There’s no doubt that Fela Kuti is one of the most radical musicians that the world has ever seen. His politically-charged lyrics, sardonic album titles and covers, and his unabashed denouncement of the Nigerian government (which led to the infamous raid on his compound, resulting in the death of his mother and landing him in jail) are confirmation of this.
” Africa hot, I like am so. I know what to wear, but my friends don’t know. Him put him socks, him put him shoe. Him put him pant, him put him singlet. Him put him trouser, him put him shirt. Him put him tie, him put him coat. Himcome cover all with him hat. Him be gentleman. ” Fela Kuti
A less obvious symbol of Fela’s revolutionary proclivity was his fashion sense. His clothing choices were not only an expression of good taste and bravado, but also a conspicuous rejection of Western ideals. In his song “Gentleman,” Fela breaks down his aversion to Western attire by telling the story of a friend that has adopted a European style of dress. Him go sweat all over, him go faint right down. Him go smell like shit Him go piss for body, him no go know. Me I no be gentleman like that.”
Fela wears what he considered non-Western attire as a matter of pride and authenticity. “I be Africa man original,” he goes on to sing. For him, true “Africanness” meant refusing to subject himself to the ways of others or compromise himself for the sake of conformity and assimilation. Achieving full liberation meant rejecting the customs and rules of the oppressor-all the way down to the oppressor’s clothing. Fela’s aesthetic was to be understood as the antithesis of that of the deadpan politicians and military leaders that he so often criticized. Fela’s sartorial choices were a mirror of his political views, equally forthright and expressive, and a reminder that fashion can be a form of protest. He often appeared shirtless with large beads adorning his neck, or in ankara jumpsuits and matching top and bottoms, or simply in his underwear.
Fela Anikulapo-Kuti the music legend remains relevant 20 years after his death. The influence of his music is still felt in Nigeria, Africa and other parts of the world. This year, the legacy of the Afrobeat superstar, FelaKuti was celebrated again through the annual Felabrati’on festival in Nigeria. The theme of the 20th year anniversary of the festival’s was “The Prophecy,” which is meant to reflect on the messages he passed on through his songs about the social issues in the country.
Kuti was the pioneer of the Afrobeat music genre, a combination of West African and American music styles that include chanted vocals and interacting rhythms. Afrobeat was developed in the 1970s, initially to distinguish Kuti’s music from that of American artists. He took inspiration from the Black Panther movement and incorporated social and political leanings in his songs. Messages in his songs remain relevant as corruption and societal illness continue across the world till date.
Fela Kuti became unpopular with the government at the time because he encouraged activism and conscious fighting against the military dictatorship in Nigeria. He promoted the traditional religion of the Yoruba ethnicity and educated Africans about Egyptian civilization. He was in and out of trouble with the government, including spending time in the prison and being banned from entering the country. Several present-day musicians have been inspired by Fela’s brand of music and many of them have created new songs and albums that mimic the mannerisms for which the late Afrobeat King was known.
Artistes such as Dede Mabiaku were among the very early devotees who saw the need to keep Fela’s legacy alive through similar songs, dance steps and dressing outfits. Naturally, Fela’s daughter Yeni made a mark recreating dance steps made famous by her father. But perhaps it is in his sons Femi and Seun that the world is constantly reminded of the great legacy of “ Abami Eda”. While Femi has held the local fans spell-bound with concerts especially at the Shrine, Seun it is who has held sway on the international circuit with fully-booked foreign performances all year round.
The list of Fela’s wannabes has elongated over time to include Wizkid, Davido, Tekno, Runtown and Mr.Eazi, among others. Anti’balas, Tony Allen, London Afrobeat collective is some of the bands who performed the Afrobeat genre across the globe. Wyclef Jean released a new song titled “FelaKuti” and he launched a new album in Sept 15 “Carnival III: The Fall and Rise of a Refugee”. Pulse magazine even reported that Beyonce has a Nigerian- inspired album and organised an African-themed baby shower.
The latest attempt at protecting an evergreen memory of the late music maestro has been spearheaded, promoted and produced by Bolanle Auten-Peters whose Fela-themed music dance drama is gradually gaining global recognition. A talented cast of over 100 actors, drummers, dancers and performers are on a multi-city international concert rendition and watching them performing takes one vividly back to the actual days of Fela himself.
The 2018 felebrati’on was a week-long event, which started on October 16, climaxed on the 21st of October with a series of activities that would remain evergreen in the minds of those graced the event. The night witnessed a large turnout of fans, entertainers, tourists and dignitaries including the Vice President, Yemi Osinbajo. Femi Kuti, alongside his son, also thrilled the audience. Femi first hit the stage, and later, his son joined him, playing saxophone with him. Over the years, Felabrati’on has been widely celebrated by fans both within and outside the country and has attracted a wide pool of superstars from all over the world like Hugh Masakela, Wizkid, Lucky Dube, Awilo Longomba, Baba Maal, Les Nubians, King Sunny Ade, Burna Boy, Lagbaja, Asa, Davido and 2baba and host of other artist and entertainers.
This year’s edition which is themed ‘Overtaking Overtake’ coincides with the 80th posthumous celebration of the life of Fela Anikulapo Kuti. Other activities that grace this year’s felabrati’on was school debate by some selected secondary schools in Lagos theme, “Should State Police be introduced in Nigeria?” at the Freedom Park in Lagos, Felabrati’on was conceived in 1998 by Yeni Anikulapo-Kuti’ in memory and celebration of her father, Fela.
His Shrine “Kalakuta Republic”
The republic which was located at no. 14, Idi-Oro, Mushin, Lagos, enclosed Fela’s recording studio, entertainment outfit and a private clinic operated by his brother, Beko Ransome-Kuti. It is important to note that the name ‘Kalakuta’ was a parody of Calcutta prison in India where Fela served a sentence in 1974 for possessing marijuana. However, on February 18, 1977, Kalakuta Republic was burnt down after an assault by a thousand armed soldiers. They did not only beat and arrested him, they also lashed out at those they found in Kalakuta, raping, looting and finally throwing down Fela’s mother, Funmilayo Kuti, an attack she did not recover from. Be that as it may, Fela’s children, family and close fans decided to transform his house into a museum where lovers and listeners of his songs and adherents of his ideology can come for remembrance of what Fela stood for during his lifetime. Holding strong to their appreciation of this man, the idea to turn it to a museum materialized and it was opened on October 15, 2012, which would have been his 74th birthday.
The legendary musician’s home, one of the most memorable places in the bubbling city of Lagos, now houses an elaborate collection, where care has been taken to preserve everything associated with Fela. The museum which has been renamed Kalakuta Republic Museum is located on Gbemisola Street, Allen Avenue, Ikeja, Lagos. It was renovated by the Lagos State Government and is to being managed by Total Consult. In the museum, there is to be found some stirring personal items of Fela like his dresses, his well intact rack of shoes and household materials are on display in the house. His bedrooms, sitting rooms, photographs, with over 3,000 of Fela’s clothes were on display.
A testament to his legacy, Taking a tour of where Fela once lived and reigned, one can see his musical instruments, clothes (down to his signature small underwear), shoes, and other relics that symbolized the great musician. A visit offers that opportunity to feel a sense of Fela’s spirit still hovering around his former residence turned museum. Indeed, the Kalakuta Republic which was his castle of resistance, rebellion, activism and hope for many Nigerians keen to champion freedom in their recklessly corrupt country.