More than a Nigerian composer and multi-instrumentalist, Fela Kuti was a musical genius that revolutionized the art of African music for a lifetime. One of Africa’s most controversial musicians, he continued to fight for the rights of the common African man in spite of being harassed, vilified, and even thrown in jail by the government of Nigeria. Born Olufela Olusegun Oludotun Ransome-Kuti in Abeokuta, Nigeria on October 15, 1938, his family played an influential role on his political and national movements. Both of his parents were of Yoruban descent. Fela’s mother, Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti, was a leading figure in the nationalist struggle of Nigerian people and anti-colonial movement. His father, Reverend Israel Oludotun Ransome-Kuti, was a Protestant minister and school principal and also the first president of the Nigerian union of teachers (3). He was the middle child of two brothers, Olikoye and Beko, who went on to become prestigious medical doctors in their fields. Some say that this was somewhat of the motive behind Kuti’s first intentions to be a doctor. Fela was inspired by different genres from Jazz and Funk to Salsa and Calypso with Juju. From these different styles and realms of music he constructed and engineered a unique style of his own that would forever change the history of African music, which was named Afrobeat.He died on August 2, 1997. Fela was and is one of the most powerful and influential African musical engineers that changed the face of Nigeria, musically, politically, and re-established the importance of differential music.
As a young boy, Fela watched his older brother grow and become fascinated with the medical nature of things. This seemingly showed as the major hobby for Kuti, but he also developed a love for music. In 1954, Fela joined a group by the name of the Cool Cats as a singer. The Cool Cats were a band that practiced in the highlife movement. Highlife was the rage of the development of the Lagos music scene that was heavily emerging in the 1950s. He later attempted to try a career in medicine and, when he was 20 years old, was sent to London to study medicine (1). When finding that the career wasn’t suitable nor anything that he wanted to do for the long term, Kuti decided to stay in touch with his musical side and studied music at the Trinity College of Music. At Trinity, Fela formed Koola Lobitos, which was a also a band that performed highlife music and fused it with jazz. From the period of being a member of the Cool Cats and rocking with the highlife movement and throughout and after his time of study at Trinity, Fela developed his own peculiar, unusual sound. Kuti intertwined the current listening of highlife music with the percussive sounds of early jazz and reproduced a very distinctive style that would later become to be known as Afrobeat. It was in 1968 that Kuti made this style of African music official and, within the year he had spent most of his time promoting this new sound all over the USA with Koola Lobitos on tour (1). At this time was where Kuti become very fond of and fell in love with American jazz music. Years after the tour, Fela returned back to his native homeland of Nigeria and opened a nightclub, the Shrine. This is also the landmark of where he changed his band name from Koola Lobitos to Africa 70’ (1). From here on out, he continued to play with and use his creation of Afrobeat and wow the audiences and singers in the nightclub with his band play. However, the intricate work and small, long-measured songs were not appealing heavily to the American culture and this set up a huge roadblock for Kuti to gain commercial acceptance from the states. Another factor was the Mr. Kuti was against performing a song after recording it, which also drawn a large amount of disinterest from the United States. Being involved in his political movements, Fela continued to attack the Nigerian government. In 1979, Kuti started his own political party,...
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