Fela Kuti (1938 – 1997)

Fela Kuti, alias Abami Eda, was a Nigerian musician and activist known for pioneering Afrobeats and criticizing harsh governmental rule through his music. Many years after his death, he is still remembered and held in high esteem by the Nigerian people. This article will be discussing his life.

Early Life of Fela Ransome-Kuti

Olufela Olusegun Oludotun Ransome-Kuti was born on October 15, 1938, to minister Reverend Oladotun Ransome-Kuti and activist Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti. He changed his name to Fela Anikulapo-Kuti.

Kuti learned to play musical instruments as a child and was the leader of his school choir. He attended the Abeokuta Grammar School, and In the 1950s, he moved to London to study medicine. Still, he soon changed his mind and attended the Trinity College of Music. At the college, Kuti took an interest in American jazz while studying classical music.

Fela’s Musical Career: Afrobeats and Political Activism

While in England, Fela founded the Koola Lobitos band that played a fusion of jazz and highlife. He would later change the band’s name twice: first to Afrika 70 and then Egypt 80.

In 1963, Kuti returned to Nigeria, where he trained as a radio producer for the Nigerian Broadcasting Corporation (NBC). He also joined the band of famous highlife singer Victor Olaiya.

In 1967, Kuti pioneered the Afrobeat style of music. This musical style combined calypso, funk, jazz, salsa, and indigenous Yoruba music. This was a unique style of music and was well-received both locally and internationally. Kuti hardly ever sang in plain English — he sang in Pidgin English (an adulteration of the English language) and the Yoruba language. The performance of his songs was lengthy, between 15 minutes to one hour. 

Fela Kuti used his songs to criticize the Nigerian government, labeling them “corrupt” and “greedy.” Some of these songs included “Zombie,” which mocked the blind loyalty of the Nigerian soldier to authority. In response to this, over 1,000 soldiers raided Kuti’s studio and commune, the Kalakuta Republic, where they beat him up and threw his aged mother out a window. 

He also released an album titled Beasts of No Nation, which portrayed Western leaders like Margaret Thatcher and Ronald as cartoon vampires with bloody fangs. As a result of his constant criticism of the Nigerian government, Fela Kuti was arrested a total number of 200 times by the Nigerian government and was beaten on several occasions, leaving permanent scars on his body. Yet, Kuti was not deterred. In fact, he wrote more songs criticizing the Nigerian government.

In 1983, Kuti founded the Movement of the People (MOP). This political party aimed to “clean up society like a mop.” In 1979, he presented himself as a presidential candidate in Nigeria’s elections, and he was rejected.

How Fela Anikulapo-Kuti Died

Kuti had long been suffering from an unknown illness and was rumored to have contracted the Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS), which he constantly denied. On August 2, 1997, he died of Aids at the age of 58. His funeral was attended by close to 1 million people, held at Tafawa Balewa Square and ended at Kuti’s home, Kalakuta, in Ikeja, Nigeria.

Personal Life of Fela Anikulapo-Kuti

Fela Kuti was married to many women. In 1978, he married 27 women in a single wedding ceremony that gained massive attention. Some of Kuti’s children include Femi, Yeni, Seun, and Sola, who died of cancer shortly after her father’s death. Today, Fela’s sons Seun and Femi continue his musical legacy and organize the Felabration, a yearly musical festival to celebrate his legacy.

Quotes by Fela Kuti

● “I must identify myself with Africa. Then I will have an identity”.

● “Everything I did wrong was for experience. That’s how I see it. Once a man is looking for a better knowledge and he tries to be honest and truthful in all endeavours, then his life is just an experience. It cannot be a regret”.

● “To be spiritual is not by praying and going to church. Spiritualism is the understanding of the universe so that it can be a better place to live in”.

● “With my music, I create change…I am using my music as a weapon”.

● “My people are scared of the air around them. They always have an excuse not to fight for freedom”.

● “Everything I did wrongly is an experience…to be honest and truthful in all endeavours is an experience, not a regret”.

● “Music is a weapon of the future / music is the weapon of the progressives / music is the weapon of the givers of life”.

Discography of Fela

  1. Fela Fela Fela (1969)
  2. Fela’s London Scene (1971)
  3. Why Black Man Dey Suffer (1971)
  4. Live! (1971)
  5. Open & Close (1971)
  6. Shakara (1972)
  7. Roforofo Fight (1972)
  8. Afrodisiac (1973)
  9. Gentleman (1973)
  10. Confusion (1975)
  11. Expensive Shit (1975)
  12. He Miss Road (1975)
  13. Water No Get Enemy (1975)
  14. J.J.D. (Johnny Just Drop!!) (1977) Fela Kuti
  15. Zombie (1977)
  16. Stalemate (1977)
  17. No Agreement (1977)
  18. Sorrow Tears and Blood (1977)
  19. Shuffering and Shmiling (1978)
  20. Black President (1981)
  21. Original Sufferhead (1981)
  22. Unknown Soldier (1981)
  23. Army Arrangement (1985)
  24. Beasts of No Nation (1989)
  25. Confusion Break Bones (1990)
  26. The Best Best of Fela Kuti (1999)
  27. The ’69 Los Angeles Sessions (1969/2010)

Reference

Biography (2014) https://www.google.com/amp/s/www.biography.com/.amp/musician/fela-kuti

This Is Africa (2016) https://thisisafrica.me/lifestyle/felabration-week-remembering-fela-kuti-10-quotes/

Wikipedia https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fela_Kuti

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