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The beats of a nation: Fela Anikulapo

Radio Afrika profiles a historic musician in African music

By David Simon

Fela Anikulapo Kuti is a Nigerian multi-instrumentalist musician and composer, human rights activist, and political maverick. He was 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; 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.

Fela and his band moved to America for a short period in the late 60s, and discovered the Black Power movement, which heavily influenced his political views. The band changed names to Nigeria 70 as well as shifting themes of their 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.

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

After the commune was devastated, Fela 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.













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