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Radio Afrika: Fela Kuti

Radio Afrika features the influential Fela Kuti, along with the history he helped create.

By David Simon

Fela Anikulapo  Kuti was a Nigerian multi-instrumentalist musician and composer, human rights activist, and political maverick, born in Ogun, Nigeria into a middle class family with a rich heritage.He was sent to London at the age of twenty to study medicine, but decided to study music instead at the Trinity College of Music. There he began his engagement with the something that would shape his life; highlife, music with jazzy instrumentations playing funk/psychedelic compositions. Shortly after, he moved to Ghana gaining experience as a musician, seeking musical direction, and forming his first band.

He and the band to Amerika for a short period in the late 60s, and discovered the Black Power movement, which heavily influenced his political views. He changed his band name to Nigeria 70 as well as the themes of his music from love to social issues.

Kuti then moved back to Nigeria and formed Kalakuta Republic, a commune, recording studio and home to many connected to the band, which he declared independent from the Nigerian state.

There he produced his first well known works and the band, now Afrika 70 churned out album after album. In ’77, he released his album, “Zombie.” which was a scathing attack on the methods of the Nigerian Military. It was a smash hit that infuriated the government, leading to a vicious attack on his commune. The attack ended with Fela beaten nearly to death, his mother being sent out an upper level of his complex, leading to her death, as well as the burning down of the entire Republic (houses, recording studio, master-tapes … everything).

He made a few tracks such as, “Unknown Soldier,” and “Coffin for the Head of State,” to commemorate his mother and show he was not defeated.

Over his years, Kuti accumulated one of the most impressive discographies to date, including more than 50 documented albums.

Keep up with Radio Afrika as we highlight and feature artists across Africa each week.