Fela Anikulapo Kuti personifies the African spirit, the same spirit that drove cave men from the rocks of East Africa to populate the world. It is the spirit of freedom, fairness and liberty that made Fela the kind of cultural and political icon without which a race dissolves on its own juice to oblivion.
Fela allowed neither expectation nor boundary to define this spirit. Born to upper middle class parents he was sent to London for medical studies. He switched to music. When the world expected him to shine on its own term Fela decided to shine his light on the dark political currents of African underdevelopment. He was the voice of the people at a time when that voice was all that people had. At a time when an African bourgeoisie had replaced colonial imperialism Fela singlehandedly became the movement that opposed oppression of the masses by their own race masters. From Fela music and politics in Africa blended in a fusion of stringent energy, the only kind of energy strong enough for the mental emancipation that Africa needs till today to realize her full potential.
We started at the beginning of his sound’s evolution with the Koola Lobito band in London in the 60s to the epitome of Fela’s musical genius: Beasts Of No Nation. It is impossible to say which Fela’s song is better than the other. The five here represents every other.
Enjoy our #TBT presentation for today: Fela ‘I have-death-in-my-pouch’ Kuti, an African immortal, if one ever lived.
- It’s Highlife Time
During his Trinity College Of Music days in London between 1958 and 1961 Fela formed the Koola Lobitos. It was a highlife-influenced jazz band. Fela played the lead trumpet. It was a time when the London social underground yearned for new and exotic African feel in sound. The Koola Lobitos quickly rose to the headlights of that craze for African dance music. It’s Highlife Time was recorded and released in 1965.
- Water No get Enemy
Water No Get Enemy, for those not familiar with Nigerian Pidgin, literally means ‘water does not have enemies’. This evergreen classic has Fela’s trade mark chord progression all over it. The message is also built to last: the pursuit of negativity will be the end of us all. Wisdom from the gods.
- Confusion Break Bone
After his mother died after an illegal raid by the military on his Kalakuta Republic residence in 1978 Fela turned his musical energy to political awareness. Confusion Break Bone, borrowing visual images from a traffic junction without lights or warden, is the ultimate metaphor for headless leadership in Nigeria, particularly, and Africa in general. This was the song that inspired both Oritsefemi’s Double Wahala and Wizkid’s Ojuelegba.
- Army Arrangement
In this song Fela turned up the pressure on military leadership on the continent. Even civilian governments, he warned the people, are arranged by the military to continue the plunder of the common wealth. Africans should never take democracy on its face value.
- Beast of No Nation
Beast of No Nation is the height of Fela’s artistic genius. It is a near half hour cantata of Fela’s immense mastery of flow and rhythm, lyrics and chant. It took Fela’s control of content from local and national politics to international diplomacy. This song does not need much said about it. Enjoy!