Fela Kuti  

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

Fela Anikulapo Kuti (born Olufela Olusegun Oludotun Ransome-Kuti, October 15 1938 - August 2 1997), or simply Fela, was a Nigerian multi-instrumentalist musician and composer, pioneer of Afrobeat music, human rights activist, and political maverick.



The musical style performed by Fela Kuti is called Afrobeat, which is essentially a fusion of jazz, funk, psychedelic rock, and traditional African chants and rhythms. It is characterized by having African-style percussion, 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. 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 of 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 made 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.

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 fierce 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!". His views towards women are characterised by some as misogynist, with songs like "Mattress" typically cited as evidence. 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."

Chief Priest Say

Bypassing editorial censorship in Nigeria's predominantly state controlled press, 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. 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.


Year Title Label
1971 Live ! (with Ginger Baker) Regal Zonophone / Pathe Marconi
1971 Why Black Man Dey Suffer Africa Songs Limited
1972 Stratavarious (with Ginger Baker) Polydor / Atco
1972 Na Poi EMI HMV
1972 Open & Close EMI / Pathe Marconi
1972 Shakara EMI / Editions Makossa / Pathe Marconi / Creole
1972 Roforofo Fight Jofabro / Editions Makossa / Pathe Marconi
1973 Afrodisiac EMI/ Regal Zonophone / Pathe Marconi
1973 Gentleman EMI / Pathe Marconi / Creole
1974 Alagbon Close Jofabro / Editions Makossa
1975 Noise for Vendor Mouth Afrobeat
1975 Confusion EMI / Pathe Marconi
1975 Everything Scatter Coconuts / Creoles
1975 He Miss Road EMI / Pathe Marconis
1975 Expensive Shit Soundwork Shops / Editions Makossa
1976 No Bread Soundwork Shop / Editions Makossas
1976 Kalakuta Shows Kalakuta / Editions Makossa
1976 Upside Down Deccas Afrodisia
1976 Ikoyi Blindness Africa Music
1976 Before I Jump Like Monkey Give Me Banana Coconut
1976 Excuse O Coconut
1976 Zombie Coconut / Creole / Mercury
1976 Yellow Fever Decca Afrodesia
1977 Opposite People Decca_Afrodesia
1977 Fear Not For Man Decca Afrodesia
1977 Stalemate Decca Afrodesia
1977 Observation No Crime Decca Afrodesia
1977 Johnny Just Drop (J.J.D Live!! at Kalakuta Republic) Decca Afrodesia
1977 I Go Shout Plenty Decca Afrodesia
1977 No Agreement Decca Afrodesia / Barclay / Celluloid
1977 Sorrow, Tears and Blood Kalakuta
1978 Shuffering and Shmiling Coconut / Celluloid
1979 Unknown Soldier Phonodisk / Uno Melodic
1979 I.T.T. (International Thief Thief) Kalakuta
1980 Music of Many Colours (with Roy Ayers) Phonodisk / Celluloid
1980 Authority Stealing Kalakuta
1981 Black President Capitol
1981 Original Sufferhead Lagos International / Arista
1981 Coffin for Head of State Kalakuta
1983 Perambulator Lagos International
1983 Live In Amsterdam Wrasse
1985 Army Arrangement Kalakuta / Celluloid
1986 Teacher Don't Teach Me Nonsense Polygram / Barclay
1989 Beasts of No Nation Kalakuta / Eurobound / Shanachie
1989 O.D.O.O. (Overtake Don Overtake Overtake) Kalakuta / Shanachie
1990 Confusion Break Bones Kalakuta
1990 Just Like That Kalakuta
1992 Underground System Kalakuta / Sterns

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