*Drum Rolls*…This afternoon or evening or morning, depending on where you are, we will be looking at the life of the legendary (In Barney Stinston)’s voice, Fela Anikulapo Kuti. A man that was one of the most controversial musicians who fought for the rights of the common man and woman despite harassment, vilification and imprisonment till he gave up the ghost.
Ladies and Gentlemen, may we read and share this article in honour of this great man whose music still touches our heart. If it doesn’t, why do you go to Fela shrine. I have seen you there before o so don’t deny it. *******
Fela Kuti was born on the 15th. He was born to Olufela Olusegun Oludotun Ransome-Kuti. His father was a protestant minister and his mother, Funmilayo, a political activist. As a child, he learned piano and drums, and led his school choir. In the 1950s, Kuti told his parents that he was moving to London, England, to study medicine, but he wound up attending the Trinity College of Music instead. While at Trinity, Kuti studied classical music and developed an awareness of American Jazz. In 1963, kuti formed a band called Koola Lobitos. He would later change the band’s name to Afrika 70, and again to Egypt 80. Beginning in the 1960s, Kuti pioneered and popularized his own unique style of music called ‘Afrobeat’. AFROBEAT IS A COMBINATION OF FUNK, JAZZ, SALASA, CALYPSO AND TRADITIONAL NIGERIAN YORUBA MUSIC. In addition to their distinctive mixed-genre style, Kuti’s songs were considered popular songs due to their length and he sang in a combination of pidgin English and Yoruba.
In the 1970s and ‘80s, Kuti’s rebellious song lyrics established him as a political dissident. As a result, Afrobeat has come to be associated with making political, social and cultural statements about greed and corruption. One of his songs, ‘Zombie,’ questions Nigerian soldiers’ blind obedience of October, 1938, in Abeokuta, Nigeria, to carrying out orders. He toured the United States for three years, after which he released an album called ‘beasts of no nation’. The album cover portrays world leaders such as Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan among others as cartoon vampires baring bloody fangs.Fela Kuti was not a man that didn’t suffer for his political activism through his music. He was arrested by the Nigerian government 200 times, and was subject to numerous beatings that left him with lifelong scars.
Rather than abandon his cause, however, Kuti used these experiences as inspiration to write more lyrics. When the people returned to power in 1979, Kuti began his own political party called MOP (movement of the people). The Military returned to power in 1983 and within the year Kuti was sentenced to five years in prison on a spurious currency smuggling charge. He was released in 1986 after yet another change of government. He produced roughly 50 albums over the course of his musical career, including songs for Les Negresses under the pseudonym Sodi in 1992. His lengthy songs (most were over 10 minutes long) were backed up by a consistent groove of drums and bass.
Leaving aside his achievements and public life, Fela Kuti lived quite a personal life that didn’t sit well with most. He was a polygamist. In 1961, he married Remilekun Taylor, the first of Kuti’s wives, after which he married 27 more women in a single wedding ceremony in 1978. He eventually divorced them all. Remi bore three children for Fela; Femi Kuti, Yeni Kuti and Sola Kuti. All three offspring were members of the positive force, a band they found in the 1980s. Sola Kuti died in 1997. Asides them, he fathered several more children including Seun, who would also go on to become a successful Afrobeat musician. Fela Kuti died of AIDS-related complication on August 2, 1997, at the age of 58, in Lagos, Nigeria. Roughly 1 million people attended his funeral procession, which began at Tafawa Balewa Square and ended at Kuti’s home, Kalakuta, in Ikeja, Nigeria, where he was laid to rest in the front yard.
In 2009, a musical about Fela Kuti’s life and music tittled ‘FELA’, debuted on Broadway, choreographed by the legendary Bill T Jones, the show was a major hit among both critics and audiences, and ran for over a year on Broadway, garnering three Tony Awards and a host of nominations during its tenure.
I still listen to his songs, so I’m going to post two out of my many favourites. This is a man who is still living on through his music. Though his personal life was questionable and I would not advice you to model yours after him, I will implore you to please learn from his dogged attitude and his commitment to the world’s underdogs and also his love for Africa. Find something good and noble to fight for and when you find that thing, hold on till the end no matter what. I will take my advice too.
Have a good evening.0