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I had a totally different post planned for today, then it struck me, if Fela was alive today, it would have been his 76th birthday. So for this post, I’m going to put up my top 5 favourite songs (in no particular order) by the late Fela Anikulapo Kuti.

First, a brief summary about Fela.

Fela Kuti taken by Leni Sinclair

Fela Kuti taken by Leni Sinclair

Fela Anikulapo Kuti was born on the 15th of October 1938. I personally think Fela already had the rebellious blood in him, seeing as he was the son of the late Funmilayo Ransome Kuti who was known as an activist and a political campaigner. Hers is a story for another day. He is also Nobel Laureate Wole Soyinka’s cousin, who is known as a political activist too.

Fela was known as one of the most controversial musicians out of Africa and some would say a pioneer of afro beats music. His music was a fusion of afro beats, jazz, high life, funk and psychedelic rock. Most of his beats and music were created entirely by him.

He sang in pidgin English and yoruba so everyone can relate or understand him, and most of his songs are about 10-12 mins long. The beginnings were usually just the beats alone which makes up about half of the song before he comes in.

He was also known as a great performer. He put in so much energy into his shows and everyone who watched him could affirm to this. It was kind of like how James Brown performed.

He was sent to England to study medicine but instead went to study music at Trinity College in Greenwich in 1958. (Told you he was a rebel from the beginning).

Fela used his music to speak on the struggles he felt people were going through, and the injustice and corruption of the government. Even though he was harassed and imprisoned, he continued to fight for the rights of everyone.

He felt as Africans, we should embrace our traditions and reject the European culture. Alot of his songs are laced with political innuendo and showed his distaste for all things foreign. He was heavily influenced by the American Black Power movement.

He was a proper African man and this showed in his way of life. He lived a communal lifestyle where his home was open to all. It was named kalakuta Republic. He also had a lot of wives, and several kids, the most popular of them being Femi, Yeni and Seun.

In recent times,  he has been getting alot more recognition. His life has been  re-enacted on Broadway shows in America, England and Nigeria. I saw it and I thought it was amazing. I felt they should have put a couple of Nigerians in it, (mostly because of accents), but that didn’t make it any less fantastic. It was titled ‘Fela!’ This was a collaboration between Shawn Carter and Will & Jada Smith.

‘Fela: This bitch of a life’ by Carlos Moore is a book written on him, in which the author followed him around and spoke to him and his numerous wives. You can read this to learn more about him. I have read it and it was good.

He died on the 2nd of August 1997 from complications due to AIDS.

He was a great man with alot of influence and his presence can still be felt today both domestic and international. There’s even a famous clip where Sir Paul McCartney of  ‘The Beatles’ speaks on Fela and meeting him.

To get a feel of what watching Fela would be like, you can head to the New Afrika Shrine in Ikeja. It is a huge tourist attraction and hopefully I can visit and do a post on it as soon as possible. I hear Femi Kuti performs there on Thursdays (free) and Sundays (paid) and his brother Seun Kuti performs on the last Saturdays of each month.

Do I support ALL his ideals? Not necessarily, but it doesn’t stop stop him from being a great performer and musician.

*Fun fact – Fela’s surname was actually Ransome Kuti, but he removed the ‘Ransome’ from it claiming it was a slave name, and replaced it with ‘Anikulapo’ which meant ‘he held death in his pocket’

Now to the songs.

1. Shakara

2. Water no get enemy

3. Gentleman

4. Trouble sleep Yanga wake am

5. Zombie

I know I said 5 but I had to also include this song because I love it too.

6. Lady

Hope you enjoyed the selection. Do you have any Fela songs you like and are not included here? Speak your piece below.

I hear Sheraton Lagos hotel will be having their own version of felabration on friday night at the pool bar. If you can, check it out.

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