Friday, January 25th: FELA KUTI
Fela Kuti was a Nigerian musician and activist who launched a modern style of music called Afro-beat, which fused American blues, jazz, and funk with traditional Yoruba music.
Moving from Nigeria to London to study classic music, he encountered various musical styles by playing piano in jazz and rock bands. Returning to Nigeria in the mid-1960s, he formed Koola Lobitos, the band credited for the creation of the Afro-beat sound.
Fela and his band, which was known variously as the Nigeria 70, Africa 70, and later the Egypt 80, combined blaring horn sections, antiphonal vocals, Fela's quasi-rapping pidgin English, and percolating guitars, all wrapped up in a smoldering groove.
Following his 1969 tour of the United States, where he was influenced by the politics of Malcolm X, the Black Panthers, and other militants, Kuti’s music became increasingly politicized. His politically charged songs, which decried oppression by Nigeria’s military government, struck a chord among the unemployed, disadvantaged, and oppressed.
Upon returning to Nigeria from the US, he created Kalakuta Republic, a communal compound, a recording studio, and a home for the many people connected to his band, which he declared independent from the Nigerian state.
Because of his criticism of the government and his controversial compound, Fela was hounded, jailed, harassed, and nearly killed by a government determined to silence him. A 1977 raid on the complex by Nigerian authorities resulted in severe violence, the death of his mother, and the burning of his commune.
He continued to record attacks on leaders and governments through the 80’s, but in the 90’s he turned away from active political protest. He died at age 58 as a result of complications from AIDS, leaving behind his legacy as one of the most “challenging and charismatic music performers.”