the ideas in his music and social interventions?
How much local content is in this global appearance?
Art cannot be for art sake in a developing country like ours.
The patrons, critics and consumers of artworks insist that it must draw strength from the material conditions of the society from which it emanates.
(Being excerpt of a talk given at the presentation of MY PRIVATE PART (a compendium of all the “crazes” that make up the enigmatic Charly Boy brand) in Abuja in 2004)
Jahman Anikulapo is a director of Festac News Press Limited, publisher of bookartville.com and the Africa Oil+Gas Report (www.africaoilgasreport.com). He is Programme Chair, Committee for Relevant Art CORA and Founder and Executive Director, Culture Advocates Caucus, CAC. He is a Director of iREP Documentary Film Festival and a widely sought-after culture communication consultant. For 10 years between 2003 and 2013, he was Editor, The Guardian on Sunday.