Fela Kuti: Pioneering Afrobeat and Its Iconic Father

Fela Anikulapo Kuti (1938–1997) was a Nigerian musician, composer, and political activist who played a pivotal role in the development of Afrobeat, a genre that fuses traditional African music with jazz, highlife, and funk. Here is a brief profile of Fela Kuti:
Early Life and Education:
Fela was born on October 15, 1938, in Abeokuta, Nigeria, to a prominent family. His mother, Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti, was a feminist and political activist, while his father, Israel Oludotun Ransome-Kuti, was a reverend and teacher.
Musical Career:
Fela started his musical career in the 1950s as a highlife and jazz musician. He later formed his band, Koola Lobitos, which played a fusion of jazz, highlife, and traditional Yoruba music.
Afrobeat and Political Activism:
In the late 1960s and early 1970s, Fela developed Afrobeat, a genre characterized by its fusion of various musical styles and its strong political and social commentary. His music often addressed issues such as corruption, oppression, and socioeconomic inequality.
Kalakuta Republic:
Fela established the Kalakuta Republic, a commune and recording studio, as a base for his band and a center for political activities. The Nigerian government’s crackdown on the Kalakuta Republic in 1977, during which his mother was thrown from a window and later died, had a profound impact on Fela’s life and music.
Political Activism and Imprisonment:
Fela was a vocal critic of the Nigerian government, and his songs frequently landed him in trouble with authorities. He was arrested numerous times, and his Kalakuta Republic was raided. He spent time in prison but continued to release albums critical of the government.
Fela Kuti is widely regarded as a musical and cultural icon. His influence extends beyond music to social and political activism. His fearless approach to addressing political issues through music has inspired generations of musicians and activists.
Fela Kuti passed away on August 2, 1997, from complications related to AIDS. Despite his death, his impact on music and activism endures, and he is remembered as one of Africa’s most influential and enduring musicians.

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Political views
“Imagine Che Guevara and Bob Marley rolled into one person and you get a sense of Nigerian musician and activist Fela Kuti.”
—Herald Sun, February 2011
Kuti thought the most important way for Africans to fight European cultural imperialism was to support traditional African religions and lifestyles.
The American Black Power movement also influenced Fela’s political views; he was a supporter of Pan-Africanism and socialism and called for a united, democratic African republic. He was a candid supporter of human rights, and many of his songs are direct attacks against dictatorships, specifically the militaristic governments of Nigeria in the 1970s and 1980s. He was also a social commentator, and he criticized his fellow Africans (especially the upper class) for betraying traditional African culture. The African culture he believed in also included having many wives (polygyny) and the Kalakuta Republic was formed in part as a polygamist colony. He defended his stance on polygyny with the words: “A man goes for many women in the first place.
He should bring the women in the house, man, to live with him, and stop running around the streets!”
Fela and his women
His views towards women are characterized by some as a misogynist, with songs like “Mattress” typically cited as evidence.
In a more complex example, he mocks the aspiration of African women to European standards of ladyhood while extolling the values of the market woman in his song “Lady.”
In the 1970s, Kuti began buying advertising space in daily and weekly newspapers such as The Daily Times and The Punch to run outspoken political columns, bypassing editorial censorship in Nigeria’s predominantly state-controlled media.
Published throughout the 1970s and early 1980s under the title “Chief Priest Say”, these columns were essentially extensions of Kuti’s famous Yabi Sessions—consciousness-raising word-sound rituals, with himself as chief priest, conducted at his Lagos nightclub. Organized around a militantly Afrocentric rendering of history and the essence of black beauty, “Chief Priest Say” focused on the role of cultural hegemony in the continuing subjugation of Africans. Kuti addressed several topics, from explosive denunciations of the Nigerian Government’s criminal behaviour; Islam and Christianity’s exploitative nature, and evil multinational corporations; to deconstructions of Western medicine, Black Muslims, sex, pollution, and poverty. “Chief Priest Say” was canceled, first by Daily Times then by Punch, ostensibly due to non-payment, but many commentators[who?] have speculated that the paper’s respective editors were placed under increasingly violent pressure to stop publication.
The Fela revival
Since the 1990s, there has been a revitalization of Fela’s influence on music and popular culture, culminating in another re-release of his catalog controlled by Universal Music, Broadway and off-Broadway biographically based shows, and new bands, such as Antibalas, who carry the Afrobeat banner to a new generation of listeners.
In 1999, Universal Music France, under the aegis of Francis Kertekian, remastered the 45 albums that it controlled and released them on 26 compact discs. These titles were licensed to other territories of the world except Nigeria and Japan, where Fela’s music was controlled by other companies. In 2005, Universal Music USA licensed all of its world-music titles to the UK-based label Wrasse Records, which repackaged the same 26 CDs for distribution in the USA (replacing the MCA-issued titles there) and the UK. In 2009, Universal created a new deal for the USA with Knitting Factory Records and for Europe with PIAS, which included the release of the Fela! Broadway cast album. In 2013, FKO Ltd, the entity that owned the rights to all of Fela’s compositions, was acquired by BMG Rights Management.
Thomas McCarthy’s 2008 film The Visitor depicted a disconnected professor (Oscar nominee Richard Jenkins) who wanted to play the djembe. He learns from a young Syrian (Haaz Sleiman) who tells the professor he will never truly understand African music unless he listens to Fela. The film features clips of Fela’s “Open and Close” and “Je’nwi Temi (Don’t Gag Me)”.

In 2008, an off-Broadway production of Fela Kuti’s life entitled Fela!, inspired by Carlos Moore’s 1982 book Fela, Fela! This Bitch of a Life began with a collaborative workshop between the Afrobeat band Antibalas and Tony award-winner Bill T. Jones. The show was a massive success, selling out shows during its run, and garnering much critical acclaim. On 22 November 2009, Fela! began a run on Broadway at the Eugene O’Neill Theatre. Jim Lewis helped co-write the play (along with Bill T. Jones), and obtained producer backing from Jay-Z and Will Smith, among others. On 4 May 2010, Fela! was nominated for 11 Tony Awards, including Best Musical, Best Book of a Musical, Best Direction of a Musical for Bill T. Jones, Best Leading Actor in a Musical for Sahr Ngaujah, and Best Featured Actress in a Musical for Lillias White. On 11 June 2012, it was announced that FELA! would return to Broadway for 32 performances.

On 18 August 2009, award-winning DJ J.Period released a free mixtape to the general public via his website that was a collaboration with Somali-born hip-hop artist K’naan paying tribute to Fela, Bob Marley, and Bob Dylan, entitled The Messengers.
In October 2009, Knitting Factory Records began the process of re-releasing the 45 titles that Universal Music controls, starting with yet another re-release of the compilation The Best of the Black President in the USA. The rest were expected to be released in 2010.
The full-length documentary film Finding Fela, directed by Alex Gibney, received its premiere at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival.
In addition, a movie by Focus Features, directed by Steve McQueen and written by Biyi Bandele about the life of Fela Kuti was rumored to be in production in 2010, with Chiwetel Ejiofor in the lead role, but has not eventuated.
Source: Wikipedia

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