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The man Fela

Born on October 15, 1938 in Abeokuta and christened Olufela Olusegun Oludotun, by his parents, Reverend Israel Oludotun and Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti, the afrobeat maestro, in 1960, began to pioneer his own unique style of music called Afrobeat; a combination of funk, jazz, salsa, calypso and traditional Yoruba music.

As a child, the self-proclaimed Anikulapo (one that has death in his paunch), a name he took up as surname in mid 1970s, learned piano and drums, and led his school choir. In the 1950s, he told his parents that he was moving to London, England, to study medicine, but ended up attending the Trinity College of Music instead, where he studied classical music and developed an awareness of American jazz.

In 1963, Fela formed a band called Koola Lobitos, which later changed the name to Afrika 70, and again to Egypt 80, after disagreement ensued between him and some members of the band, who left after attending a music festival in Brasil.

Between 1970s and ‘80s, his rebellious song lyrics established him as political dissident. As a result, Afrobeat was associated with making political, social and cultural statements about greed and corruption.

One of songs, Zombie, questioned the then military’s (soldiers) blind obedience to carrying out orders. Another, V.I.P. (Vagabonds in Power), seek to empower the disenfranchised masses to rise up against the government.

Rather than abandon his cause, however, Kuti used these experiences as inspiration to write more lyrics. He produced roughly 50 albums over the course of his musical career, including songs for Les Negresses under the pseudonym Sodi in 1992.

In 1989, three years after touring the United States, he released the Beasts of No Nation album, which portrays world leaders as cartoon vampires baring bloody fangs. Fela sang in a combination of Pidgin English and Yoruba.

Arrested 200 times, Fela was repeatedly beaten for writing lyrics that questioned the Nigerian government, and this left him with lifelong scars. Not deterred, he continued to write political lyrics, producing 50 albums until he died on August 2, 1997, in Lagos.

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Fela Anikulapo Kuti
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