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Fela Kuti's Biography: Career, Awards, Early Life, Facts, Personal Life



Fela Anikulapo Kuti was born on 15th October, 1938 in the beautiful city of Abeokuta, Nigeria. Being born to a family of extremely active people possibly influenced him into being active, radical, and vocal throughout his lifetime. His mother was an activist while his father was a pastor and also competent and talented in playing the piano.

If you bring a good number of Nigerian music enthusiasts who were teenagers in the early 70's together and ask them to personify fearlessness, I am certain fearlessness personified in their views will be no other person than Fela Anikulapo Kuti. He dared to often speak against tyranny and bad governance. Fela was a multidimensional musician who could play the keyboard, trumpet, guitar, drums, and saxophone. His talent as a musician is one that will remain in awe for ages.

Essential Data

Full name: Fela Anikulapo Kuti

Born: 15th October, 1938

Birthplace: Abeokuta Nigeria

Died: 2nd August, 1997 at 58years

Occupation: Musician, Human Right Activist

Net Worth: $5 Million

Nationality: Nigerian

Early Life

Due to Fela Kuti's background, he was opportune to have an early experience in music and politics. Before he became old enough to make decisions for himself, his exposure to music had engulfed his whole being that all he wanted was to play music all his life. However, his parents just like most Nigerian parents already had good plans for him, they wanted him to become a medical doctor against his wish of becoming a musician.

Fela Kuti's parents in their quest to transform him into a medical doctor took him to London in 1958, enrolled him in medical school, and believed that Fela would subsequently become a good medical doctor. Unfortunately, Fela, who had already decided to be a musician, rejected their idea of having him become a medical doctor and registered at Trinity College's School of Music in London.

In the course of time at Trinity College's School of Music, Fela became tired of studying European composers and as a result, he went on to form his band in 1961 which is known as Koola Lobitos. The name of Fela's band was later changed to ‘Nigeria 70’ before he returned to Nigeria after spending some time in America playing music. Later on, he renamed the band ‘Africa 70’.

Education

Even though the early 40's and 50's were times when education wasn't of much importance in West Africa, yet Fela's parents sent him to school to acquire knowledge knowing the importance of education. According to verifiable records, Fela Kuti attended Abeokuta Grammar School. After he had completed his studies there, he was sent to London by his parents to study medicine in 1958.

Fela Kuti whose interests were nowhere near the corridors of science and medicine, left medical school to study music in Trinity College's School of Music London after Which he became a multidimensional musician who could play a variety of musical instruments.



Career

After Fela formed his first band in 1961, he used the band to play music in random London clubs. Subsequently, he returned to Nigeria in 1963 and kick-started what he believed to be an African style of music, Afro-beat. In the music played by Fela's band in Nigeria, one could sense a combination or blend of highlife and Jazz which Fela himself called Afro-beat.

A lot of Fela's admirers know him to be a Pan-Africanist. So, it should not be a surprise that the Great Fela Anikulapo Kuti tied his music to African origin. In fact, he criticized other African musicians for allegedly abandoning their African origin to rather sound like Europeans and Americans in the course of doing their music. Fela Kuti believed in African music, and so he bluntly refused to emulate American Pop Music and did Afro-beat music instead.

Fela took his Afro-beat style of music to the United States of America in 1969. He spent ten months in Los Angeles doing what he knows how to do best. It was in Los Angeles that Fela first conceived the idea of being a Pan-Africanist and he changed the name of his music band from Koola Lobitos to ‘Nigeria 70’.

The political and Pan-African ideas that shaped Fela Kuti were initiated through his relationship with one of his friends known as Sandra Isidore who is said to have introduced him to the writings of Eldridge Cleaver, and Malcolm X. This newly found school of thought shaped Fela Kuti into a fellow deeply rooted in Afro-centrism. Hence, he combined music, Human Rights Activism, and Afrocentrism.

In many years of Fela's musical career, he produced a lot of groundbreaking songs: which include: Zombie, Water No Get Enemy, Shakara, Pansa Pansa, Beasts of No Nation, Sorrow Tears, and Blood. His songs were good, but his performances are usually so radical that in one of his concerts in Ghana a riot started while he was performing his Afro-beat hit song titled Zombie and after that concert, he was banned from entering Ghana.

The Great Fela Kuti formed his own Nigerian political party in 1983. The party is known as Movement of the People (MOP) and according to Fela Kuti, MOP intended to clean up the society the same way one would do with a mop. And with his newly formed political party, Fela pressed forward to establishing his political views, and opinions about leadership in the Nigerian society.

He made efforts to run for Nigerian president in 1979 using his political party, but he didn't succeed with that because his presidential candidacy was not accepted.

Awards and Nominations

Fela Kuti's genius and unique style of music did not only win him many admirers, but it also got him awards and a lot of nominations for prestigious national and international awards. His awards and nominations include the following:

Awards

1. Lucille Lortel Award of outstanding Musician

2. MTV African Music Legend Award

Nominations

1. Drama Rest Award for outstanding Musical

2. Laurence Oliver Mastercard Award for Best New Musical

3. Whatson Stage Award for Best New Musical

4. Grammy Award for Best Musical Theater Album.



Personal Life 

The truth remains that no matter how much we admire Fela's Pan-Africanism, musical career, Human Rights Activism, and Afrocentrism, he lived a very radical life that made him look rigid and complex to most persons and at the same gave his critics something to talk about.

Fela Kuti was a polygamist and due to his polygamous views, he married 27 women in a single wedding ceremony. Although, this raised a kind of reaction from the Nigerian public, with time everyone got to understand that Fela didn't care about keeping many women. A beautiful woman named Remi happened to be the first of Fela Kuti's wives and she gave birth to three children for him and they are Remi, Yeni, and Sola.

Fela Kuti's political views once got him into trouble during the Military regime of Muhammadu Buhari in 1984. He was jailed and charged with currency smuggling. Even though many human rights groups spoke against his unlawful arrest and false charges and subsequently, called for his release on grounds that he is not guilty of the charges against him, yet the government of the day kept him in person for twenty months. He was later released during the Military regime of General Ibrahim Banbangida.

After his release from prison, he returned home and divorced his remaining wives while claiming that marriage is a breeding ground for jealousy and selfishness. In his words, he said, “Marriage brings jealousy and selfishness”.

Net Worth

Before Fela Anikulapo Kuti died, he was found to have a total net worth of $5 Million.

Discography

Fela Fela Fela (1970)

Why Black Man Dey Suffer (1971)

Shakara (1972)

Confusion (1975)

Zombie (1976)

Sorrow Tears and Blood (1977)

Suffering and Smiling (1978)

Army Arrangement (1985)

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