Fela Kuti

 


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Fela  kuti the father of Afrobeat was born Olufela Olusegun Oludotun Ransome-Kuti on 15 October 1938 in Abeokuta,Ogun State, Nigeria toFunmilayo Ransome-Kut (mother), who was a feminist activist in the anti-colonial movement and Reverend Israel Oludotun Ransome-Kuti (father), an Anglican minister and school principal. His father was also the first president of the Nigeria Union of Teachers. Fela is a first cousin to the Nigerian writer and Nobel laureate Wole Soyinka, the first African to win the Nobel Prize for Literature.

He attended the Abeokuta Grammar School in Abeokuta. In 1958 he was sent to London to study medicine but opted for a career change and chose to study music instead at the Trinity College of Music.

Fela was a natural and therefore he  studied the piano, saxophone ,  electric guitar, trumpet and drums with trumpet being his preferred instrument.While at the Trinity College of Music he formed  the band Koola Lobitos, playing a fusion of jazz and highlife

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In 1967, he went to Ghana, it was around the same time that he first called his music Afrobeat He renamed his band Nigeria 70 then later changed it to Afrika 70.

He then formed the Kalakuta Republic, a commune, a recording studio, and a home for the many people connected to the band that he later declared independent from the Nigerian state,the name “Kalakuta” is believed to be derived from the infamous Black Hole of Calcutta dungeon in India.

Fela’s music was popular among the Nigerian public and Africans in general.His  Musical style is called Afrobeat. However despite being given credit for the style of music Fela famously stated that without Tony Allen, there would be no Afrobeat”. Tony Allen was Fela Kuti’s drummer for over 20 years and a very large part of the musical evolution of Fela Kuti.We shall come to back to Tony Allen and the other great artistes Fela Performed with later on.

Afro beat is a fusion of funk, jazz, Ghanian/Nigerian and traditional west African chants and rythms. Afro beat borroes heavily from the native “tinker –pan” an African percussion style that Fela Kuti acquired in Ghana.

Afrobeat is characterized by a fairly large band with many instruments, vocals and a musical structure featuring jazzy, funky horn sections. A riff-based “endless groove” is used, in which a base rhythm of drums,shekere, muted West African-style guitar and melodic bass guitar riffs are repeated throughout the song. Commonly, interlocking melodic riffs and rhythms are introduced one by one, building the groove bit-by-bit and layer-by-layer. The horn section then becomes prominent, introducing other riffs and main melodic themes.

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His songs were mostly sang in Nigerian pidgin English, although he also performed a few songs in the Yoruba language. In fact, he made the decision to sing in Pidgin English so that his music could be enjoyed by individuals all over Africa, where the local languages spoken are very diverse and numerous

Fela Kuti enjoyed a very successful career both in Africa and internationally and although his life was marred by political instability and even near death incidences due to his political belives and campaigns, He never left his true calling. Music. On 3rd August 1997 Fela Kuti (a.k.a Fela Anikulapo Kuti) passed on.

His Music however leaves on, and his sound has grown into the undeniable sound of African music. The Afrobeat.

 

by Alex Muriuki