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Fela was born Olufela Oludotun Ransome-Kuti on 15th October 1938 at Abeokuta, Yorubaland into a middle-class family, his father a reverend and a school principal, his mother a renowned anti-colonialist and a feminist activist. He was brought up in a Christian way and had colossal life prospects and hopes ahead of him. Like many parents, his parents wanted him to become a medical doctor which he initially didn’t refuse, he travelled to London in 1958 hoping to become a doctor but to change his mind and enrolled at Trinity College of Music.

It was at that college he formed his first band; Koola Lobitos, a combination of highlife music and jazz, the genre was mainly highlife. While there, he married his first wife Remi Taylor in 1960, Remi who became mother of Femi, Yeni and Sola Kuti. Fela eventually returned to Nigeria in 1963

He was the pioneering founder of Afrobeat, he left for America in 1969 in pursuit of fans for his Afrobeat, it was there he discovered the importance of being black, that was during Martin Luther King’s assassination and other racism mayhem that followed and perhaps coupled with his experience in London, England where racism was still lawful. He once lamented during an interview in 1984 to the BBC about how he became a black proponent, he talked about issues of renting a room in London back in the day where an awful advert would be displayed saying “room for rent, no coloured no pets” and he further mentioned how white people wear pretentious smile.

While in America, he released The 1969 Los Angeles Sessions and was later asked to leave America by Immigration authority following a certain promoter who allegedly reported him to be working without work permit.

His band was renamed Africa ’70 on his return to Nigeria, and subsequently, the theme began to change from highlife and sentimental love songs to rugged and fiery lyrics pointing at ills in society. He thus formed Kalakuta republic, a compound that housed his family, band members and recording studio. He undauntedly declared Kalakuta an independent commune from Nigeria. He dropped “Ransome” from his dual/hyphenated surname claiming it’s a slave name and that slave era had been over, he instead adopted “Anikulapo”; he that has death in his pouch.

Fela popularity grew steadily among Nigerians and his songs which were fairly huge with heavy instruments like horn, jazz, piano, and a musical structure featuring funky tunes and often up to 20mins or more per track became the vogue with his fans as he chose to sing in a more popular and acceptable language; Pidgin English. He was repeatedly singing about anomalies of the then military administrations and soldiers in general.

He soon released a loathsome and of course mordant blockbuster “Zombie”. It was about military moves, gestures and salutations and how they dare not disobey commands.

Zombie, a song that came 22nd on list of 100 songs that changed the world, a song that would easily annoy any y military personnel and it was indeed (as reported) totally unacceptable to military government of Gen. Obasanjo who was Fela’s school mate at primary school in Abeokuta. Fela claimed he (Obasanjo) was behind the burning of his house on February 18, 1977 after an assault by a battalion armed soldiers, his mother was thrown out of a 2nd floor window and died as a result. This was illustrated in his song “unknown Soldiers”. After the death of his mother with roots of her death pinned to his album Zombie, Fela took her coffin to Dodan Barrack (former office of Nigerian head of states when Nigerian capital was at Lagos) barricading its entrance before having her buried as also illustrated in his song “coffin for head of state”

Fela was known to fearlessly desecrate people of high positions and especially Nigerian presidents. This would make him go in and out of police cells, he was reported to have been arrested up to 250 times and most times, he was often inhumanely beaten to pulp. Fela was hyper-famous with smoking marijuana and wearing shorts at home, he detested Christianity and Islam as also illustrated in his song “suffering and smiling” a song very popular among Nigerians. His hits include; Zombie, suffering & smiling, Beast of no nation (where he questioned activities of UN and the gaffe of Margaret Thatcher “give them human rights” ), water no get enemy, ITT, Teacher don’t teach me nonsense, Lady (aimed at supposedly educated African women who have adopted western culture), ODOO, authority stealing and yellow fever (targeted at people who bleach their skins) amongst others.

He died of what his elder brother Prof. Olikoye said to be Aids on 2nd August 1997. He once married 27 wives whom he lived with opposing the biblical recommendation of one wife.

His legacy and music (Afrobeat) live on though, musicians like his son Seun Kuti and D’banj et al chose him as their mentor. Wizkid recently tattooed his image on his arm. When he was alive, he enjoyed a broad base of fans and that is not likely to diminish as his fanatics are still all over Nigeria and the world.

His songs were being taken across the globe by a group called Fela! awhile ago, it was a hit when performed in the states, Michelle Obama was reported to have attended it on Broadway. Superstars Jay Z and Will Smith were the co-producers of the act Fela! I was lucky to catch a glimpse of the show when brought to London at sadler’s wells.

Till date, no Nigerian government has apologised to the Kuti family and neither did they recognise Fela although as of recent, The Lagos state government has turned part of The Kalakuta Republic into a museum and a place of attraction in Lagos state.

Some of his sayings: who killed Dele Giwa? ‘Na Baba’ if you add ‘ngida’ na you sabi and ‘Igbeyawo’ (Marriage) was properly broken down thus: Igbe iya wo (the act of purposely carrying and staring at angst)

Source: Aremu Yunus

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