“99.9% of the information you get about Africa is wrong.” – Fela Kuti
“I must identify myself with Africa. Then I will have an identity.” This quote was made by a revolutionary musical icon whose legacy was built on denouncing the tremendous adversity faced by his people. Indeed, I speak of Fela Anikulapo Kuti. At the peak of his fame (or infamy), he was known as Africa’s most politically controversial, and charismatic, performers. In a press release written shortly after Fela’s death in 1997, the United Democratic Front of Nigeria stated: “Those who knew you well were insistent that you could never compromise with the evil you had fought all your life. Even though made weak by time and fate, you remained strong in will and never abandoned your goal of a free, democratic, socialist Africa.” This statement aptly articulates the resilience and unwavering passion that energised most of Fela’s life.
Thanks to my Father, I grew up listening to Fela relentlessly. Even though many of his tongue-in-cheek and politically charged lyrics flew right past my 5-year-old psyche. It wasn’t until I was 16, and my Father took me to the ‘Fela!’ musical (here) at the National Theatre that I became obsessed. I already knew all the words, but it was truly transformative to now understand his life and the messaging behind his music. I watched the ‘Finding Fela’ documentary (here) on Netflix over 5 times and started listening to the longer, instrumental versions of his songs. Yes, including the 28-minute versions.
As one of Africa’s most legendary artists, he utilized his unmatched musical talent to demand basic rights for his fellow Nigerians despite being berated, harassed and even jailed. Notwithstanding all this controversy, Fela is the undoubted pioneer of the Afrobeat genre – a fusion of jazz and highlife with traditional Yoruba music. His musical legacy still lives on today and he has been sampled by Beyoncé, Kendrick Lamar, and The Roots to name a few. Of course, this post would be incomplete without sharing some of my favourite Fela records, so make sure you keep on scrolling for my personally curated Fela playlist via spotify.
“I hold death in my pouch, I cannot die.”– Fela Kuti