FELA Biography - Musicians


Biography » musicians » fela


Name: Olufela Olusegun Oludotun Ransome-Kuti                                                     
Born: October 15, 1938 Abeokuta, Nigeria                                                         
Died: August 2, 1997                                                                             
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.                                                                               
He was ranked at number 46 in a list of the top 100 most influential musicians                   
compiled by HMV.                                                                                 
Fela was born in Abeokuta, Ogun State, Nigeria[2] to a middle-class family. His                   
mother, Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti, was a feminist active in the anti-colonial                       
movement and his father, Reverend Israel Oludotun Ransome-Kuti, a Protestant                     
minister and school Principal, was the first president of the Nigerian Union of                   
Teachers. His brothers, Dr. Beko Ransome-Kuti and Olikoye Ransome-Kuti, were                     
both well known in Nigeria.                                                                       
Fela went to London in 1958 with the intention of studying medicine but decided                   
to study music instead at the Trinity College of Music. While there, he formed                   
the band Koola Lobitos, playing a style of music that he would later call                         
Afrobeat. The style was a fusion of American Jazz and Funk with West African                     
Highlife. In 1961, Fela married his first wife, Remilekun (Remi) Taylor, with                     
whom he would have three children (Femi, Yeni and Sola). In 1963, Fela moved                     
back to Nigeria, re-formed Koola Lobitos and trained as a radio producer for the                 
Nigerian Broadcasting Corporation. In 1969, Fela took the band to the United                     
States. While there, Fela discovered the black power movement through Sandra                     
Smith(now Isidore) -- a partisan of the Black Panther Party--which would heavily                 
influence his music and political views and renamed the band "Nigeria 70". Soon,                 
the Immigration and Naturalization Service were tipped off by a promoter that                     
Fela and his band were in the US without work permits. The band then performed a                 
quick recording session in Los Angeles, which would later be released as "The '69                 
Los Angeles Sessions".                                                                           
Fela and his band, renamed "Africa '70" returned to Nigeria. He then formed the                   
Kalakuta Republic, a commune, a recording studio and a home for many connected                   
to the band which he later declared independent from the Nigerian state. Fela                     
set up a nightclub in the Empire Hotel, named the Afro-Spot and then the Afrika                   
Shrine, where he performed regularly. Fela also changed his middle name to "Anikulapo"           
(meaning "he who carries death in his pouch")[3], stating that his original                       
middle name of Ransome was a slave name. The recordings continued, and the music                 
became more politically motivated. Fela's music became very popular among the                     
Nigerian public and Africans in general. In fact, he made the decision to sing                   
in Pidgin English so that his music could be enjoyed by individuals all over                     
Africa, where the local languages spoken are very diverse and numerous. As                       
popular as Fela's music had become in Nigeria and elsewhere, it was also very                     
unpopular with the ruling government, and raids on the Kalakuta Republic were                     
frequent. In 1974 the police arrived with a search warrant and a cannabis joint,                 
which they had intended to plant on Fela. He became wise to this and swallowed                   
the joint. In response, the police took him into custody and waited to examine                   
his feces. Fela enlisted the help of his prison mates and gave the police                         
someone else's feces, and Fela was freed. He then recounted this tale in his                     
release Expensive Shit.                                                                           
In 1977 Fela and the Afrika 70 released the hit album Zombie, a scathing attack                   
on Nigerian soldiers using the "zombie" metaphor to describe the methods of the                   
Nigerian military. The album was a smash hit with the people and infuriated the                   
government, setting off a vicious attack against the Kalakuta Republic, during                   
which one thousand soldiers attacked the commune. Fela was severely beaten, and                   
his elderly mother was thrown from a window, causing fatal injuries. The                         
Kalakuta Republic was burned, and Fela's studio, instruments, and master tapes                   
were destroyed. Fela claimed that he would have been killed if it were not for                   
the intervention of a commanding officer as he was being beaten. Fela's response                 
to the attack was to deliver his mother's coffin to the main army barrack in                     
Lagos and write two songs, "Coffin for Head of State" and "Unknown Soldier,"                     
referencing the official inquiry which claimed the commune had been destroyed by                 
an unknown soldier.                                                                               
Fela and his band then took residence in Crossroads Hotel as the Shrine had been                 
destroyed along with his commune. In 1978 Fela married twenty seven women, many                   
of whom were his dancers and singers to mark the anniversary of the attack on                     
the Kalakuta Republic. Later, he was to adopt a rotation system of keeping only                   
twelve simultaneous wives.[4] The year was also marked by two notorious concerts,                 
the first in Accra in which riots broke out during the song "Zombie" which led                   
to Fela being banned from entering Ghana. The second was at the Berlin Jazz                       
Festival after which most of Fela's musicians deserted him, due to rumors that                   
Fela was planning to use the entirety of the proceeds to fund his presidential                   
Despite the massive setbacks, Fela was determined to come back. He formed his                     
own political party, which he called "Movement of the People". In 1979 he put                     
himself forward for President in Nigeria's first elections for more than a                       
decade but his candidature was refused. At this time, Fela created a new band                     
called "Egypt 80" and continued to record albums and tour the country. He                         
further infuriated the political establishment by dropping the names of ITT vice-president       
Moshood Abiola and then General Olusegun Obasanjo at the end of a hot-selling 25-minute           
political screed entitled "International Thief Thief".                                           
In 1984 he was again attacked by the Military government, who jailed him on a                     
dubious charge of currency smuggling. His case was taken up by several human-rights               
groups, and after twenty months, he was released from prison by General Ibrahim                   
Babangida. On his release he divorced his twelve remaining wives, telling "Marriage               
brings jealousy and selfishness".[5] Once again, Fela continued to release                       
albums with Egypt 80, made a number of successful tours of the United States and                 
Europe and also continued to be politically active. In 1986, Fela performed in                   
Giants Stadium in New Jersey as part of the Amnesty International "Conspiracy of                 
Hope" concert, sharing the bill with Bono, Carlos Santana, and The Neville                       
His album output slowed in the 1990s, and eventually he stopped releasing albums                 
altogether. The battle against military corruption in Nigeria was taking its                     
toll, especially during the rise of dictator Sani Abacha. Rumors were also                       
spreading that he was suffering from an illness for which he was refusing                         
treatment. On August 3, 1997 Olikoye Ransome-Kuti, already a prominent AIDS                       
activist and former Minister of Health, stunned the nation by announcing his                     
younger brother's death a day earlier from Kaposi's sarcoma brought on by AIDS.                   
(Their younger brother, Beko, was in jail at this time at the hand of Abacha for                 
political activity). More than a million people attended Fela's funeral at the                   
site of the old Shrine compound.