Olufela Olusegun Oludotun Ransome-Kuti, popularly known as Fela Anikulapo Kuti, was a Nigerian multi-instrumentalist, bandleader, composer, and fierce political activist. He is widely considered as the pioneer of Afrobeat and his major inspirations were the Sierra Leonean afrobeat legend Gerald Pino, funk star James Brown, and legendary trumpeter Victor Olaiyan. Born into the Ransome-Kuti family which was an upper-middle-class Nigerian family, he is a first cousin to Africa’s first Nobel Prize Winner for Literature Wole Soyinka. Fela Kuti’s music covered the inefficiencies and excesses of the Nigerian government in the 70s, and 80s, the vocalization on the neglect of the African way of life, and broader social issues.
Here are 5 reasons why Fela Kuti’s music and persona should impact African generations to come:
1) REDEFINED AFRICAN MUSIC FROM AN AFRICAN SOCIO-POLITICAL PERSPECTIVE – For Fela Kuti, music must supposedly border on the intrinsic life challenges of his people. Though he sang songs edifying the beauty of women, the 70s was a different ballgame altogether.
Yes, if you are in England, music can be an instrument of enjoyment. You can sing about love, you can sing about love, you can sing about whom you are going to bed next. But in my own environment, my society is underdeveloped because of an alien system on our people. So there is no music enjoyment. There is nothing like love. There is something like the struggle for people’s existence.
Fela Kuti said in interview footage.
2) GENUINELY AFROCENTRIC – Within and without music, Fela Kuti always preached for unity and love amongst the people of Africa. He also believed that one way we should conquer European cultural imperialism was to embrace our traditional ways of life and religions. He became closely associated with the thoughts and philosophies of Malcolm X, Thomas Sankara, and Kwame Nkrumah. Fela Kuti criticized fellow Africans for betraying their traditional African traditions. “Colonial Mentality” was one song he lambasted the attitude of Africans towards their local setting. Like many other Pan Africanists, Fela Kuti supported the socialist political system.
3) FEARLESSLY UNRIVALLED WITHIN THE NIGERIAN POLITICAL SETUP – Fela Kuti, throughout his era of political activism, was arrested over 200 times. His longest stint included incarceration which lasted for 20 months. Fela Kuti’s enigma is something to marvelously wonder. He was unafraid of death and was always ready to stand up to bad governance which was rife at the time. His adopted name Anikulapo meant “He who carries death in his pouch”. In his hit single Sorrow Tears and Blood, he inspired Nigerians and Africans to be fearless and undisturbed by the threat of death, or the volatile nature of the military government. The lyrics in that song inspired Burna Boy’s Collateral Damage. Imagine if every one of us were similarly positioned like Fela to rise against social ills or the corrupt nature of our governments.
4) ANTAGONISTIC TOWARDS COLONIALISM – An interesting piece of a tale in this column was Fela’s decision to drop his name Ransome because he felt it was a slave name. Thus, adopting the Yoruba name Anikulapo. He denounced many objects of colonialism including the exploitative nature of Christianity and Islam, the appreciation of black beauty, the de-establishment of Western medicine, and his dark perception of the CIA and multi-national companies. All these he championed after running a political column under the advertising space of newspapers such as The Daily Times and The Punch.
5) HE SAW IT! – Fela Kuti was a prophet. Like people who had visions of the future and were persecuted by sordid setups, Fela fits into that description. It was Fela Kuti who cast doubts over the authoritarian Muhammadu Buhari, the current President of Nigeria. He even labeled him as “an animal in a madman’s body” in the song Beast of no nation. A vociferous critic of Buhari, he was arrested by the government for currency smuggling. An indictment which Amnesty International condemned and declared Fela Kuti a prisoner of consciousness. After his hit album Zombie, in which he criticized Nigerian soldiers, his Kalakuta commune was raided with over a thousand soldiers. He was severely beaten, and his elderly mother was thrown out from a window eventually leading to her death. He has seen it all. And throughout those ordeals, he remained unfazed by the challenges and focused on his actual understanding of the world.
The king of Afrobeat died on 2nd August 1997. To date, he continues to be an astute and worthy inspiration for black people across the globe. His influence on art, music, activism, Pan Africanism, and spirituality remainunmatched and a concrete legacy.