Fela's Life and History

Fela Kuti was the most popular notorious musician in Africa. Born in Abeokuta, Nigeria on October 15, 1938, was a singer-composer, trumpet, sax and keyboard player, and bandleader. He died on August 2, 1997.

He was probably the only band leader in the world to be charged with sedation, armed robbery and adoption, tried twice for treason.

He was known in the west as the man who married the entire female personnel of his band in a single day.

He was the creator of the form of African music called Afro-beats which features traditional African rhythms with and jazz horn lines.

Since 1971 until his death in 1997 he released more than 40 albums most of them relating to the rulings of his native country- Nigeria and the western businesses. His targets were public corruption and police brutality. He gained popularity with each military succession in Nigeria government and his messages got him behind bar more than 10 times.

Kuti was the son of Nigerian women's rights activist Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti.

Fela: “My name is Fela Anikulapo Kuti, Fela means, he who emanates greatness, Anikulapo means, one who has death in his pouch, Kuti means, one who never dies.

I grew up in Europe, everything was European background; the teachings, schools. My father was a pastor, and we were thought everything in English Language. We were not even allowed to speak our country’s languages in schools, they called our own languages vernacular, so English was the rare language we had to speak in school. Everything was English.

Nobody was thinking whether to be African or not we just accepted that we were English. It was in England I began to feel the awareness of how to regain Africa; I became aware that we Africans had nothing to offer there because we were just taught English”

In 1958 Fela went to London to study at the Trinity College of Music. In 1969 he went to America, it was while in America that he met a woman that changed his idea about the Whites making him understand that as a Blackman he was better than a Whiteman, that was after he couldn’t secure a permanent American citizen passport.

When Fela returned to Nigeria in 1970, it was during the Nigerian Civil War, the country was ruled by autocratic government of General Gowon for 8 years. Gowon’s government was financed by multi-nationals. At that time, Lagos was the fastest growing city in Africa but was also known as the most corrupt 3rd world city.

Fela: “When I went to America in 1969, I was very quiet, watching how people there lived. I met a woman there who changed my view about Africans; she told me that Africans taught the Europeans everything they know today. But I told her she was wrong but she proved her point using Malcolm X, I read Malcolm X and I saw the missing link, I became conscious of the time, and decided to return back to Nigeria, to play African music. I didn’t care whether I succeeded in America or not

I knew using English to sing and communicate to Africans will not make much sense because they won’t understand the language, so I have to speak a language they will understand, and that is Broken English

When the English came to Africa, African felt that English was too stiff for them, Africans are very virile language makers and that’s why in Africa there are over 2000 languages.

So that made me do my song title-Teacher, Don’t Teach Me Nonsense. I used this title because Africans respect teachers, because they teach English and Africans respect pastors too

So I used teacher as my focus, letting the people see that the Whiteman taught Africans everything we know but one of the important things they taught us was politics, so I used that to compare the situation of things in Nigeria as at when I returned from America

The word Democracy for instance is an English word, but if an African wants to pronounce Democracy in Broken English, he will say “Demokirasi”, and that made me to see the craze in that word democracy, so I said the word democracy means madness

So I want Africans to beginning to see the word democracy as madness, we should begin to see that our culture should be the guide for our government, I want Africans to begin to see themselves as greater people than the teachers.

When I started singing I thought it was going to be easy, then I wrote a song titled “Buy Africa” because at that time Nigeria government was promoting African made goods, so I thought the music was good for the government

Someone introduced me to a serving minister then, and I told him about my music “Buy Africa” to my shock, he sounded like I was just full of craps; I was very disappointed, and shocked, wondering how a minister would reason that way

Then I was still a youth, I hadn’t studied the government well, then I hadn’t understand the kind of people that ruled us, well, I continued to do my music hoping that the people would like it, and maybe someday they government would realize my worth”

In 1975, the authority decided to silence him for good, his compound was raided and he was thrown into jail for adoption charge, they tried him for robbery, but failed. In 1976, the authority decided to apply more drastic strategies.

Fela: “But soon there was so much intimidation from the authorities because of the message of my music, one day, the authority sent police and soldiers to raid my house. They came with axes to cut down my fence, they then broke into my house, and burnt down everything, but it wasn’t so easy for them, it took them 3 hours

If you see a scene where 1000 soldiers surrounds a house in a city like Lagos, it rarely causes crowd, there were about 60,000 people who watched this scene, it was like a big music show, cars couldn’t move, people stood on the highway to watch, there was so much traffic congestion that day, this was because the soldiers couldn’t gain entrance into my house because I had electrified the fence, once they touched the fence, the get electric shock and quickly retrieve, they had to order the electric company to switch the electric controlling the whole area off after about 3 hours

I now saw the danger of me taken hold of the country by just the word of mouth, I was kept in jail for 30days, and I was banned from playing music”

In the late 70’, Fela wrote a song he called confusion comparing the chaotic state of Lagos to a decaying corpse.

Fela: “In a particular place in Lagos you see confusion on one of the crossroads, because there was usually no policeman at the center, the government had tried severally to erect a traffic light for the past 2 decades but they had to demolish them, because people never obeyed the traffic lights, so traffic policemen were stationed there

But most of the time, the policemen were not there, because the policemen are corrupt, they leave their station posts to do something else, so there would be no one to control traffic, and you can imagine the confusion, everywhere would become jammed, no one would be able to cross, so this is what Lagos was like then, and so I weaved it into confusion breaking bone

Fela later formed his own political party and government was offended, not only by his principles but by his outrageous lifestyle. The police and government faulted his values. Soon after the military coup of 1983, Fela began again to pick holes in the military government, he was seized the following year at the Lagos International Airport and accused of smuggling 1600 pounds out of the country, and he protested that he declared the money. He was jailed for 6 weeks, and then sentenced by a military tribunal for 5 years imprisonment without appeal.

Fela: “One thing I want to assure them, if they think I am going to change or compromise in my attitude, in my way of life or in my expression, or in my goals towards politics- they are making me stronger, and I am much stronger now(1982)

No comments

Powered by Blogger.