Fela Anikulapo Kuti (byname of Olufela Olusegun Oludotun Ransome-Kuti) was the embodiment of Pan-Africanism as expressed through his revolutionary and pioneering music as well as his acts of defiance to the system. He brought a sound that was unique to Africa, a sound that is now celebrated not only in Africa but in other parts of the world too.
He was born on 15 October 1938 and breathed his last on 2 August 1997. The heights he achieved through his music are an attestation to a human being who stood with the people and always sought to be the champion of the people regardless of the consequences.
He was the pioneer of the modern style of music called Afrobeat, which is a conflation of American blues, jazz, and funk with traditional Yoruba music.
His musical journey took traction in 1958 in London where he pursued Music studies. He returned to Nigeria in the 1960s with a band called Koola Lobitos which he had started back in London. He toured the United States in 1969 and while there he took a deep interest in the teachings and ideas of Malcolm X, the Black Panthers, and other militants. That is when his sound took a political turn. At that time, the Biafran War was raging in Nigeria.
Being the son of a feminist and activist, Fela Kuti was now an advocate of social change, rejecting all the capitalist notions of how Nigeria was set up and more fundamentally, he developed a hatred for military rule.
He became a target of the Nigerian military government because of his politically-charged songs bemoaning the repression of military rule. They began raiding his nightclub and he was incarcerated many times. Fela Kuti set up a communal compound called Kalakuta Republic in which he lived according to his own rules only. The compound was a centre of controversy for Fela as people accused him of abducting girls (in the compound resided many girls, and in one day Fela Kuti married 27 women) and then the issue of marijuana.
In 1997 his complex was raided by the military, as Olesugun Obasanjo had grown weary of Fela Kuti's revolutionary stance and had decided to deal with him. That raid resulted in the death of his mother (her mother died 14 months after the raid as a result of the injuries she had sustained).
Fela Kuti was a fierce and determined spirit - he lived to make an impact on the lives of his fellow country-people. He had an unquenchable zest for fighting inequality, injustice, and cultural imperialism.
Below are 10 of some of his inspiring and revolutionary quotes:
1. "Everything I did wrong was for experience. That’s how I see it. Once a man is looking for better knowledge and he tries to be honest and truthful in all endeavors, then his life is just an experience. It cannot be a regret”. Fela: This Bitch of a Life, Carlos Moore.
2. "That is my best friend because it is a gift of the creator to Africans. It is a spirit. Marijuana has five fingers of creation...it enhances all your five senses."
3. "Yes, if you are in England the music can be an instrument of enjoyment. 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 a struggle for people's existence."
4. "A radical is he who has no sense…fights without reason…I have a reason. I am authentic. Yes, that’s what I am."
5. "A lutta continua… A lutta continua. A lutta continua… No! It must not continue. The struggle must STOP!” Fela: This Bitch of a Life, Carlos Moore
6. "To be spiritual is not by praying and going to church. Spiritualism is the understanding of the universe so that it can be a better place to live in."
7. "Music is a weapon of the future / music is the weapon of the progressives/music is the weapon of the givers of life".
8. "My people are scared of the air around them, they always have an excuse not to fight for freedom".
9. "I want peace. Happiness. Not only for myself. For everybody."
10. "I must identify myself with Africa. Then I will have an identity."
Header image credit - The National