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Fela Kuti

It's almost impossible to overstate the impact and importance of Fela Anikulapo (Ransome) Kuti (or just Fela as he's more commonly known) to the global musical village: producer, arranger, musician, political radical, outlaw. He was all that, as well as showman par excellence, inventor of Afro-beat, an unredeemable sexist, and a moody megalomaniac. His death on August 3, 1997 of complications from AIDS deeply affected musicians and fans internationally, as a musical and sociopolitical voice on a par with Bob Marley was silenced. A press release from the United Democratic Front of Nigeria on the occasion of Fela's death noted: "Those who knew you well were insistent that you could never compromise with the evil you had fought all your life. Even though made weak by time and fate, you remained strong in will and never abandoned your goal of a free, democratic, socialist Africa." This is as succinct a summation of Fela's political agenda as one is likely to find.

Born in Abeokuta, Nigeria, north of Lagos in 1938, Fela's family was firmly middle class as well as politically active. His father was a pastor (and talented pianist), his mother active in the anti-colonial, anti-military, Nigerian home rule movement. So at an early age, Fela experienced politics and music in a seamless combination. His parents, however, were less interested in his becoming a musician and more interested in his becoming a doctor, so they packed him off to London in 1958 for what they assumed would be a medical education; instead, Fela registered at Trinity College's school of music. Tired of studying European composers, Fela formed his first band, Koola Lobitos, in 1961, and quickly became a fixture on the London club scene. He returned to Nigeria in 1963 and started another version of Koola Lobitos that was more influenced by the James Brown-style singing of Geraldo Pina from Sierra Leone. Combining this with elements of traditional high life and jazz, Fela dubbed this intensely rhythmic hybrid "Afro-beat," partly as critique of African performers whom he felt had turned their backs on their African musical roots in order to emulate current American pop music trends.

In 1969, Fela brought Koola Lobitos to Los Angeles to tour and record. They toured America for about eight months using Los Angeles as a home base. It was while in L.A. that Fela hooked up with a friend, Sandra Isidore, who introduced him to the writings and politics of Malcolm X, Eldridge Cleaver (and by extension the Black Panthers), and other proponents of Black nationalism and Afrocentrism. Impressed at what he read, Fela was politically revivified and decided that some changes were in order: first, the name of the band, as Koola Lobitos became Nigeria 70; second, the music would become more politically explicit and critical of the oppression of the powerless worldwide. After a disagreement with an unscrupulous promoter who turned them in to the Immigration and Naturalization Services, Fela and band were charged with working without work permits. Realizing that time was short before they were sent back to Nigeria, they were able to scrape together some money to record some new songs in L.A. What came to be known as the '69 Los Angeles Sessions were remarkable, an indication of a maturing sound and of the raucous, propulsive music that was to mark Fela's career. Afrobeat's combination of blaring horn sections, antiphonal vocals, Fela's quasi-rapping pidgin English, and percolating guitars, all wrapped up in a smoldering groove (in the early days driven by the band's brilliant drummer Tony Allen) that could last nearly an hour, was an intoxicating sound. Once hooked, it was impossible to get enough.

Upon returning to Nigeria, Fela founded a communal compound-c*m-recording studio and rehearsal space he called the Kalakuta Republic, and a nightclub, the Shrine. It was during this time that he dropped his given middle name of "Ransome" which he said was a slave name, and took the name "Anikulapo" (meaning "he who carries death in his pouch") . Playing constantly and recording at a ferocious pace, Fela and band (who were now called Africa 70) became huge stars in West Africa. His biggest fan base, however, was Nigeria's poor. Because his music addressed issues important to the Nigerian underclass (specifically a military government that profited from political exploitation and disenfranchisement), Fela was more than a simply a pop star; like Bob Marley in Jamaica, he was the voice of Nigeria's have-nots, a cultural rebel. This was something Nigeria's military junta tried to nip in the bud, and from almost the moment he came back to Nigeria up until his death, Fela was hounded, jailed, harassed, and nearly killed by a government determined to silence him. In one of the most egregious acts of violence committed against him, 1,000 Nigerian soldiers attacked his Kalakuta compound in 1977 (the second government-sanctioned attack). Fela suffered a fractured skull as well as other broken bones; his 82-year old mother was thrown from an upstairs window, inflicting injuries that would later prove fatal. The soldiers set fire to the compound and prevented fire fighters from reaching the area. Fela's recording studio, all his master tapes and musical instruments were destroyed.

After the Kalakuta tragedy, Fela briefly lived in exile in Ghana, returning to Nigeria in 1978. In 1979 he formed his own political party, MOP (Movement of the People), and at the start of the new decade renamed his band Egypt 80. From 1980-1983, Nigeria was under civilian rule, and it was a relatively peaceful period for Fela, who recorded and toured non-stop. Military rule returned in 1983, and in 1984 Fela was sentenced to ten years in prison on charges of currency smuggling. With help from Amnesty International, he was freed in 1985.

As the '80s ended, Fela recorded blistering attacks against Nigeria's corrupt military government, as well as broadsides aimed at Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan (most abrasively on the album Beasts of No Nation). Never what you would call progressive when it came to relationships with women or patriarchy in general (the fact was that he was sexist in the extreme, which is ironic when you consider that his mother was one of Nigeria's early feminists), he was coming around to the struggles faced by African women, but only just barely. Stylistically speaking, Fela's music didn't change much during this time, and much of what he recorded, while good, was not as blistering as some of the amazing music he made in the '70s. Still, when a Fela record appeared, it was always worth a listen. He was unusually quiet in the '90s, which may have had something to do with how ill he was; very little new music appeared, but in as great a series of reissues as the planet has ever seen, the London-based Stern's Africa label re-released some of his long unavailable records (including The '69 Los Angeles Sessions), and the seminal works of this remarkable musician were again filling up CD bins. He never broke big in the U.S. market, and it's hard to imagine him having the same kind of posthumous profile that Marley does, but Fela's 50-something releases offer up plenty of remarkable music, and a musical legacy that lives on in the person of his talented son Femi. Around the turn of the millennium, Universal began remastering and reissuing a goodly portion of Fela's many recordings, finally making some of his most important work widely available to American listeners. ~ John Dougan, Rovi
full bio

Selected Discography


Track List: Beasts Of No Nation / Overtake Don Overtake Overtake


Track List: Upside Down / Music Of Many Colours


Track List: Beasts Of No Nation


Track List: Everything Scatter / Noise For Vendor Mouth


Track List: Opposite People + Sorrow Tears And Blood


Track List: Shuffering And Shmiling / No Agreement


Track List: Confusion / Gentleman


Track List: V.I.P. / Authority Stealing


Track List: Original Suffer Head / I.T.T.


Track List: Coffin For Head Of State / Unknown Soldier


Track List: Underground System


Track List: Teacher Don't Teach Me Nonsense


Track List: Army Arrangement


Track List: Army Arrangement


Track List: J.J.D. & Unnecessary Begging


Track List: Unnecessary Begging


There's only one Fela! May your soul continue to rest in peace, and memories of The African Shrine live on.
An artist in the true sense. Fela forever
Nice music, Fela lives 4ever
No offense to Cab or Louis, but Fela is the greatest bandleader of the 20th Century.

We miss u, Brother Fela........ . . . . . . . : ' ( . . . . . . . . . . . .
Fela music still lives
Best sounds ever!
Long live Baba 70
F.E.L.A- For Ever Lives Africa... Fela lives on
Once again a heartfelt thanks to Tim and everyone at Pandora. I'd never heard of this guy until Pandora, and I'm a guy with 100 stations of diverse tastes!!! This Fela rocks.
FELA KUTI's bass rifts be OFF THE CHAIN! The whole set is tight!
smoke on a good bud and listen to FELA get his music on!
I listened while in college in the 60's. Still an inspiration, especially when I am creating. LOVE LOVE LOVE ME SOME FELA. Ase O.
Love him
Heard about father and son in the nineties but didn't pay too much attention . The beat is magical . Nigeria and Africa as a whole should be proud .Thank you Pandora .
Flea was a great musician. What he said about Nigerian leaders are still happening till today. Even worst than how he left it. Maybe our leaders can have a rethink so that Fela soul can continue to rest. Anyway whether they like it or not his soul must rest in perfect peace because of his positive contribution s to the Humanities.
The beats are tantalizing
Fela will forever be remembered by some of us.he really fought the fight for the weak and oppressed, and y he rest in peace.
Fela Kuti will NEVER die. The evil & corrupt governments & their minions will fall & be 4gotten. This is inevitable. God bless our great Mother Africa!!!
Love Fela! Have for many moons. Seems right to listen to him on NM day(s) after... No comparison just connection.
quite good...
Infectious.. . . . . .
First started listening to Fela (thanks to Garth Trinadad from KCRW Los Angeles) in 1998. Been hooked since.
Afro-beat influences DC's Go-Go music. Love Fela. Like, Fela start's talking being that vicious beat, and you start laughing sometimes for real. And when he would talk the political matters, you felt energy to correct a wrong. Love that dude for real, man. Beats/horns are just ridiculous.
Fela never die because of the true he say. He's the true leader of African.
Fela forever
He was one of the pioneers of independent thinking among black men the world over..
Before Pandora. There was KRZA.

I remember
It's amazing that people of the African diaspora are still singing the I.T.T. song is some fashion or another. How much have we moved as a people over the last couple of decades?
Fela speaks to all of us to seriously think about our purpose in this life. Regardless of why and how we were brought to this life. Ask yourself, what am I going to do for humanity, FOR THE CHILDREN beyond myself. Let those of us who hide our insecurities behind getting " high ", gain courage and really become a man of respect for him/herself so as to leave a positive, lasting contribution for our African children everywhere.
Fela's music makes one do just what he did.... be conscious, spread the consciousnes s , make love and get high. WONDERFUL!!!
Just like that !!!!!... The best S**T ever...afroh s o u l j a h z z
Baba 70(African legend)
I went to Fela's Shrine in Lagos in 1990......Wo r d s cannot explain the awesome experience. The music, the people, the culture..... . Every time I hear Fela I am brought back to my semester abroad in Nigeria.
I read his biography before I hear his music. A True African King!!!
lisa.mangobl u e
hes cool
Da only "Abami Eda" none like him
Fela lives forever! No s**t carrying for real man.
FELA lives on in New Orleans
Chicago loves Fela, enjoyed the musical as well. His music still carries on.
He was well Known for singing suffering and smiling. Great man !
this wuz my Afrikan music mogul, ilearned the song Everything Scatter just by listening 2 it over and over, love this music
I love to hear this music over and over again...I fall asleep and wake up to it...Can't get enough of Fela Anikupalo Kuti.
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