FELA, THE UNBEARABLE REIGNING PROPHET– BY EGUNGWU C. BENJAMIN – The Reliant News
Due to this year’s Felabration music festival themed ‘Question Jam Answer,’ which started on 9th and will be ending on Sunday, 15th October, 2023. I decided to pen down this commemorative piece for the musical icon.
In this piece we will discuss about how the musical festival started, and the brain behind it. We will also have brief background of the music icon and information about his career.
In 1998 Felabration was conceptualized by the late Afrobeat music legend’s daughter, Yeni Anikulapo-Kuti just to remember his father’s legacy. How he used music as a tool to speak about bad governance , exposing the hidden skeletons in the cupboard of corrupt politicians and religious institution leaders.
The music festival is hosted once every year, for seven days and people comes from different states in the country, some from different countries to celebrate the Music icon at Afrika Shrine, Ikeja, Lagos State.
- Brief Background of the Music Icon
Olufela Olusegun Oludotun Ransome-Kuti Popularly called ‘Fela Anikulapo-Kuti’ was born on 15th October, 1938, in Abeokuta, Ogun state, into an upper middle class family.
The Late, Chief. Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti was the mother of Fela. She a very popular feminist activist during the anti-colonial movement and first woman to drive a car in Nigeria back then in 1951, while his father, Reverend, Israel Oludotun Ransome-Kuti, was a school principal and first president of the Nigeria Union of Teacher.
Later Fela Kuti removed ‘Ransome’ from his name and changed it to ‘Anikulapo’ meaning “He who carries death in his pouch or hands”.
This will bring us to one of his hit track, that I love so much titled ‘Colo-mentality’. In the song he talked about how the British sold their culture and language to us. we took everything and abandoned ours which makes us original.
In the song he said;
” If you say you be colonial man. You don be slave man before. Them don release you now. But you never release yourself.
In another stanza he said;
“Dem go proud of dem name. And put dem slave name for head. No be so?… “
This can be linked to his decision to change his English name ‘ Ransome’ to a Yoruba name ‘Anikulapo’.
Fela Kuti is a cousin to the Popular writer and laureate Wole Soyinka (a Nobel Prize for Literature winner).
- Brief Music Journey
Base on my research , I found out that the Music Icon was actually sent to London to study medicine just like his brothers; Beko and Olikoye Kuti were all medical doctors.
He got to UK enrolled at Trinity College London, where he studied classical music and became exposed to different musical sounds by playing piano in jazz and rock bands.
However, in the I960’s he returned to Nigeria and formed a band ‘ Koola Lobitos’ just as he played when he was in London, and Afrobeat sound started from that group through experiment and practices.
That is why he is refered to as the King of Afrobeat which is Jazz, Funk, Ghanaian/Nigerian High-life and psychedelic rock infusion.
Most of the top Afrobeat stars in the world like; Burna-Boy who claimed that his style of music is Afro-fusion. This is inspired by Fela Kuti and he affirmed to it.
During his life time while doing Music in Nigeria, he used it as an instrument to talk on themes like; freedom, injustice, corruption and any other social vices within the country.
Due to his doggedness and ability to withstand the pressure from the Military government in power, they were looking for reasons to find him guilty and jail him.
He declared himself the head of his communal compound, which he named the independent ‘Kalakuta Republic’. The place got many attention due to use of drugs, indulgence in sex, polygamy support ( he married 27 women ).
It was said that 1000 soildiers raided his house,’ Kalakuta Republic’ in Lagos. They destroyed his properties and beat up everyone in there.
During the raid Fela’s mother, Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti, was thrown out from the window. She sustained serious injuries and died at the General Hospital in Lagos on April 13, 1978 and most National Dailies reported the incident with the headlines; “Fela’s Mum is Dead” or “Fela’s House Burnt”
This didn’t make him stop his musical career or compromise his stand. He dropped more hit tracks like; “Zombie,” “Beasts of No Nation,” “Upside Down” and “Monkey Banana,”.
In his hit track ” Zombie” he said; “Zombie no go walk unless you tell am to walk”, Which Ironically, he was referring to the military or soldiers who doesn’t do things they wish to do, but they act base on order or instructions from top ranking officers.
This still remind me my days in Enugu, when I was a kid, any time my mother is singing this song, just know you are suppose to do something and you haven’t done it. (Smiles African parents still the best).
I referred to him as a prophet in this piece because his music his ever green. Everything he said when he was alive is still happening and even getting worse.
His music stirs ones mind to reflect on life, unlike the new artist today that centers their music on sex and flamboyancy. Fela also sang about sex and having good time.
I am not against this kind of music everyone has there style of music and decision to choose what to sing about, but once in a while they should use music as a tool to create consciousness.
I dance and sing to the new style of songs, the artists are putting Africa on global map, Everyone is trying to identify themselves as an Africans, but they should also remember that music is an art and should be used to convey message to educate and inform. It shouldn’t be for entertainment purpose only.
I do appreciate Singers like; Falz, Eedris Abdulkareem, Daddy Showkey, Asa, Tekno, Late Sound Sultan, Burnaboy et-al .