Full Name: Olufela Olusegun Oludotun Ransome-Kuti
Stage Name: Fela Anikulapo Kuti
Date of Birth: 15 October 1938.
Died: 2 August 1997 (aged 58) Lagos, Nigeria.
Labels: Barclay/PolyGram, MCA/Universal, Celluloid, EMI Nigeria, JVC, Wrasse, Shanachie, Knitting Factory.
Instruments: Saxophone, vocals, keyboards, trumpet, guitar, drums
Fela was born Olufela Olusegun Oludotun Ransome-Kuti (what a mouthful! )on October 15th, 1938 in Abeokuta, Ogun State, Nigeria, into an upper-middle-class family. His mother, Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti was a feminist activist in the anti-colonial movement; his father, Reverend Isreal Oludotun Ransome-Kuti, a protestant minister and school principal, was the first president of the Nigeria Union of Teachers. Fela was a first cousin to the Nigerian writer and Nobel Laureate, Wole Soyinka, the first African to win a Nobel Prize for Literature.
Ironically, Fela was sent to London in 1958 by his parents to study medicine, but he changed his mind and decided to study music instead at the Trinity College of Music. While there, he formed the band “Koola Lobitos”, playing a fusion of jazz and highlife. In 1963, Fela moved back to Nigeria, re-formed “Koola Lobitos” and trained as a radio producer for the Nigerian Broadcasting Corporation. He played for some time with Victor Olaiya and his All Stars.
In 1967, he travelled on to Ghana to think up a new musical direction. That was when Fela first called his music “Afrobeat”. In 1969, Fela took the band to the United States where they spent 10 months in Los Angeles. While there, Fela discovered the Black Power movement through Sandra Smith (now Sandra Izsadore), a partisan of the Black Panther Party. (The experience would heavily influence his music and political views). After which, the band released “ The ’69 Los Angeles Session”.
After Fela and his band returned to Nigeria, the band was renamed The Afrika ’70, as lyrical themes changed from love to social issues. He then formed the “Kalakuta Republic”, which was seen as a commune, a recording studio, and a home for the many people connected to the band that he later declared independent from the Nigerian state.
Fela set up a nightclub in the Empire Hotel, initially called the “Afro-Spot” and then later named the “Afrika Shrine”, where he both performed regularly and officiated at personalized Yoruba traditional ceremonies in honor of his nation’s ancestral faith.
He also changed his middle name to Anikulapo (meaning “He who carries death in his pouch”), stating that his original middle name of Ransome was a slave name.
Fela’s music became popular among the Nigerian public and Africans in general. In fact, he made the decision to sing in ‘pidgin english” so that his music could be enjoyed by individuals all over Africa, where the local languages spoken are very diverse and numerous. During 1972, Ginger Baker recorded Stratavarious with Fela appearing alongside Bobby Gass.
In 1977, Fela and the Afrika ’70 released the album “Zombie”, a scathing attack on Nigerian soldiers by using the zombie metaphor to describe the methods of the Nigerian military. The album was a smash hit and infuriated the government, setting off a vicious attack against the Kalakuta Republic, during which one thousand soldiers attacked the commune. Fela was severely beaten, and his elderly mother was thrown from a window, causing fatal injuries. The Kalakuta Republic was burned, and Fela’s studio, instruments, and master tapes were destroyed.
Fela’s response to the attack was to deliver his mother’s coffin to General Olusegun Obasanjo’s residence in the Dodan Barracks, Lagos, and to write two songs tittled, “Coffin for Head of State” and “Unknown Soldier”.
Fela and his band then took residence in Crossroads Hotel after the destruction of the Shrine. In 1978, Fela married twenty-seven more women, many of whom were his dancers, composers, and singers to mark the anniversary of the attack on the Kalakuta Republic.In 1960, Fela had already married his first wife, Remilekun (Remi) Taylor, with whom he would have three children (Femi, Yeni, and Sola).
Later, he was to adopt a rotation system of keeping only twelve simultaneous wives. The year was also marked by two notorious concerts, the first in Accra, Ghana in which riots broke out during the song “Zombie”, which led to Fela being banned from entering Ghana.
The second was at the Berlin Jazz Festival after which most of Fela’s musicians deserted him, due to rumors that Fela was planning to use the entire proceeds to fund his presidential campaign. Despite the massive setbacks, Fela was determined to come back. He formed his own political party, which he called Movement of the People. In 1979, he put himself forward for President in Nigeria’s first elections for more than a decade, but his candidature was refused. At this time, Fela created a new band called “Egypt ’80” with which he continued to record albums and tour the country.
He further infuriated the political establishment by dropping the names of the the vice-president Moshood Abiola and then General Olusegun Obasanjo at the end of a hot-selling 25-minute political screed titled “I.T.T. (International Thief-Thief)”.
In 1984, Muhammadu Buhari‘s government, of which Kuti was a vocal opponent, jailed him on a charge of currency smuggling which Amnesty International and others denounced as politically motivated. Amnesty designated him a prisoner of conscience, and his case was also taken up by other human rights groups. After his release 20 months later by General Ibrahim Babangida, he divorced his twelve remaining wivese
Once again, Fela continued to release albums with Egypt ’80, made a number of successful tours of the United States and Europe and also continued to be politically active. In 1986, Fela performed in Giants Stadium in New Jersey as part of the Amnesty International A Conspiracy of Hope concert, sharing the bill with Bono, Carlos Santana, and The Neville Brothers. In 1989, Fela and Egypt ’80 released the anti-apartheid Beasts of No Nation album that depicts on its cover U.S. President Ronald Reagan, UK Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and South African Prime Minister Pieter Willem Botha.
His album output slowed in the 1990s, and eventually he stopped releasing albums altogether. In 1993, he and four members of the Afrika ’70 organization were arrested for murder. The battle against military corruption in Nigeria was taking its toll, especially during the rise of dictator Sani Abacha. Rumors were also spreading that he was suffering from an illness for which he was refusing treatment.
On August 2rd, 1997, Fela Kuti died from “Kaposi’s sarcoma”, which could be brought on, in more virulent form by AIDS. Fela’s death was announced the next day by his younger brother Olikoye Ransome-Kuti,who was already a prominent AIDS activist and former Minister of Health. More than a million people attended Fela’s funeral at the site of the old Shrine compound.
A new Africa Shrine has opened since Fela’s death in a different section of Lagos under the supervision of his son Femi Kuti.
Expensive Shit (1975)
He Miss Road (1975)
Sorrow, Tears, and Blood (1977)
Shuffering and Shmiling (1978)
Black President (1981)
Original Sufferhead (1981)
Army Arrangement (1985)
Beasts of No Nation (1986)
The Best Best of Fela Kuti (1999)