Every man is born with a mission - which he either accomplishes or betrays…
Fela Anikulapo Kuti dared to be counted; he stood against a succession of military dictatorship and foreign super powers who together exploited the African continent.
Even though he was fortunate to come from a fairly wealthy family, he made himself the voice of the common man in the Africa society.
Despite the challenges he faced, Fela maintained an enviable sense of humour in his satirical lyrics with which he mocked the vampires that sucked his beloved Nigeria and African at large. He continually engaged the barrels of these tyrants in fierce combat with his lyrics, proving to the world that indeed music is a weapon. His music was hope to the defenseless and remains so till date - a clarion call for Africans to arise. He embraced his call and paid the ultimate prize for self actualization.
Born to a diligent comprador - his father, Israel Oludotun Ransome-Kuti was an Anglican clergyman and school principal. Fela’s mother on the other hand, Fumilayo Ransome Kuti was an anti-colonial advocate, mother of Nigeria’s independence and a Pan-African heroine - on record to be the first woman to drive a car in Nigeria.
Fela’s ideologies were perhaps planted by the colostrum from Fumilayo - her black nipples fed Fela the guts to champion the fight for human justice and Pan-Africanism. He would grow into a man who sucked from as many breasts as he desired – marrying 27 women on the same day in 1978, but there was none wired with nerves deeply rooted in Africa, as hers. Indeed Fela was Fumilayo’s son!
Born Olufela Olusegun Oludotun Ransom-Kuti in 1938, he renamed himself Fela Anikulapo Kuti, interpreted to mean ‘a man who has death in his pouch’ - a name which not only outlined his mission but was for no justifiable reason, a constant tear in the conscience of Nigerian military dictators.
Many wondered why successive military governments would so much as bother itself with a musician who had no political backing or financial capabilities to pose any real threats; but like John F. Kennedy said; “the enemy of truth is very often not the lie”.
Fela’s journey to self actualization began when he took the bold decision to study music against the wish and without consultation from his parents who had sent him to the United Kingdom in 1958 to study medicine like his brothers. Unknown to many and perhaps Fela himself at that time, this decision was his first step towards the very purpose for his existence – to become a voice of revolution through music, which like his name rightly prophesied, will never die. Twenty-One years after his death, he continues to inspire millions of people around the world and his music is as effective today as they were four decades ago.
Despite a record of over 350 court appearances, continuous raids, inhumane assaults, loss of properties, prolonged unlawful Incarceration, burning of his home and death of his mother - who died from injuries sustained after she was thrown down a third floor window at age 77 during a raid carried out on Fela’s house by one thousand armed soldiers ordered by then military head of state, General Olusegun Obasanjo in 1978; Fela’s spirit didn’t break and his popularity increased, often to the irritation of his defectors. His fists above the head salute soon became a trademark for African revolution, activism and Pan-Africanism.
Fela was self actualized and is popular not for the ill modalities for which fame is acquired in the failed system on which the African society is based; rather, it was from his resolve to stand for the common man and speak the truth against injustice.
Although he had his flaws – as does every man; hate or love him, no one can deny that Fela stood for the truth and as is often said, ‘no matter the depth of denial, truth remains truth’ - perhaps this is why its ghost continues to haunt its adversaries and Fela’s legacy continues to grow beyond bounds even after his death.
For Fela Anikulapo Kuti, we should all raise our fists!