Major Facts about Fela Kuti (1938-1997)
Worldhistoryedu.com presents to you +15 things that you probably did not know about Fela Kuti, the legendary Nigerian musician, songwriter and political activist.
Fela Kuti: Fast Facts
Born: Olufela Olusegun Oludotun Ransome-Kuti
Birth date and Place: October 15, 1938; Abeokuta, Western Region, British Nigeria (present-day Ogun State, Nigeria)
Death date and Place: August 2, 1997; Lagos, Nigeria
Cause of death: Complications from AIDS
Buried at: Kalakuta Cemetery Ikeja, Lagos, Nigeria
Other names: Fela Anikulapo Kuti
Mother: Funmilayo Anikulapo-Kuti
Father: Olodotun Ransome-Kuti
Siblings: Dolapo, Olikoye, Beko
Education: Trinity College of Music, Abeokuta Grammar School
Spouses: Over 27, including his first wife Remilekun (Remi) Taylor
Fela Kuti’s children: including Femi Kuti, Yeni Kuti, Seun Kuti,
Notable Albums: Open & Close (1971), Roforofo Fight (1972), Zombie (1977), Beasts of No Nation (1989)
Famous hit songs: “Zombie” (1977), “Unknown Soldier” (1981), “Gentleman” (1973)
Notable Awards and honors: 11 Tony Awards nomination
Influences on: Asa, Burna Boy
Fela Kuti changed his name from Ransome to Anikulapo because he was of the view that his birth name was a slave name that prevents him from becoming a master of his own destiny. His new name Anikulapo translates to “He who puts death in his pouch”.
He was an infamous practitioner of polygamy, having married more than 27 women in his lifetime. His first marriage was to to Remilekum (Remi) Taylor in 1960. The marriage brought forth children like Femi, Yeni and Sola.
Fela Kuti was highly critical of the authoritarian regime of then-military ruler Muhammadu Buhari (currently Nigeria’s president), calling him out as an insane man who was drunk on power.
Kuti opposed the usage of terms such as “Third World”, “Developing”, and “non-aligned” in describing African countries. He opined that those words were anything but derogatory, calling them the West’s way of trying to make other countries inferior to them in all spheres of life.
Following trumped up accusations that Fela Kuti was involved in the kidnapping and forced imprisonment of women at his Kalakuta commune, the Afrobeat musician went ahead and married 27 women on February 20, 1978. Many of those women were part of his backup musicians and dancers. The marriage, which took place at a hotel in Ikorodu Road in Lagos, was used to commemorate the sacking of his compound by the military. Fela saw the unions as a way of offering protection to the women.
At a 1978 concert in Accra, Ghana, a riot broke out when Kuti performed his hit song “Zombie”. Subsequently, he was banned by the authorities from entering Ghana.
Drawing on the ideologies of Kwame Nkrumah, Ghana’s first president, and other Pan-Africanist ideas, Fela Kuti established a political party called the Movement of the People (MOP). The party, which was established in 1983, had the famous slogan “clean up society like a mop”. Kuti was however prevented from contesting in any election in Nigeria.
Fela Kuti’s band Africa ’70 had a number of well-talented musicians, including famous Nigerian drummer and songwriter Tony Oladipo Allen (1940-2020). Allen, who toured and produced over 30 albums with Kuti, was a band member from 1968 to 1979. Kuti credits Allen as one of the key founders of Afrobeat music.
Influenced by the ancient Egyptian civilization and religious systems, Fela Kuti formed a band called Egypt 80.
In 1984, then-leader of Nigeria Maj-Gen. Muhammadu Buhari threw Kuti into prison under the charge of currency smuggling. His arrest was emphatically rejected by Amnesty International, who described it as nothing but a politically motivated imprisonment. Fela Kuti was termed by the human rights organization as a prisoner of conscience. After spending about 20 months in jail, he was released by General Ibrahim Babangida’s government.
Throughout his musical career, Fela Kuti and his band embarked on extensive tours in the U.S. and Europe. For example, he performed at the Giants Stadium in New Jersey in 1986. The concert, which was billed A Conspiracy of Hope, was organized by Amnesty International, and had the likes of Bono of U2, Carlos Santana and others perform as well.
He was not only critical of the Nigerian government. He levelled heavy criticisms at then-U.S. President Ronald Reagan and British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher for their implicit approval of the apartheid regime in South Africa. As a matter of fact the title of his 1989 anti-apartheid album – Beasts of No Nation – was taken from a statement** made by South African State President Pieter Willem Botha.
In the years leading up to his death, he was relatively inactive in the music industry partly due to his deteriorating health, as well as the tyrannical nature of the then-military government in Nigeria.
On August 3, 1997, news broke out of Fela Kuti’s death. The acclaimed musician and political activist had died of complications related to AIDS. It was ironical, considering the fact that Kuti had on several occasions denied the existence of AIDS.
After his death, his youngest son Seun Kuti became the leader of his band Egypt ’80. Today, the band goes by the name Seun Kuti & Egypt 80.
His songs were known for being very long in length, with some reaching up to 30 minutes. Often times, the song comprised two parts – the instrumental part and the vocals part.
Even though trumpet was his favorite instrument, he also played saxophone, keyboards, electric guitar and drum.
Historians state that one of the reasons why Fela Kuti’s songs failed to make huge waves in the United States was because he did not perform songs again after recording them. Another thing that affected his popularity was his extremely long songs.
** The heed of the apartheid government in South Africa Willem Botha stated that “This uprising [against the apartheid system] will bring out the beast in us.”