by Christa Tandana
Fela Kuti was a singer, composer, political and human rights activist, and musician. He was considered a pioneer of funk and inventor of Afrobeat music, a mix of jazz, funk, and African influence.
Born in Nigeria in 1938, Fela was raised by his political activist parents. He changed his middle name to Anikulapo, which means "he who carries death in his pouch”. At the age of 20, he was sent to London to study medicine, but studied music instead. There, he formed a band called Koola Lobitos, which he later renamed “Nigeria ‘70” and “Africa ‘70”. Through this band, Fela gave birth to Afrobeat and took the world by storm. In 1969, Fela took the band on a 10-city tour in America.
Both Fela's music and his lifestyle were provocative and controversial. Whether people liked him or not, they knew who he was. He thrived off of controversy and activism and lived in rebellion to society and the government. He formed a commune in Nigeria called the Kalakuta Republic, which he declared was independent from the country. He believed in polygamy and, at one point had 27 wives.
Fela opened up "The Shrine," a nightclub, where he would perform for hours on end. His music was often politically charged. One song, Zombie, attacked the Nigerian military on their methods:
Zombie no go go, unless you tell am to go.
Zombie no go stop, unless you tell am to stop.
Zombie no go turn, unless you tell am to turn.
Zombie no go think, unless you tell am to think.
Tell ‘em to go straight.
Due to his loud political voice, the Nigerian government sanctioned an attack on Fela's compound in 1977. Soldiers violently beat Fela and his wives and threw his mother out a window. They burned down his commune, including his instruments and master tapes.
Fela died in 1997 of complications from AIDS, but his contributions to the society and the world of music put him down in history as one of the greatest African icons.
Fela Kuti was also not your average person and neither is the show based on his life.
Read a review of Fela here!