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Fela Kuti

Fela Kuti in 1970
Background information
Birth name Olufela Olusegun Oludotun Ransome-Kuti
Also known as Fela Anikulapo Kuti
Fela Ransome-Kuti
Born 15 October 1938(1938-10-15)
Origin Abeokuta, Nigeria
Died 2 August 1997 (aged 58)
Genres Afrobeat
Occupations Singer-songwriter
Instrumentalist, activist
Instruments Saxophone
Vocals
Keyboards
Trumpet
Guitar
Drums
Years active 1958–1997
Labels Barclay/PolyGram Records
Barclay/Universal Records
Barclay/MCA/Universal Records
Shanachie Records (US)
Celluloid Records
EMI Records Nigeria (Nigeria)
JVC Records (Japan)
Wrasse Records (UK, US)
Knitting Factory Records (US)
Associated acts Africa '70
Egypt '80
Koola Lobitos
Nigeria ’70
Ginger Baker
Tony Allen
Femi Kuti
Seun Kuti
Roy Ayers
Website felaproject.net

Fela Anikulapo Kuti /fe'læ ænɪku'læpo 'kutɪ/ (15 October 1938–2 August 1997), or simply Fela /fe'læ/, was a Nigerian multi-instrumentalist musician and composer, pioneer of afrobeat music, human rights activist, and political maverick.[1]

Contents

Biography

He was born Olufela Olusegun Oludotun Ransome-Kuti in Abeokuta, Ogun State, Nigeria[2] into a middle-class family. His mother, Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti was a feminist activist in the anti-colonial movement and his father, Reverend Israel Oludotun Ransome-Kuti, a Protestant minister and school principal, was the first president of the Nigerian Union of Teachers. His brothers, Dr. Beko Ransome-Kuti and Olikoye Ransome-Kuti both medical doctors, are well known in Nigeria.

Fela was sent to London in 1958 to study medicine but decided to study music instead at the Trinity College of Music. While there he formed the band Koola Lobitos, playing a style of music that he would later call afrobeat. The style was a fusion of African jazz and funk with West African highlife. In 1960, Fela married his first wife, Remilekun (Remi) Taylor, with whom he would have three children (Femi, Yeni, and Sola). 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 Dr. Victor Olaiya and his All Stars.[3] In 1969, Fela took the band to the United States. While there, Fela discovered the Black Power movement through Sandra Smith (now Izsadore)—a partisan of the Black Panther Party—which would heavily influence his music and political views and renamed the band Nigeria ’70. Soon, the Immigration and Naturalization Service was tipped off by a promoter that Fela and his band were in the US without work permits. The band then performed a quick recording session in Los Angeles that would later be released as The ’69 Los Angeles Sessions.

Fela and his band, renamed Africa '70', returned to Nigeria. He then formed the Kalakuta Republic, a commune, a recording studio, and a home for many connected to the band that he later declared independent from the Nigerian state. Fela set up a nightclub in the Empire Hotel, named the Afro-Spot and then the Afrika Shrine, where he performed regularly. Fela also changed his middle name to Anikulapo (meaning "he who carries death in his pouch"),[4] stating that his original middle name of Ransome was a slave name. The recordings continued, and the music became more politically motivated.[citation needed] Fela's music became very popular among the Nigerian public and Africans in general.[citation needed] 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. As popular as Fela's music had become in Nigeria and elsewhere, it was also very unpopular with the ruling government, and raids on the Kalakuta Republic were frequent. During 1972 Ginger Baker recorded Stratavarious with Fela appearing alongside Bobby Gass.[5]

In 1977 Fela and the Afrika ’70 released the hit album Zombie, a scathing attack on Nigerian soldiers using the zombie metaphor to describe the methods of the Nigerian military. The album was a smash hit with the people 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 claimed that he would have been killed if it was not for the intervention of a commanding officer as he was being beaten. Fela's response to the attack was to deliver his mother's coffin to the Dodan Barracks in Lagos, General Olusegun Obasanjo's residence, and to write two songs, "Coffin for Head of State" and "Unknown Soldier," referencing the official inquiry that claimed the commune had been destroyed by an unknown soldier.[6]

Fela and his band then took residence in Crossroads Hotel as the Shrine had been destroyed along with his commune. In 1978 Fela married 27 women, many of whom were his dancers, composers, and singers to mark the anniversary of the attack on the Kalakuta Republic. Later, he was to adopt a rotation system of keeping only twelve simultaneous wives.[7] The year was also marked by two notorious concerts, the first in Accra 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 rumours that Fela was planning to use the entirety of the 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 and continued to record albums and tour the country. He further infuriated the political establishment by dropping the names of ITT 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, he was again attacked by the military government, who jailed him on a dubious charge of currency smuggling. His case was taken up by several human-rights groups, and after 20 months, he was released from prison by General Ibrahim Babangida. On his release he divorced his 12 remaining wives, saying that "marriage brings jealousy and selfishness."[7] 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 Conspiracy of Hope concert, sharing the bill with Bono, Carlos Santana, and the Neville Brothers. In 1989, Fela & 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 P.W. Botha with fangs dripping blood.

His album output slowed in the 1990s, and eventually he stopped releasing albums altogether. In 1993 he and four members of the Afrika 70 Organisation were arrested for murder. The battle against military corruption in Nigeria was taking its toll, especially during the rise of dictator Sani Abacha. Rumours were also spreading that he was suffering from an illness for which he was refusing treatment. On 3 August 1997, Olikoye Ransome-Kuti, already a prominent AIDS activist and former Minister of Health, stunned the nation by announcing his younger brother's death a day earlier from Kaposi's sarcoma brought on by AIDS. (Their younger brother Beko was in jail at this time at the hand of Abacha for political activity). 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.

Music

The musical style performed by Fela Kuti is called Afrobeat, which is a fusion of jazz, funk, psychedelic rock, and traditional West African chants and rhythms. As Iwedi Ojinmah points out in his Article "Baba is Dead - Long Live Baba," Afrobeat also borrows heavily from the native "tinker pan" African-style percussion that Kuti acquired while studying in Ghana with Hugh Masakela, under the uncanny Hedzoleh Soundz. Afrobeat is also characterized by having vocals, and musical structure, along with jazzy, funky horn sections. The endless groove is also used, in which a base rhythm of drums, shekere, muted guitar, and bass guitar are repeated throughout the song. His band was notable for featuring two baritone saxophones, whereas most groups were using only one of this instrument. This is a common technique in African and African-influenced musical styles, and can be seen in funk and hip-hop. Some elements often present in Fela's music are the call-and-response within the chorus and figurative but simple lyrics. Fela's songs were almost always over 10 minutes in length, some reaching the 20- or even 30-minute marks, while some unreleased tracks would last up to 45 minutes when performed live. This was one of many reasons that his music never reached a substantial degree of popularity outside Africa. His songs were mostly sung in Nigerian pidgin, although he also performed a few songs in the Yoruba language. Fela's main instruments were the saxophone and the keyboards, but he also played the trumpet, guitar, and took the occasional drum solo. Fela refused to perform songs again after he had already recorded them, which also hindered his popularity outside Africa. Fela was known for his showmanship, and his concerts were often quite outlandish and wild. He referred to his stage act as the Underground Spiritual Game. Fela attempted making a movie but lost all the materials to the fire that was set to his house by the military government in power.

Political views

The American Black Power movement influenced Fela's political views. He was also a supporter of Pan-Africanism and socialism, and called for a united, democratic African republic. He was a candid supporter of human rights, and many of his songs are direct attacks against dictatorships, specifically the militaristic governments of Nigeria in the 1970s and 1980s. He was also a social commentator, and he criticized his fellow Africans (especially the upper class) for betraying traditional African culture. The African culture he believed in also included having many wives (polygyny) and the Kalakuta Republic was formed in part as a polygamist colony. He defended his stance on polygyny with the words "A man goes for many women in the first place. Like in Europe, when a man is married, when the wife is sleeping, he goes out and fucks around. He should bring the women in the house, man, to live with him, and stop running around the streets!"[8] His views towards women are characterised by some as misogynist, with songs like "Mattress" typically cited as evidence[9] In a more complex example, he mocks the aspiration of African women to European standards of ladyhood while extolling the values of the market woman in his song "Lady." It should be noted, though, that Fela was very open when it came to sex, as he portrayed in some of his songs, such as "Open and Close" and "Na Poi."

Bypassing editorial censorship in Nigeria's predominantly state controlled media, Kuti began in the 1970s buying advertising space in daily and weekly newspapers such as The Daily Times and The Punch in order to run outspoken political columns.[10] Published throughout the 1970s and early 1980s under the title Chief Priest Say, these columns were essentially extensions of Kuti's famous Yabi Sessions—consciousness-raising word-sound rituals, with himself as chief priest, conducted at his Lagos nightclub. Organized around a militantly Afrocentric rendering of history and the essence of black beauty, Chief Priest Say focused on the role of cultural hegemony in the continuing subjugation of Africans. Kuti addressed a number of topics, from explosive denunciations of the Nigerian Government's criminal behavior; Islam and Christianity's exploitive nature, and evil multinationals; to deconstructions of Western medicine, Black Muslims, sex, pollution, and poverty. Chief Priest Say was cancelled, first by Daily Times then by Punch, ostensibly due to non-payment, but many commentators have speculated that the paper's respective editors were placed under increasingly violent pressure to stop publication.

The Fela revival

In recent years there has been a revitalization of Fela's influence on music and popular culture, culminating in a full re-release of his entire catalog, off and on Broadway biopic shows, and new bands, such as Antibalas, carrying the Afrobeat banner to a new generation of listeners.

In 2008, an off-Broadway production of Fela Kuti's life titled Fela!, began with a collaborative workshop between the Afrobeat band Antibalas and Tony award winner Bill T. Jones. The show was a massive success, selling out shows during its run, and garnering much critical acclaim. On November 22, 2009, Fela! began a run on Broadway at the Eugene O'Neill Theatre. Jim Lewis helped co-write the play (along with Bill T. Jones), and obtained producer backing from Jay-Z, Will Smith, Jada Pinkett-Smith, Stephen Hendel, and Stephen Semlitz. The show received rave reviews from the New York Times, saying that the musical "[Fela!] doesn't so much tell a story as soak an audience to and through the skin with the musical style and sensibility practiced by its leading man."[11] Sahr Ngaujah was cast as the magnetic lead role, and Antibalas continues to provide the music, taking on the role of the Nigera 70.

Also worth noting are The Public Opinion Afro Orchestra, an Australian band who are new to the afrobeat scene but are already claiming worldwide attention.

In October 2009, Knitting Factory Records began the process of re-releasing the entire catalog, starting with a best of compilation, Best of the Black President. The rest of Kuti's canon is expected to be released in 2010.

In addition, a movie by Focus Features, directed by Steve McQueen and written by Biyi Bandele about the life of Fela Kuti is slated to be filmed in 2010.

Discography

Year Title Label
1971 Live ! (with Ginger Baker) Wrasse Records
1971 Why Black Man Dey Suffer Wrasse Records
1972 Stratavarious (with Ginger Baker) Polydor/Wrasse Records
1972 Na Poi Wrasse Records
1972 Open & Close Wrasse Records
1972 Shakara Wrasse Records
1972 Roforofo Fight Wrasse Records
1973 Afrodisiac Wrasse Records
1973 Gentleman Wrasse Records
1974 Alagbon Close Wrasse Records
1975 Noise for Vendor Mouth Wrasse Records
1975 Confusion Wrasse Records
1975 Everything Scatter Wrasse Records
1975 He Miss Road Wrasse Records
1975 Expensive Shit Wrasse Records
1976 No Bread Wrasse Records
1976 Kalakuta Show Wrasse Records
1976 Upside Down Wrasse Records
1976 Ikoyi Blindness Wrasse Records
1976 Before I Jump Like Monkey Give Me Banana Wrasse Records
1976 Excuse O Wrasse Records
1976 Zombie Wrasse Records
1976 Yellow Fever Wrasse Records
1977 Opposite People Wrasse Records
1977 Fear Not For Man Wrasse Records
1977 Stalemate Wrasse Records
1977 Observation No Crime Wrasse Records
1977 Johnny Just Drop (J.J.D Live!! at Kalakuta Republic) Wrasse Records
1977 I Go Shout Plenty Wrasse Records
1977 No Agreement Wrasse Records
1977 Sorrow, Tears, and Blood Wrasse Records
1978 Shuffering and Shmiling Wrasse Records
1979 Unknown Soldier Wrasse Records
1980 I.T.T. (International Thief Thief) Wrasse Records
1980 Music of Many Colours (with Roy Ayers) Wrasse Records
1980 Authority Stealing Wrasse Records
1981 Black President Wrasse Records
1981 Original Sufferhead Wrasse Records
1981 Coffin for Head of State Wrasse Records
1983 Perambulator Wrasse Records
1983 Live in Amsterdam Wrasse Records
1985 Army Arrangement Wrasse Records
1986 Teacher Don't Teach Me Nonsense Wrasse Records
1989 Beasts of No Nation Wrasse Records
1989 O.D.O.O. (Overtake Don Overtake Overtake) Wrasse Records
1990 Confusion Break Bones Wrasse Records
1990 Just Like That Wrasse Records
1992 Underground System Wrasse Records
2004 The Underground Spiritual Game Quannum Projects
2009 Best of the Black President Knitting Factory Records

Filmography

  • Fela In Concert 1981, (VIEW)
  • Music Is The Weapon 1982, Stephane tchal-Gadjieff & Jean Jacques Flori, (Universal)
  • Fela Live! Fela Anikulapo-Kuti and the Egypt 80 Band 1984, Recorded Live At Glastonbury, England (Yazoo)
  • Femi Kuti - Live at the Shrine 2005, Recorded Live At Lagos, Nigeria (Palm Pictures / Umvd)

Notes

  1. ^ Seattle Weekly: Barack Obama and the Original First Black President, http://blogs.seattleweekly.com/dailyweekly/2009/07/barack_obama_and_the_original.php, retrieved 2009-07-17 
  2. ^ Hamilton, Janice. Nigeria in Pictures p. 70
  3. ^ David Ryshpan. "Victor Olaiya, All Star Soul International". Exclaim!. http://exclaim.ca/musicreviews/generalreview.aspx?csid1=136&csid2=849&fid1=40282. Retrieved 2009-11-03. 
  4. ^ Meaning of Anikulapo in Nigerian.name
  5. ^ Bobby Gass credits Allmusic
  6. ^ Matthew McKinnon (August 12, 2005). "Rebel Yells: A protest music mixtape". Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. http://www.cbc.ca/arts/photoessay/protest/index14.html. Retrieved 2009-11-22. 
  7. ^ a b Fela Kuti remembered | World | guardian.co.uk Music
  8. ^ Fela Kuti
  9. ^ Stanovsky, Derek (1998). "Fela and His Wives: The Import of a Postcolonial Masculinity". Jouvert. english.chass.ncsu.edu. http://english.chass.ncsu.edu/jouvert/v2i1/STAN.HTM. Retrieved 2010-03-16. 
  10. ^ This section includes material copied verbatim from "Chief Priest Say", at chimurengalibrary.co.za, released under GFDL.
  11. ^ Brantley, Ben (2009-11-24). "Making Music Mightier Than the Sword". Theater Review. New York Times. http://theater.nytimes.com/2009/11/24/theater/reviews/24fela.html. Retrieved 2010-03-16. 

References

  • Idowu, Mabinuori Kayode (2002). Fela, le Combattant. Le Castor Astral. France. 
  • Olaniyan, Tejumola (2004). Arrest the Music! Fela and his rebel art and politics. Indiana University Press. USA. 
  • Olorunyomi, Sola (2002). Afrobeat: Fela and the Imagined Continent. Africa World Press. ??. 
  • Schoonmaker, Trevor (ed) (2003). Fela: From West Africa to West Broadway. Palgrave Macmillan. USA. 
  • Schoonmaker, Trevor (ed) (2003). Black President: The Art & Legacy of Fela Anikulapo Kuti. New Museum Of Contemporary Art, New York. ISBN 0-915557-87-8. 
  • Veal, Michael E. (1997). Fela: The Life of an African Musical Icon. Temple University Press. USA. 
  • Jaboro, Majemite. (2009). The Ikoyi Prison Narratives: The Spiritualism and Political Philosophy of Fela Kuti. lulu.com. ISBN 978-1-4452-2626-2. 

External links


Simple English

Fela Kuti
Birth name Olufela Olusegun Oludotun Ransome-Kuti
Born 15 October 1938(1938-10-15)
Origin Abeokuta, Nigeria
Died 2 August 1997 (aged 58)
Genres Afrobeat
Occupations musician, activist
Instruments Saxophone
Vocals
Keyboards
Trumpet
Guitar
Drums
Years active 1958–1997
Labels Barclay/PolyGram Records
Barclay/Universal Records
Barclay/MCA/Universal Records
Shanachie Records (US)
Celluloid Records
EMI Records Nigeria (Nigeria)
JVC Records (Japan)
Wrasse Records (UK, US)
Knitting Factory Records (US)
Associated acts Africa '70
Egypt '80
Koola Lobitos
Nigeria ’70
Ginger Baker
Tony Allen
Femi Kuti
Seun Kuti
Roy Ayers

Fela Anikulapo Kuti (15 October 1938 – 2 August 1997), or just Fela, was a Nigerian musician and composer who was very important in a genre called afrobeat. He played the saxophone, guitar, drums, keyboards and trumpet, and he sang. He was also a human rights activist.[1] The American singer James Brown said that Kuti was one of the originators (starters) of the funk genre.

Kuti died in 1997 of Kaposi's sarcoma, an illness caused by AIDS.[2] In 2008 a musical production called Fela! was created, about Kuti's life and career.

References

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