Born on October 15, 1938 Fela Anikulapo Kuti was a legendary Nigerian musician and political activist who became popular for pioneering the Afrobeat music genre that the world is now vibing to.
In 1958, Fela left Lagos for London, where he was sent to study medicine, he would ultimately switch majors and take on Music at Trinity College of Music. The late ’50s and early ’60s would become the formative years of his music career. In 1967, Fela left Lagos for Ghana in search of a new musical direction. It was there he first called his music Afrobeat––a blend of traditional Yoruba and Afro-Cuban music with funk and jazz. The sound also featured elements of highlife, salsa and calypso.
At the time, Fela’s sound seemed too eclectic and harder to relate to but with each passing day, the world is finally coming up to speed with his music and the deep messages encoded in them.
Taking after his mother, Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti, a foremost women’s right activist, Fela used his music as a tool for activism. Along with his music, he became popular for calling out bad political leadership and pointing out the struggles of the average Nigerian.
Fela’s voice became an international sensation as the president of Kalakuta republic––made up of his family and band members. He founded the kingdom in 1970 as an autonomous commune, independent of the country’s military regime at the time. This led to him being a target, facing countless attacks by unknown powers, suspected to be elements of the ruling government, who seemed determined to silence him. He was arrested and briefly imprisoned, yet he remained undeterred. The hotter the fire, the fiercer he became in his lyrical exposé of corruption in Nigeria.
In fact, Fela’s passion for activism seemed to grow stronger after the death of his mother at the hands of soldiers who attacked the Kalakuta Republic while she visited Fela in February 1977.
There’s no better time to celebrate this musical legend, who’s one of the true pioneers of the Nigerian revolution, than now with the ongoing #EndSARS movement. Fela Kuti’s songs like Zombie and Beast of no nation focused on police brutality as he did his quota to campaign against voice to systemic oppression, even at a time when it was unpopular to speak up against the government. Thanks to his boldness, a number of indigenous artists like Eedris Abdulkareem have come to use their music to speak up against the same societal ills Fela fought against. We can also thank Fela’s courage for inspiring Nigerian celebrities and youths who have now taken to the streets courageously to demand an end to police brutality. It is indeed the beginning of a revolution whose time has come.
Today as we celebrate the icon, we acknowledge not only his legacy but a generation-long fight for justice. Starting from his mother, Funmilayo to Fela to his sons, Femi and Seun Kuti. The Kuti family has indeed played a major part in sparking up a much needed revolution in Nigeria.
Fela Anikulapo Kuti died in Lagos on the 2nd of April, 1997 but even in death his legacy waxes ever strong. Every year, Felabration is held in Lagos in his honor to celebrate his redemptive contributions to the Nigerian society. Founded by his daughter, Omoyeni Anikulapo Kuti, Felabration coincides with Fela’s birthday and is held at the New Afrika Shrine which has become a tourist attraction.
The 2020 Felabration was organized as a virtual festival set to happen from the 15th of October to 17th of October with a lineup of top artiste like Wande Coal, Joeboy, Antibalas and WurlD performing live across social social media.
Fela Anikulapo Kuti is an integral part of Nigerian freedom fighting history and should continue to be treated as a national treasure. After decades of controversy, Nigerians can’t stop unraveling the truths in his lyrics. It is sad that the issues he complained about through his music decades ago still persists in our time. There’s no better way to wish this legend a happy posthumous 82nd birthday than to ask him to finally Rest In Peace as Nigerian youths are finally wide awake now.
A luta continua!
Listen to ‘Water No Get Enemy’ by Fela
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