The 20th century was surely a very busy one for African nations. The continent was battling for independence from Europeans, and this battle surely led to the rise of prominent musicians. The tunes from these musical artistes brought hope to Africans that they struggled to Independence from their colonial masters. These are the faces that shaped the sound of African music
In this series, we will be exploring some of the biggest names in African music. We’ll examine the effect their music has had on the African continent.
Fela Anikulapo Kuti
Full names: Olufela Olusegun Oludotun Ransome-Kuti (a.k.a. Fela Anikulapo Kuti)
Date of Birth: 15 October 1938 – Abeokuta, Ogun State, Nigeria
Date of Death: 2 August 1997 (aged 58)
Parents: Reverend Israel Oludotun Ransome-Kuti & Chief Mrs. Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti
Genre: Afrobeat, Highlife
Fela attended secondary school in Abeokuta, and was later sent to London in 1958 to study medicine. He decided to study music instead. His preferred instrument was the trumpet. While there, he formed the band Koola Lobitos, playing a fusion of jazz and highlife.
His brothers Beko Ransome-Kuti and Olikoye Ransome-Kuti both became medical doctors, and were well known in Nigeria. Fela is a first cousin to the Nigerian writer and Nobel laureate Wole Soyinka
His Music Career
Beginning in the 1960s, Kuti pioneered his own unique style of music called Afrobeat. Rebelling against oppressive regimes through his music came at a heavy cost.
Kuti was arrested 200 times and endured numerous beatings, but continued to write political lyrics. He produced 50 albums before he died on August 2, 1997, in Lagos, Nigeria.
In his early days as a professional musician, Fela played with notable music greats like Victor Olaiya and his All Stars, Hugh Masekela and Ginger Baker. He performed with different bands that he named ‘Africa 70,’ ‘Egypt 80,’ ‘Nigeria 70’ and ‘Koola Lobitos.’
Fela’s music was popular among the Nigerian public and Africans in general. In fact, he made the decision to sing in the common Pidgin English so that his music could be enjoyed by individuals all over Africa.
Fela Kuti in 1970 (Image: Wikipedia)
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. Those who were disappointed in Fela’s performance, had never really seen him perform before.
Many expected him to perform like those in Western world. But during the 1980s, Fela was not interested in putting on a “show”. His European performance was a representation of what was relevant at the time and his other inspirations.