76 YEARS AGO – In Abeokuta in then Western Region of Nigeria, a woman activist was delivered of a baby boy. The woman, Mrs Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti, and her husband Rev. Israel Ransome-Kuti later named the child Olufela and also Olusegun, and then Oludotun Ransome-Kuti.
When the child grew up he could only accept to be called Fela Anikulapo-Kuti. He rejected Ransome-Kuti because, he said, it bears a mark of slavery (Ransome). The one he preferred is “the one who has death in his pouch” (Anikulapo-Kuti).
At age 20, Fela was sent to England to study Medicine like his elder sibling Olikoye a decade earlier. But when Fela got to London, he chose to study Music. From there, he put together his first band, Koola Lobitos, which played a combination of jazz and highlife. When he returned to Nigeria, he renamed it “The Africa ‘70” band.
To cut the long story short, Fela turned out to be a multi-talented instrumentalist who founded the brand of music he called “Afrobeat”. The Afrobeat king used his music to criticise the evil deeds of especially African leaders and governments. He spared no one. And almost every Nigerian government that existed while Fela lived had to put him in jail several times. Often, he was arrested for smoking Indian hemp. In his shrine in Ikeja, Lagos, hemp is freely shared.
The destruction of “Kalakuta Republic” in 1977 rather than deter him emboldened him to confront every military regime both in interviews with journalists and in his songs. Until he died on August 2, 1997, from HIV/AIDS, Fela never forgave the “unknown soldier” that was said to have destroyed Kalakuta and killed his mother by throwing the 77-year-old down a staircase. One of his songs “Zombie” is a direct attack on soldiers.
At this time every year since Fela’s death, his fans celebrate his birthday: he was born on October 15, 1938. This year, “Felabration” has since started. His life and times are recounted on every occasion and by everyone that was associated with him.
Luckily for Fela’s fans, two of his children – Femi and Seun – have their own music bands. Afrobeat can never die because Fela’s children are following in their father’s footsteps.