Fela Kuti was a musician, best known for developing a genre called Afrobeat. Borne from the mixing of African percussive patterns, with juju, high life, calypso, salsa, jazz and funk, Kuti contended that this style of music was a contemporary version of African indigenous music, through which he was able to share his political messages. Kuti’s songs were considerably longer than the conventional length of about 3 minutes, and his lyrics were invariably passionate, politically-centred, and controversial.
Being from Nigeria himself, Tunde Folawiyo might know that Kuti was born in the city of Abeokuta, in 1938. Both of his parents were interested in politics, and his father was a skilful pianist; based on these facts, it’s easy to understand where Kuti’s desire to express his beliefs through music came from. However, despite their own love for these subjects, his parents did not encourage Kuti to become a musician; instead, they sent him off to study medicine in London. However, Kuti rebelled against his parents’ wishes, and enrolled in the school of music at Trinity College.
Whilst living in England, Kuti established a band which he called Koola Lobitos. Five years later, he returned to his homeland, re-forming the same band, but adopting a style of singing which was heavily influenced by James Brown. Merging elements of jazz and high life, Kuti decided to name this newly-emerging genre, ‘Afrobeat’. During the seventies, he also established a commune named Kalakuta Republic, which served as a recording studio, and as an informal home for anyone connected to the band. After releasing an album recorded here (entitled ‘Zombie’), which criticised the Nigerian military, this commune was destroyed by a group of soldiers; this incident resulted in Kuti suffering from a number of serious injuries, and in his mother passing away.
Following this, Kuti fled to Ghana for a short period of time, before returning to his native country in 1978. He continued to tour to perform his music, retaining the same stylistic approach that he had developed during the sixties. Music lovers like Tunde Folawiyo will probably know that Kuti remained politically and musically active throughout the eighties, but stopped releasing music during the following decade, presumably due to his ill-health. He passed away on the 3rd of August, 1997, from Kaposi’s sarcoma.