The Nigerian Afrobeat Musical Legend, Olufela Olusegun Oludotun Anikulapo Kuti, (popularly known as Fela), was a multi-talented instrumentalist; he played the keyboard, saxophone, trumpet, electric guitar, and drums.
Fela was also an activist; he was arrested about 200 times for rebellious and extreme political lyrics against the government and leadership of Nigeria, where he resided. He produced over 50 albums in his lifetime, including timeless international hits. He was loved worldwide
Fela was born on 15 October 1938 in Abeokuta, Ogun State, Nigeria. As a child, he played the piano and drums and also led his school choir. He later studied music at The Trinity College of Music in England. He formed ‘Koola Lobitos’ band, later changed to ‘Africa 70’, ‘Egypt 80’, and finally ‘Afrobeat’ in the 60’s.
In 1968, Fela’s Afrobeat became a unique genre, a blend of highlife, jazz, salsa, calypso, funk, rhythm & blues, hip-hop and best of all, Nigeria beats, produced by conga, and many drums like ‘gan gan’ (talking drums), guitar, ‘shekere’, percussion, saxophone and keyboards.
Fela’s afrobeat was the birth and inspiration for today’s music industry in Nigeria. Fela’s music lives on, and has crept constantly into recent songs by much younger artists, most of whom never really experienced the music maestro’s art, before he passed. His controversial music, eccentric style, and stage performance was loved all over the world, and brought attention to Nigeria. Locally, his activism brought about more fans and fame; he had a song for every political situation, without fear of extreme criticism of governments. Songs like ‘Beast of no Nation’, ‘Zombie’
He lived in ‘Kalakuta Republic’, his home, with many wives and other women; he married 27 women at-a-go, in one day!!!. He also has many children. His sons, Femi and Seun are international afrobeat musicians as well, with their unique styles.
Fela’s ‘Shrine’ (his night club, and performance stage in Lagos) was the place to be for most fans and afrobeat lovers on weekend nights. It was indeed an experience. The Shrine will never be the same without him!
Fela Anikulapo Kuti died August 2, 1997 at the age of 58. His funeral was attended by over a million people with a procession from Tafawa Balewa Square, Lagos to ‘Kalkuta Republic’, (approximately 30km where he was buried in his front yard.
His Afrobeat legacy and the development of the music industry in Nigeria, makes it impossible to forget him. He paved the way for today’s artistes, Davido, Don Jazzy, Wizkid, Olamide and so on. These ‘Kids’ have put Nigeria and Afrobeat on the World’s Pedestal; and I daresay, one of the few industries that have thrived tremendously in the face of economic turmoil in Nigeria.
When Fela had to speak for the people, he did. When he had to protest, he did. When he had to campaign for rights, he did, through his Music. However, while he was such a Musical enigma, genius, and activist; how wonderful would it have been, if Fela had impacted more positive virtues on his followers then, and generations thereafter, especially in the music industry.
Editor, The Street Hawker
We celebrate the movement that contributed to the thriving music industry in Nigeria today, Fela's music is alive! We have added a few to our playlist for your listening pleasure. Get the app for TSH Playlist.