The name Fela Anikulapo Kuti produced melodies for Nigerian homes, parties, and social functions in the 80s and 90s. Beyond Nigeria, the name travelled the shores of Africa, Asia, Europe America and possibly to the moon. Fela was regarded as the pioneer of Afrobeats, an African music genre that combines West African music with American funk and jazz.
Fela was also popular for his distinctive pattern of advocating good governance in Nigeria, and by extension, Africa.
It would be correct to say Fela, who was also known as Abami Eda, was worshipped by his fans and to date, his legacies live. In the homes of many, in offices, in public spaces, Fela’s picture hangs with pride. The Afrobeats legend has been described as a hero by several individuals and groups.
Fela, whose original name was Olufela Olusegun Oludotun Ransome-Kuti was born on October 15, 1938 and died on August 2, 1997. His career and activism started when he went to Ghana to think up a new musical direction in 1967. Two years later, he took his band to the United States where they spent 10 months in Los Angeles. While there, Fela discovered the Black Power movement through Sandra Smith, a partisan of the Black Panther Party. The experience gave a new direction to his musical and political views.
During his lifetime, the freedom fighter released several songs to attack different politicians, public figures and even the Nigerian Army. After his return to Nigeria, in 1977, he changed the name of the band to Afrika ’70, a move that earned him the name “Baba ‘70”. Abami Eda released his album ‘Zombie’ to react against the Nigerian Army in the same year. The album pictured the Army as zombies who take up ugly tasks for the Nigerian politicians. It was widely accepted by Nigerians, save for a few people that were attacked by the song.
Fela’s Kalakuta Republic was raided by soldiers numbering in hundreds. The music legend was dealt with and his mother, an activist herself, Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti was dragged by her hair and thrown out of a second-story window. The aged mother died of complications from her injuries the following year but that still was unable to weigh Fela down. Fela did the unthinkable when he delivered his mother’s coffin to the Dodan Barracks in Lagos. Dodan Barracks was the residence of the then military Head of State, General Olusegun Obasanjo. Following the incident, the fierce singer released two songs; “Coffin for Head of State” and “Unknown Soldier”.
Fela had issues with late MKO Abiola, Olusegun Abiola, Ibrahim Babangida and torrents of other politicians. In 1983, the singer nominated himself for president in Nigeria’s first elections in decades, but his candidature was refused. He was arrested on over 200 different occasions and spent time in jail, including his longest stint of 20 months after his arrest in 1984. Throughout his lifetime, he challenged the unjust authorities of Nigerian subsequent governments.
Baba ’70 released songs like International Thief Thief, Water No Get Enemy, Beast of No Nation, No Agreement, O.D.O.O, Everything Scatter, Opposite People and many more. He was always in and out of court, particularly to challenge Obasanajo.
Twenty-five years after his death, Nigeria is yet to get his replacement. So many songwriters, activists and artists have emanated, including Fela’s offspring – Femi and Seun but the shoe he left behind seems to be too large for a single individual to fit into.
Fela Was A Rebel With A Cause To Change The Society – Aborisade
A lawyer and human rights activist, Comrade Femi Aborisade, described Fela as a rebel who devoted his life to fighting for the people and promoting songs of liberation to encourage the people to resist oppression by public officers.
He said, “Fela Devoted his life to the promotion of songs of liberation, songs to create awareness, songs to encourage the masses to stand up and resist oppression and looting of the public treasury. In short, Fela aimed to use songs as instruments of mass mobilisation and social change. Hence, in their lifetime, he formed a political party called “Movement of the People” (MOP).
“Fela was a rebel with a popular cause to change society in the interest of the masses.
“Were he to be alive today, he would have been a very old man incapable of being physically involved in protests but he would have remained a great source of inspiration for resistance and protest against injustice and political and economic exclusion of the masses.”
Fela: A Global Phenomenon – Okei-Odumakin
On her part, the President of the Centre for Change, Dr. Joe Okei-Odunmakin, said Fela was a prophet who saw the future of Nigeria and the world.
She recounted the activities that followed her first meeting with Fela and his brother Dr. Beko Ransome-Kuti.
“Fela was a global phenomenon. Nothing came close by miles as an authentic African export. Fela was a philosopher and prophet among many other attributes.
“Beko would have been 82 today as Fela elected to transit on Beko’s birthday. He died on August 2, 1997. The prints of these giants from a single womb will be eternal.
“My meeting with these titans happened on the same day. The day I was baptized at the shrine with fire, in bales of smoke. An unforgettable day,” she said.