The Cultural Impact of Fela’s Artistry on Afro Pop
By Babatope Oladipo, O.T
2nd of August, 2018
2nd of August, 2018
Olufela Olusegun Oludotun Ransome-Kuti, popularly known as Fela Anikulakpo Kuti, Baba '70, and Abami eda. He was a gem to the Nigerian music industry and still is till date. He continues to influence the new generation of musicians in Nigeria and even in the UK.
But what is it about Fela’s legacy that is still celebrated today?
Asides being a world renowned musician and composer, Fela was also a multi-instrumentalist, pioneer of the Afrobeat music genre, and a human rights activist.
He created a personified unique fusion of African indigenous rhythms and jazz, that aims at targeted issues surrounding his everyday life, directly or indirectly. He talked about social issues, women and their dynamics, and mostly, using witty interpolations, political corruption and abuse of power in Nigeria. He wasn’t one to shy away from expressing his dissent against the country’s mismanagement. He didn’t only sing about it, he took several actions, defiance and rebellious show of character against the government which would later cause him several detentions, beatings and possibly aggravated the death of his mother. In 1977, Fela refused to take part in the Festival of Arts and Culture (FESTAC) event so as not to legitimise the military government of General Olusegun Obasanjo. There was a retaliation on his home, self proclaimed “Kalakuta Republic”. It was burnt down, just a week after the FESTAC event and resulted in his 78-year old mother being thrown from a window. She died a year after.
In 1984, Fela was sentenced to five years in jail by General Muhammadu Buhari’s regime for currency trafficking. He came out of jail 18 months later. This would later motivate the final creative projects of his life.
He was born on the 15th October 1938 and died on the 2nd August 1997, and seeing as today is the 21st anniversary of his passing, here are a few things you didn't know about Fela.
● He was born to Reverend Israel and Funmilayo Ransome Kuti in the city of Abeokuta, Ogun state, Nigeria.
● His mother, Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti, was a feminist in the anti-colonial movement. His father Reverend Israel Oludotun Ransome-Kuti, an Anglican minister and school principal, was the first president of the Nigeria Union of Teachers, and his brothers were doctors. So you see the Ransome Kuti family were not even here to joke.
● Fela is a first cousin to the Nigerian writer and Nobel laureate Wole Soyinka, the first African to win the Nobel Prize for Literature
● Fela played several instruments (proving that going to music school is not beans) including the trumpet, saxophone, keyboards, guitars and drums. His preferred being the trumpet.
● He played for some time with Victor Olaiya and his All Stars called the COOL CATS. (and kids these days think they have cool stage names.)
● His band was originally called Koola Lobitos.He went ahead to rename the band Nigeria '70. it didn't stop there, he later renamed it The Afrika '70, as lyrical themes changed from love to social issues.
● He formed the Kalakuta Republic, a recording studio, and a home for the people connected to the band and the Fela movement. He later declared kalakuta independent from the Nigerian state (total badass move).
● Fela set up a nightclub which he first named the Afro-Spot and then the Afrika Shrine.
● Fela dropped the name Ransome - Kuti and reemerged as Anikulakpo - Kuti. stating that the name 'Ransome' was a slave name, and there's no badass that go through life with a slave name. "...i have death in my pocket..." . It is funny how Fela Olusegun Oludotun Ransome-Kuti and The one-time GCFR (Grand Commander of the Federal Republic - Nigerian national honor), Olusegun Obasanjo have the same name though.
● Kuti began to run outspoken political columns in the advertising space of daily and weekly newspapers which was published throughout the 1970s and early 1980s under the title "Chief Priest Say". It was later cancelled cos of non-payment (speculated)
● In 1978, Fela married 27 women, many of whom were his dancers, composers, and singers. The year was also marked by two notorious concerts, the first in Accra in which riots broke out during the song "Zombie", which led to Fela being banned from entering Ghana.
A documentary titled “Finding Fela” shows a bit of insight from his children's perspective – Femi, Yeni, and Seun. They talked about how their father treated them like other members of his commune, insisting that they call him “Fela” rather than “daddy.” The daily chaos of the “Kalakuta Republic” is well captured in the documentary, with even a timetable of which wives would spend the night with him.
● Apart from his brilliant music, Fela is known for his energetic live performances. The extravagant, well-choreographed set of “Fela”, involving his skimpily clad painted face “dancing queens”, African masquerades, a Smokey clouded background usually from his signature marijuana joint, a couple of hallucinatory message-packed interludes backed up with incantation-filled dances (most popular is the “dance of the orisas”).
● He formed his own political party, which he called Movement of the People (MOP), in order to "clean up society like a mop" (I see what you did there sir). He also put himself forward for President in Nigeria's first elections for more than a decade, but his candidature was refused. What do you think will be the outlook of Nigeria if Fela became president?
● Fela died of AIDS in August 1997 at the age of 58. Nigerians lined the streets of Lagos to bid their legend farewell: a scene well captured in “Finding Fela”. It was clear Fela was more than a musician to most Nigerians, he was a voice, he drove a culture, and he established a legacy. Today, this legacy is carried on by his sons (Femi and Seun Kuti) and several Nigerian musicians who have tried to imbibe a bit of that artistry into their current art. You sometimes hear Fela’s lyrics and even sound in Wizkid’s songs (and many other Nigerian artists). D’Banj has also copied and mastered Fela’s stagecraft and energy. But His impact is not just limited to Nigeria. Some Bands like Newen (based in Chile), Antibalas band (Brookyln) and Chicago Afrobeat Project have committed themselves to Fela’s Afrobeat music. Outside Afrobeat circuit, Skepta, Wale, tinie tempa, Erykah Badu, Philadephia’s The Roots, Talib Kweli, Nasir Jone, P.Diddy, Beyoncé, Jay z and Emmanuel Macron (The current President of France) have made references to Fela’s influence and admiration
The New Afrika Shrine was opened after Fela's death in a different section of Lagos under the supervision of his son Femi Kuti. The New Afrika Shrine is where FELABRATION holds every year in remembrance of Fela's Birthday.
Fela throughout his lifetime put out more than 23 bodies of work.
“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.” - FELA
FELA LIVES ON!