Fela Kuti Biography: Things You Didn’t Know About Him

Did you know that Fela once attempted to become the President of Nigeria? As a matter of fact he formed a party called the Movement of the People.

Well, you’ll get to know about these and many more in the course of this article.

fela kuti biography

Fela Anikulapo-Kuti Biography

Popularly called Fela, his full names are Fela Anikulapo Kuti (originally Fela Ransome-Kuti). He was born to the upper middle class family of Reverend Israel and Funmilayo Kuti on the 15th of October 1938.

His mother was an anti-colonial activist during the period preceding independence. Fela attended the Abeokuta Grammar School, a school where his father was a teacher. He was later sent to London in 1958 to study medicine but he opted to study music at the famous Trinity College.

When he was in London, he formed a band called the Koola Lobitos. The band played a brand of music that was the fusion of jazz and highlife.

In 1960, Fela married his first wife Remilekun Taylor with whom he had three children – Yeni, Femi and Sola. In 1963, Fela moved back to Nigeria where he re-formed the band Koola Lobitos. He trained as a radio producer with the Nigerian Broadcasting Corporation and at the same time he played with Victor Olaiya and his All Stars.

He later travelled to Ghana to think up his music direction and that was when he came up with the idea of Afrobeat music.

Fela’s Afrobeat is a fusion of jazz, highlife, psychedelic rock, funk, traditional West African chants and rhythm. One of the most important members of his band was his drummer of over 20 years, Tony Allen and according to Fela, without Tony there couldn’t have been Afrobeat music. Fela was known for his showmanship on stage and his concerts were often outlandish.

In 1969, Fela travelled with his band to Los Angeles in America where they spent 10 months. It was whil he was in Los Angeles that he discovered the Black Power Movement and that would really influence his music and political group. At this point, Fela renamed his group the Nigeria ’70.

They returned to Nigeria in 1970 and the group was renamed the Afrika ’70 as their lyrical theme evolved from love to political issues.

Fela’s Music was famous in not just Nigeria but Africa as a whole and it was quite unpopular with the ruling government because of its lyrical content.

In 1977, Fela and his band released the album, “Zombie.” This album was a hit but it particularly infuriated the government because of its content. This led to an attack on Fela’s Kalakuta Republic. He was severely beaten and his mother was thrown from the window of their home.

One year later, Fela married 27 women, many of whom were part of his musical band. After wards, he formed his own political party called the Movement of the People (MOP).

He applied as the nominee for his party for the position of president but his candidacy was refused. By 1980, Fela had created a new band which was called the Egypt 80 and he continued to infuriate the government with his music.

Eventually, he was jailed in 1984 by the head of State – Gen. Muhammad Buhari. But after 20 months in prison he was released by the new President, Ibrahim Babangida. During his lifetime, Fela was reportedly arrested over 200 times.

On his return from prison, he divorced his wives stating that marriage brought jealousy. He continued to release albums and he toured the United States and Europe with his Egypt 80 band over the next few years.

By the 1990s, Fela had slowed down in releasing albums and by 1993 he stopped altogether. At this time, there were already rumours that he was battling an ailment for which he was refusing treatment.

On the 3rd of August 1997, Fela’s brother, Olikoye Ransome Kuti, Fela’s brother announced that he had passed away as a result of complications relating to AIDS.

Despite Fela’s death in 1997, his music remained quite popular. In 1999, the Universal Music France remastered 45 albums of Fela and released them on 26 compact discs and these titles were licensed to almost every country in the world except Nigeria and Japan which their licence didn’t cover.

In 2008, a movie titled Fela was released as an off-Broadway production. It was based on the 1982 book by Carlos Moore titled Fela Fela! This Bitch of a Life.

Every year, an event called Felabration is held each year in honour of Fela. Felabration is usually held on the week of Fela’s birthday.

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Abass Toriola

Abass Toriola is the founder and chief content strategist of NigerianFacts.com. He's a seasoned blogger, Internet marketer, and online business coach.

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