Fela Kuti

Fela Anikulapo Ransome-Kuti (Born October 15, 1938 — Died August 2, 1997), commonly known as Fela Kuti, was a Nigerian musician and activist who created the Afrobeat genre and continually protested against political corruption in Nigeria, Africa, and globally. He had a hufe influence on African music through his innovative combination of traditional Nigerian Yoruba music with African American and Latin American styles of music such as jazz, blues, soul, salsa, and calypso. He was highly politically involved, created his own political party, and was arrested 200 times over his life.


Fela was born in Abeokuta, Nigeria in 1938. His father was a Protestant pastor and a non-professional pianist. His parents were both politically active. His mother avidly supported the anti-colonial movement.

Fela’s parents sent him to London in 1958, expecting him to study to become a doctor. Instead, he went to Trinity College’s school of music. He studied Western classical music and also became acquainted with jazz. In London he married his first wife, Remi Taylor. He created a band in 1961 called Koola Lobitos, which achieved some popularity playing jazz and high-life style music.

In 1963, Fela returned to Nigeria and formed a new version of his band with different members. He developed a new style which he called “Afrobeat”. It combined traditional Yoruba music with elements of jazz, blues, R&B, funk, salsa, and Calypso.

In 1969, Fela toured Los Angeles and recorded there. He encounted the writings of Malcolm X, Eldridge Cleavaer, and other black nationalists. He felt inspired to change his band’s name to Nigeria 70 and make his music more explicitly political.

After returning to Nigeria, Fela established a communal compound that included his family, a recording studio, and a rehearsal space. The compound was called the Kalakuta Republic. Fela changed his bands name again, to Africa 70. He was very productive and became wildly popular in West Africa. He was especially popular among Nigeria’s poor because he stood up for them.

Following Fela’s transition to explicitly addressing political issues, he was persecuted by the Nigerian government. Throughout the rest of his life, he was continually harassed, imprisoned, beaten, and sometimes tortured by the Nigerian government. He was arrested 200 times. In 1977, 1000 soldiers invaded the Kalakuta Republic. They threw Fela’s elderly mother from a window, leading to her death. They also broke Fela’s bones and fractured his skull, nearly killing him. They set the compound on fire and didn’t allow firefighters to put it out.

Fela survived and was briefly exiled in Ghana before returning in 1978. The same year, he had a mass-wedding with 27 of his backup singers. In 1979, he created a new political party, the Movement of the People. In 1980 he changed his band’s name to Egypt 80. For the next three years he was able to go about his musical business productively and with less disruptions than usual. Then the military junta returned and Fela was given a ten-year sentence for currency smuggling in 1984. He was freed the next year with the help of Amnesty International.

After his release, Fela divorced his 12 remaining wives, leaving him with only his first wife Remi. They had three children, who formed a band called Positive Force. His son Femi went on to become a successful musician.

Fela continued to condemn the Nigerian government, as well as certain other governments and people, such as Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan. Due to illness, his musical output decreased in the 1990s.

Kuti died from complications related to AIDS in Lagos in 1997. His funeral was attended by roughly a million people.

Musical Style and Legacy

Fela released 50 albums and performed abundantly. He sang in Pidgin English and Yoruba. He completely transformed the African and global musical scenes by creating the new Afrobeat genre, which was a combination of elements from traditional Yoruba music and various Western genres such as jazz, blues, R&B, funk, and salsa. He produced longer pieces of music than is usual, with pieces ranging from ten to thirty minutes.

Fela is also remembered as a great and tireless political activist . He endured 200 arrests, many beatings, and an invasion of his compound in which and he was nearly killed, and his mother was injured leading to her death. In spite of all this, he continued to live in Nigeria and openly challenge the government.