The below is written by Sister Evelyn, a treasured friend and teacher from my youth in Harrogate.
Fela Kuti was born in 1938 under British colonial rule, but later moved to USA where he met Sandra Izadore, a singer, who became his lover and tried to teach him to educate through music! He was later christened the “Father of Afrobeat”. Tony Allen joined his band as a drummer and other musicians joined them.
When he returned to Njgeria and became famous because of his music people either loved or hated him because he was so dictatorial. He set up a communal refuge house (called Kalakuta Republic) for followers who needed refuge. He opened a night club called ” The Shrine” where young people from richer homes danced madly, wearing extraordinary clothes! He became addicted to marijuana. High born girls with money flocked to him and he took them to perform around the world. One was the daughter of Nigeria’s Chief Justice Minister! Fela was sentenced to prison, but. soon released. The Nigerian economy was booming!
Soldiers Invaded his home because the government thought he was a danger to the country! His song “Zombie”, which described soldiers as mindless emotionless machines responding to orders without thinking, enraged the government. However, General Yar’ Ardur did give permission for the release of the song. In spite of this, tanks surrounded Fela’s home, but he put up an electric fence to protect his family. Soldiers broke in, attacked the women, Fela’s skull was broken and his mother was thrown from the roof by soldiers. He was heartbroken.
[Cedric: I thought I would add here that Fela wrote a song about the ordeal called Coffin for Head of State, one of my favourite Fela tracks, in which he mourns the death of his mother and speaks about dropping off her coffin at the Nigerian Military HQ rather than at the cemetery, to rebuke their actions in killing her]
With regard to religion he criticised both Christianity and Islam as foreign religions and defended witchcraft and traditional rituals. He married 27 women on one day in a ritual, but the women were beaten and tormented. Remi, his first wife, was enraged but helpless. He set up a new band called “Egypt 80”.
In 1983 there was a coup and a new military dictatorship was established. Fela wanted to escape, but was arrested at the airport on his way to USA.
The AIDS epidemic broke out in Nigeria, but Fela was deep in the “spirit world”, convinced he was immortal, condemning condoms and he finally died of AIDS in 1997.
He lay in state in a glass coffin in Lagos with drugs in his hand. Thousands came to see his coffin and no crimes were recorded in Lagos for the next three days.
An extraordinary life!
[Cedric: you may wish to visit Kalakuta museum, where Fela held his commune / cult, in Nigeria]