Updated: Sep 4, 2020
Fela Anikulapo Kuti was born in Abeokuta Western Nigeria in 1938, but for his death in August 1997 he would have celebrated his 81st birthday October this year.
This musical icon from Nigeria is the African equivalent of Bob Marley, he was a showman extraordinaire, a perfectionist, multi -instrumentalist, musician, producer, arranger, composer and a sociopolitical activist all in one. It was all these attributes in one person that made Fela the Abami Eda, the strange one.
He was born into the middle class home of Reverend Ransome Kuti and an activist mother Chief Mrs Olufunmilayo Ransome Kuti, who led the Egba Womens riot, pre independence and was speculated to be the first woman to drive a car in Nigeria.
Fela was packaged to London in 1958 to study medicine, but the Abami had other ideas and ended up studying music at the Trinity college of Music.
Fela being a rebel quickly grew tired of the European genres of music and promptly formed his own band; The Koola Lobitos in 1961.
Fela returned to Nigeria in 1963 and was playing in the local club scene in Lagos.
In 1969, Fela moved his band to the US and toured the country for about 8 months. It was there he met Sandra Isidore.
Sandra it was who introduced him to the philosophy and teachings of Malcolm X and other black conciousness activist. From then on Fela had a paradigm shift.
Fela returned to Nigeria and changed his music to Afro Beat. Rechristianed his band to Fela Ransome Kuti and the Africa 70.
The Afrobeat was a fusion of heavy percussion, drums, prominent horns and saxophone, heavy guitar, gyrating female dancers and songs done in his native Yoruba and vernacular form of English called pidgin.
He founded his own kingdom called Kalakuta Republic. Located in Surulere Lagos close to the popular Oju Elegba. This was Fela's golden era when he played such monster hits like "Lady", "Shakara", " water no get enemy" , " roforofo fight" " Ojuelegba", " Ikoyi blindness", "Alagbon" to mention a few of his monster collection.
Fela was making money and could have lived anywhere the elites lived, but he chose to live in Surulere, a local suburb of Lagos. He chose to live with the masses and the downtrodden as a champion of their course.
It was the activism of Fela that led him into several altercations and arrests with the powers that be, i.e both the Police and the Military.
It was in one of those confrontations between his boys and the authorities in 1977 at the height of the reign of one of his songs " Zombie " in which he ridiculed the soldiers; during the reign of General Olusegun Obasanjo, who incidentally was his classmate at Abeokuta Grammar School, that over 1000 soldiers of the Nigeria Army invaded his Kalakuta republic and rendered it asunder. They broke Fela's head after severe beatings, threw his 78 year old mum down from the top floor, destroyed his demo tapes, destroyed his yet unreleased film, the "Black President". Raped his girls and burned the republic down.
Fela was hospitalized and upon recovery he and his band members briefly relocated to Ghana.
Fela returned to Nigeria in 1978 and his music changed to pure activism music that addressed the living conditions of the masses. He played such hits like, "ODOO"
"Authority Stealing", " Coffin for head of state", " Army Arrangement", " ITT" just to mention a few.
Fela was an Icon, he had his gigs at the "Africa Shrine" in Pepple street Ikeja, where it was rumored that Fela never payed rent and Nobody could do anything about it. It was an unending litagation.
Fela was a prolific lover with a humongous capacity for sex. In one of his escapades he singularly married 27 women at a go.
Fela was an active smoker of Indian hemp, the way he smoked and handled his hemp actually led a lot of youngmen into the habit.
Fela was much sought after in Europe and many European greats like Paul McCartney of the " Beatles " and American greats like Roy Ayers were his guests
He was soon to get into trouble again in 1984, when embarking on one of his European tours he was arrested at the Murtala Muhammed airport in Lagos by the Buhari Idiagbon Junta on trumped up charges of false declaration of currency.
He was jailed for 10 years by the junta and was released when the junta was overthrown by another military journeyman, President Ibrahim Babangida, who reviewed his case and had him released.
Fela Promptly released " Beast of no nation"
An album in which he called his tormentors messrs Buhari and Idiagbon, animals in human skin. He did not spare the western democracies, symbolized by Thatcher and Reagan, who he claimed gave us democracy, which he likened to demonstration of craze. He played other songs like, " Teacher don't teach me nonsense" and " Original suffer-head" and a few others.
Not much came from Fela in the 90's as he just concentrated playing at the African shrine.
By this time the abami had grown weak, his lifestyle had caught up with him and he was said to have contracted HIV, which he insisted he was treating fine with African herbs,and even controverted it though his lean frame and skin rashes belied his claim.
Shortly before he died he had yet another encounter with NDLEA, the drug enforcement agency headed by a mustachioed over zealous general Musa Bamayi, a man known for his erratic behavior who worked for yet another dark goggled despot General, Sani Abacha.
The stress of the whole harassment, coupled with his ill health finally took its toll on the abami and he died on August 2nd 1997.
Fela was survived by about 10 children, among whom are Femi Anikulapo Kuti and Seun Anikulapo Kuti. Two successful musicians in their own right.
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