On 3 August 1997, the death of Nigerian multi-instrumentalist, musician, Afrobeat music legend, human rights activist, and political rebel was announced by family from complications related to AIDS.
Making it 21 years after he passed on but still looks like he’d just gone. He died at the age of 58, meaning that if he was still alive, he would have clocked 80 on October 15, 2018, the annual Felabration Music Festival date in his honour.
Born Olufela Olusegun Oludotun Ransome-Kuti in Abeokuta, Ogun State, Nigeria, into an upper-middle-class family. His mother, Chief Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti, was a feminist activist in the anti-colonial movement; his father, Reverend Israel Oludotun Ransome-Kuti, an Anglican minister and school principal, was the first president of the Nigeria Union of Teachers. His brothers, Beko Ransome-Kuti and Olikoye Ransome-Kuti, both medical doctors, are well known in Nigeria.
Fela is also a first cousin to the Nigerian writer and Nobel laureate Wole Soyinka, the first African to win the Nobel Prize for Literature.
Fela was described as “superstar, singer, musician, Panafricanist, polygamist, mystic, legend.” At the height of his popularity, he was referred to as one of Africa’s most “challenging and charismatic music performers.
Even though, its been 21 years since his death, his influence is still felt in the music industry with quite a number of artistes getting inspiration from his work. But none can boast of courage Fela had to fight the power that be during his time.
The political situation in the country also makes a lot of Nigerians remember his socially conscious songs that attacked the then military governments of the nation.
Fela Anikulapo fought and changed not just the sound of the music but also the social consciousness of the people.
“Not only because of the music, just the sheer volume of music that Fela puts out, I don’t think anybody has ever put out that amount of music, if you are talking about the artist who has affected a lot of lives through his activism, it is Fela, the only that has ever punched the Government, it is Fela,” says CEO of El Carnaval, organisers of the popular music event, Industry Nite, describing his first encounter with the legend.
Personally, I was exposed to this mystic and political activist life after I read Carlos Moore’s unique biography, which is the title of this article, “Fela: The bitch of Life.
The book was based on hours of conversation and told in Fela’s first-person vernacular, reveals the icon’s complex personality and tumultuous existence.
Fela was fearless musician, activist, warrior and leader. Amazing that with every release came an arrest, beating, burning of his residence, with his music, he created a style in which I many have never before encountered, I had to learn more.
His stance against colonialism and all that unfolded around him is as amazing as his music. Many have even claimed that he was second only to Nelson Mandela which j think personally is unquestionable.
I would say he was always an against the grain type of guy.
In the book, I learnt about successive regimes in Nigeria and how each successive one seemed to be more violent than the former. The way they dealt with dissidents was a testament to misuse of power and that was exactly what Fela Anikulapo Kuti was highlighting as an artist. The police could not handle him; so they sent the military.
Fela was hard headed and did not seek exile. He stood his ground to remain in Nigeria. Just to quote him “If it is not fit to live in, then our job is to make it fit.” Instead, he chose a life on the margins that rejected all the material excesses of Africa’s post-independence elites. The multiple incarcerations did not seem to water him down; if anything, he came back stronger.
Fela chose to live in a slum and showed recording companies he had his terms. I am surprised Motown came calling with a multi-dollar offer and still got a hand off. The man was simply not interested in compromising his artistic creativity for money.
Fela came from a well to do family. He was sent to London to do medicine and opted to enroll at Trinity College of Music. The Ransome’s were real grit to a smooth surface Fela’s brothers were both respected doctors: Beko (1940–2006) helped form Nigeria’s first human rights organization and in the 1990s.
Some positions he took were unique. He criticized the corruption of Nigerian government officials and the mistreatment of Nigerian citizens. He spoke of colonialism as the root of the socio-economic and political problems that plagued the African people, saying they wanted to brainwash us. When talking about his Grand father he says “The missionaries fully exploited his talent too.
Fela was far from perfect, he often drew controversies and attracted attention by promoting indulgence in sex, misogyny, polygamy, and drugs, especially marijuana. His song ‘Lady’ reeked of misogyny.
Fela was referred to as “Abami Eda,” which means “a strange creature”. He swapped his middle name “Ransome” for “Anikulapo” which means “one that has death his pocket”.
Fela always seemed late to events and what not, his take was kind of philosophical.
In his words, “How can you say I’m late? Just because of the watch you’re wearing on your wrist?” Then I explained. “For instance, let’s say you’re expecting me at 5 o’clock and I’m coming from Abeokuta to Ibadan for this lecture. At 5 o’clock you don’t see me. At 6 o’clock you don’t see me. You’re annoyed. You say, ’Fela is late.’ The next morning you hear I’m dead in an accident.
Now, how about that annoyance you felt about my being late? How do you forgive yourself?” So don’t get annoyed when I’m late. Time is not the wristwatch, man. Time is the importance of an event, a moment. Say you’re expecting someone to come. He must be important enough for you not to get annoyed if he keeps you waiting. You must feel the importance of the guy.
Time is understanding of what is important. Time is not a mind-disturbing matter. Happiness is the essence of this world. When we see our children growing up, we see ourselves getting old. That’s not time. That’s experience. Man must grow old to prove that this is not a world of spirits. If you look back again to your youth, it will be like yesterday. It’s not far. The mind dictates time really. The mind makes you feel what time is about.”
Fela did his core work in the 70s the mess messages arr still relevant in this current political atmosphere. Period. It is true when he says “all has been said”
Written By Okanlawon Taiwo