Fela Kuti: A Musical Revolutionary and Political Icon

Fela Anikulapo Kuti, popularly known as Fela Kuti, was born in Abeokuta, Ogun State on 15th of October, 1938.

He attended the Abeokuta Grammar School in Abeokuta and was later sent to London to study medicine in the year 1958, but he decided to study music instead at the Trinity College of Music, the trumpet being his preferred instrument. During his stay there, he formed the band Koola Lobitos, playing a fusion of jazz and highlife.

He then later went on to become a Nigerian musician, bandleader, composer, political activist, and Pan-Africanist. He is widely regarded as the King of Afrobeat, a Nigerian music genre that combines West African music with African-American funk and jazz. At the height of his popularity, he was referred to as one of Africa’s most “challenging and charismatic music performers”.

Fela’s music was very popular among the Nigerian society and Africans in general. In fact, he intentionally sang in Pidgin English so that his music could be understood and enjoyed by individuals all over Africa, as a result of Africa’s diversity in local languages.

At the twilight of his career, in 1977, Fela and his band released the album ‘Zombie’ which was a deliberate attack on Nigerian soldiers using the term  ‘zombie’ to describe the system of operation of the Nigerian military. The album was a hit but didn’t go down well with the Nigerian government who set off a vicious attack against the Kalakuta Republic.
A total of one thousand soldiers were deployed to rampage the community. Fela was brutally beaten, and his elderly mother, whose house was located opposite the commune, was thrown from a window, leading to fatal injuries. The Kalakuta Republic was burned, and Fela’s studio, instruments, and master tapes were destroyed.

Fela revealed that he would have been killed if not for the intervention of a commanding officer as he was being beaten.
Fela responded to the attack by delivering his mother’s coffin to the Dodan Barracks located 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.

In 1984, the Muhammadu Buhari’s led  government, of which Kuti was a pronounced opponent, jailed him on a charge of currency smuggling which Amnesty International and some other international organisations denounced as politically motivated.

On 3 August 1997, Kuti’s brother Olikoye Ransome-Kuti, who was already a prominent AIDS activist and former Minister of Health, announced that Kuti had died on the previous day from complications related to AIDS. Kuti had been an AIDS denialist, and his widow maintained that he did not die of Aids. His youngest son Seun took the role of leading Kuti’s former band “Egypt 80” . As of 2024, the band is still active, releasing music under the moniker Seun Kuti & Egypt 80.

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