Sunday, May 27, 2007


Fela Anikulapo Kuti, born in Abeokuta, Nigeria in 1938, was a singer-composer, trumpet, sax and keyboard player, band leader, and politician.

Fela was born to a wealthy Yoruba family as Olufela, Olusegun, Oludotun Ransome-Kuti. Fela recalls his father as having been very strict, to the point he thought his father as wicked man. Fela's father lived by the the biblical principle 'Spare the rod and spoil the child.' Nevertheless, Fela valued the lessons he learnt from his parents during his upbringing, as this experience contributed in shaping the man he grew up to be.

By the age of eight, he began playing the piano and organ. He became his school's pianist, playing at morning assemblies. As a young teen, he played in a band called Cool Cats. His rebellious side was also beginning to emerge; at age sixteen he formed a club called 'The Planless Society', with just seven members. Its sole aim was to violate all school rules. Fela also edited the journal of the club; 'The Planless Times Publication'. This was swiftly banned by the school authorities.

His political side was nurtured by his activist mother, Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti. She was a key figure in the nationalist struggle, and took Fela to political rallies. When Fela was 18, she introduced him to Kwame Nkrumah, a meeting Fela recalls as having 'changed his life'.

In 1958, at the age of nineteen, Fela went to Britain for further studies. He studied Classical Music at the Trinity College of Music, concentrating on wood wind instruments. He also formed a jazz band with his best friend, Jimo Kombi Braimah (J.K), called Koola Lobitos.

By 1961, he had met and married his first wife Remi Taylor and by 1963, he was back in Nigeria

A brief stint in the USA in the '60s nurtured Fela's radicalism, and he went home in 1970 determined to speak out for West Africa's oppressed urban poor. Fela led his sprawling, 30-plus-piece afrobeat band - first called Africa 70, and later Egypt 80 - through scathing broadsides against his government, international business and corrupt leaders all over. Early songs like "Zombie," a swipe at Nigerian Army soldiers, and "International Thief Thief" horrified authorities and earned Fela harsh retribution.
He worked a short stint at the the Nigerian Broadcasting Corporation, as a radio producer, leaving the position to concentrate on his re-formed band, Koola Lobitos.

In 1975, Fela changed his 'slave' name from Ransome to Anikulapo meaning 'one who has death in his pocket'.

It is reported that of the numerous altercations Fela has had with the Nigerian government, 18th February, 1977 will forever remain a milestone in his life. His family house, called Kalakuta Republic, was besieged by Nigerian soldiers, and was set on fire. The damage which ensued cannot be quantified; however, valuable possessions, like a tape of his forthcoming film 'Black President,' perished. Dozens sustained malleable injuries. His 78/84 year-old mother whom was thrown out of a window, died months later as a result. Fela himself ended up with a cracked skull, one of a number of injuries which affected his capabilities on the trumpet and saxophone. Nor was he to recover financially. Kuti served time in jail for his role of 'safe guarding his person and property'. This incident led to the now very famous songs 'Unknown Soldier' and 'Sorrow, Tears & Blood', released in 1977 and 1979 respectively.

Fela’s affection for polygamy, condom-free sex, his advocacy of marijuana use and his penchant for performing in only his underwear provided the Nigerian government with the opportunity to repeatedly harass him, with the hope of suppressing his vocal political protests. Fela was arrested numerous times, mostly on unfounded charges, and was imprisoned four times.

To the Pan-African world, Fela was a towering figure who arguably combined elements of pure artistry, political perseverance, and a mystic, spiritual consciousness in a way that no other individual ever has.

Fela with his wives. According to Fela in African Culture women are taught not to be jealous.

"It is very important for a man to marry many women because a man goes for many women in the first place. Like in Europe,when a man is married he goes out when the wife is sleeping...he should bring the women to the house to live with him, and stop running around the streets. That is what a man is supposed to do...a man is not supposed to run around the streets after women...women should be in his home."
-Fela Kuti

In 1978, in a total act of defiance against moral and social issues, Fela married 27 women in one traditional ceremony. This event was televised around the nation. In 1986, Fela divorced his wives, explaining that "I do not believe any more in the marriage institution. The marriage institution for the progress of the mind is evil. I learned that from prison. Why do people marry? Is it to be together? Is it to have children? People marry because they are jealous. People marry because they are possessive. People marry because they are selfish. All this comes to the very ugly fact that people want to own and control other people's bodies. I think the mind of human beings should develop to the point where that jealous feelings should be completely eradicated."

The year 1997 marked the beginning of the end for Fela. He played his last public paying show in March at the Muson Center. The shrine was raided in April, and, yet again, Fela was detained for possession of and trafficking in drugs. In mid-July, Fela collapsed at his home and was rushed to hospital. Towards the end of the month, speculation had reached fever pitch over his health. A national newspaper announced his death - this prompted Dr. Beko Ransome-Kuti to issue a press release, on the 24th July to quell such rumors; "He is responding to treatment", he announced.

One of his defining characteristics was his view on death. He told biographer Carlos Moore: "Death doesn't worry me man. When my mother died it was because she finished her time on earth. I know that when I die I'll see her again, so how can I fear death? . . . So what is this **** world about? . . . I believe there is a plan . . . I believe there is no accident in our lives. What I am experiencing today completely vindicates the African religions. . . I will do my part . . . then I'll just go, man. . . Just go!"

On the 2nd August 1997, at approximately 5:30pm, Olufela Anikulapo-Kuti died from heart failure arising from complications of HIV/AIDS. As Fela had said; "when you think you die, you're not dead. Its a transition." His son Femi now carries on the afrobeat tradition with his popular 17-piece group, Positive Force.

"I don't object to what people hear. But my music is African music."

Fela Kuti Documentary and Music Click here
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4
Part 5
Part 6

The Talking Drum
Fela Kuti Project


Daniel said...

I like to listen to the Fela's songs and I have a friend on, he likes the singer and know much about his songs. which made people positive.

tanzanianboy said...

Hello Liz,

I would also love to know how his mother demised.When I was a kid I read somewhere that she was mercilessly thrown down from his four-storey house but I'm not quite sure.

Good story,howver!


Hi Tanzania Boy,

I have actually also mentioned the demise of Fela's mum in the posting.(See the paragraph below the third image from the top)
Fela's mum was thrown out of a window like garbage.If you also get a chance to watch the documentary video clips I have also included he talks about the experience, plus you get to see his house, his wives and his life style walking around in underwear.:))))

I love Fela's music and his legacy will forever live on.

tanzanianboy said...

Thanx Liz

benin mwangi said...

African Liz:

What do you think about Fela's son, Femi? Some people would say that he has taken the name even farther. It is unfortunate that Fela died so young, there is no telling how much more he could have done, had he lived even only 20 or 30 more years.

tony said...

i believe in fela's philosophy...we live to die and die to live . death is only a gateway to a different and new world. the problem we have is dat we focus too much on fiction. what we feel is as a result of our quest fo too love that does not exist.

Anonymous said...

Ahem, the third picture is of Femi, not Fela...
There's currently an off-broadway show playing with Fela's life as the subject, its very very good.

Rising from my Ashes said...

he was lucky. had he been born today, he may never have been known. I dont think there can be another African musician that will be as lucky as fela was. times have changed however this does not mean there will no be other successful african musicians but there can no be another that will be as selfless as fela kuti

Rising from my Ashes said...

can not*