Fela Anikulapo Kuti, also known as ‘Abami Eda’ was a Nigerian multi-instrumentalist, bandleader, composer, political activist, and Pan-Africanist. He is regarded as the pioneer of Afrobeat.
Born into the Ransome-Kuti family on 15 October 1938 in Abeokuta, Ogun State, Kuti attended Abeokuta Grammar School while growing up. In 1958, he was sent to London to study medicine but decided to study music instead at the Trinity College of Music, with the trumpet being his preferred instrument. While there, he formed the band Koola Lobitos and played a fusion of jazz and highlife.
In 1963, Kuti moved back to Nigeria, re-formed his band, and trained as a radio producer for the Nigerian Broadcasting Corporation. He played for some time with Music veteran,Victor Olaiya and his All-Stars.
Fela went on a tour to the United States where he discovered the Black Power movement. This experience heavily influenced his music and political views and he renamed the band Nigeria 70.
He returned to Nigeria and his lyrical themes changed from love to social issues. He formed the Kalakuta Republic which he later declared independent from the Nigerian state.
He set up the Afrika Shrine, where he both performed regularly and officiated at personalised Yoruba traditional ceremonies in honor of his nation’s ancestral faith. He also changed his name to Anikulapo (meaning “He who carries death in his pouch”).
His brand of music became popular among Nigerians and Africans as he decided to sing in Pidgin English so that individuals all over Africa could enjoy his music.
Kuti was highly engaged in political activism in Africa from the 1970s until his death. He criticized the corruption of Nigerian government officials and the mistreatment of Nigerian citizens. He spoke of colonialism as the root of the socio-economic and political problems that plagued the African people.
Kuti’s open vocalization of the violent and oppressive regime controlling Nigeria did not come without consequence. He was arrested on over 200 different occasions and spent time in jail.
Kuti’s lyrics expressed his inner thoughts. His rise in popularity throughout the 1970s signaled a change in the relation between music as an art form and Nigerian socio-political discourse.
On 3 August 1997, Kuti’s brother Olikoye Ransome-Kuti, already a prominent AIDS activist and former Minister of Health, announced Kuti’s death the day before from complications related to AIDS. Kuti had been an AIDS denialist, and his widow maintained that he did not die of AIDS.
Kuti is remembered as an influential icon who voiced his opinions on matters that affected the nation through his music. The Felabration festival at the New Afrika Shrine is held each year to celebrate the life of this music legend and his birthday.