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Fela Kuti

make-up for the Gods, smoke for inspiration
make-up for the Gods, smoke for inspiration
Fela came from a well-off family of Abeokuta. Soon after Nigeria was made independent, he went to England to study music at Trinity College, classical music at first and soon turned to jazz. He played there with a band called the Koola Lobitos which was fairly successful in the clubs in London in the early sixties.
He went back to Nigeria and recreated his band, gathered influence from James Brown, highlife music and developed a musical style progressively known as Afrobeat. His band was renamed Nigeria 70 at the beginning of the 70's
He travelled to the US on tour and was introduced by Sandra Izsadore to the conditions of black americans and the black liberation movements with the politics of Malcolm X among others.

Upon his return to Nigeria, he became more active politically. He set-up a recording studio called Kalakuta republic and a night-club not too far called the Shrine. He was opposing to the rule of Generals who had power with the Army but also good ties with businesses. He did that through his songs that were like weapons he used to anger the political class in power which soon created him enemies.

Kalakuta was a republic, well certainly a place like no other in Lagos, Fela and his 27 concubines and singer/dancer. One day, he married all of them traditionally in an effort to give a status in the society. At one point, in 1977,  Kalakuta was attacked by the police, a few people died, his wife were beaten and some raped, his mother was thrown an upstairs window, he got a skull fracture... He went to jail for some time. But this did not discourage him from going ahead with his provocative style. He formed a political party called the Movement of the People (MOP).

Fela's pantheon
Fela's pantheon

In the 80's his band was called Egypt and the 80's, the band now plays with his son Seun.
After the death of of his beloved mother, who was a leading feminist and anti-colonialist figure, he turned to his Yoruba roots and started to honor their gods. He also became famous as a serious weed-smoker.

He died in 1997 of AIDS, got funerals organized at the National Stadium in Lagos were more than 10 thousand people turned up to pay their respect.

Three of his children are now famous, Femi the elder son who made a career as saxophonist, Seun who is really carrying the flame of Afrobeat from his father and a daughter who is heading the New Afrika Shrine, the heir of the Afrika Shrine. So the fight goes on...

For those who would like to find out more, there is a movie called "Finding Fela" which was done on the occasion of a musical hold in New York City a few years ago. The show tried to explain the life of Fela through the various parts of his life and the film told the story of Fela by complementing video archives with scenes of the musical for which no archive footage was suitable.
There is also a book called "Fela, this bitch of a life" by Carlos Moore which is the "unabridged & authorized biography of Africa's musical genius"

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