The Real Revolutionary: Fela Kuti’s Born Day

Nigerian Afrobeat Pioneer Declared “Music Is The Weapon Of The Future”

All these so-called pop music rebels need to sit their ass down and soak up some Fela Anikulapo Kuti, who reached planet earth 71 years ago today.

The son of a militant feminist activist and a prominent preacher and school principal, Fela was educated in London and traveled to America where he discovered Malcolm X and James Brown. Upon his return to Nigeria he set up his own independent state, the Kalakuta Republic, and changed his named from Fela Ransome Kuti to Fela Anikulapo Kuti (Anikulapo = he who carries death in his pouch).

With his band Afrika 70, he started making music of such power that the government sent troops to overthrow the Kalakuta Republic. Fela’s studio and tapes were destroyed. He was badly beaten and his mother thrown out a window, suffering fatal injuries. Fela delivered her coffin to the army barracks in Lagos and continued making fearlessly rebellious music. By 1979 he was running for president with his M.O.P. (Movement of the People) party, espousing a pan-African socialist platform. In 1984 he was sentenced to five years in prison on trumped-up currency smuggling charges. He died of complications from AIDS on August 2, 1997, but his musical legacy lives on through his sons Femi and Seun.

The only time I saw him perform live in New York City, he took the stage in a green pantsuit that Elvis would have envied. He and his enormous band blazed through one 20-minute song, then he stopped the music and called the promoter out by name, demanding that he meet him backstage and show him the money. The delay lasted over an hour but nobody left. Once Fela got paid in full, he returned to the stage and tore the proverbial roof off.

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