8 Things You Didn't Know About Fela Kuti
Updated: Aug 2, 2020
Whilst many musicians can be said to be kings of certain music genres, Fela Anikulapo Kuti is a god when it comes to Afrobeat because he created it. He created the genre when he returned to Nigeria in the late 60s, blending African rhythms with jazz and funk.
Fela’s musical awakening happened over several years and in a handful of countries. After learning his chops in the UK, he started formulating his own sound while gigging in Ghana and Nigeria. But things really started to take shape during an otherwise ill-starred tour of America in 1969. It was during a stop at Los Angeles that he first met Sandra Smith, an African-American civil rights activist who had spent three months in jail after assaulting a police officer at a Black Panthers rally. It was through meeting her that he first began to think in an Afro-conscious way.
Unfortunately, Fela passed away in August as a result of a heart failure and AIDS-related complications, his older brother, Olikoye Ransome-Kuti said at a news conference in Lagos. I wanted to share a few interesting facts I found out whilst researching about Fela's life.
Kuti was the son of feminist and labour activist Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti. As a youth he took lessons in piano and percussion before studying (1959) classical music at Trinity College London. While in London, he encountered various musical styles by playing piano in jazz and rock bands. Returning to Nigeria in the mid-1960s, he reconstituted Koola Lobitos, a band with which he had played in London. The Afro-beat sound emerged from that group’s experiments.
Kuti is a first cousin to Nigerian writer and Nobel laureate Wole Soyinka, also a brother to Olikoye Ransome Kuti a former minister of health that set up the first psychiatric hospital in Nigeria, Aro Abeokuta.
He was arrested 200 times and endured numerous beatings, but continued to write political lyrics, producing albums before he died on August 2, 1997, in Lagos.
Fella was the founder of Afrobeat. He first called his music Afrobeat In 1969.
In 1977, Fela and the Afrika ’70 released the album Zombie, a scathing attack on Nigerian soldiers using the zombie metaphor to describe the methods of the Nigerian military. The album was a smash hit and infuriated the government, setting off a vicious attack against the Kalakuta Republic, during which one thousand soldiers attacked the commune. Fela was severely beaten, and his elderly mother (whose house was located opposite the commune) was thrown from a window, causing fatal injuries. In response, Kuti delivered his mother’s coffin to the Lagos barracks where the Nigerian military general resided and released two songs, “Coffin For Head Of State” and “Unknown Soldier.”
In 1978, Fela married 27 women, many of whom were his dancers, composers, and singers to mark the anniversary of the attack on the Kalakuta Republic.
In 1979, he put himself forward for President in Nigeria’s first elections for more than a decade, but his candidature was refused.
In 1997, Kuti died from AIDS-related complications at the age of 58.
I hope you enjoyed these interesting facts as much as I did.