Musician and activist Fela Kuti pioneered Afrobeat music and was repeatedly arrested and beaten for writing lyrics that questioned the Nigerian government. What happened to Fela Kuti? Why did he die? Read here more.
The African continent's most creative Afrobeat superstar, anti-military dictatorship activist, political maverick and pan-Africanist Fela Anikulapo-Kuti has died of AIDS-related reasons and heart failure. "The immediate cause of death of Fela was heart failure. But many complications were arising from the Acquired Immuno-Deficiency Syndrome,'' Olikoye Ransome-Kuti, a medical doctor, and Fela's older brother told a news conference in Lagos on Sunday, August 3, 1997, announcing the death of a musical giant, social commentator, and maestro.
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Fela Kuti, a personality.
Fela's 58 years old, odd but very courageous engagement with life was as controversial, irreverent, creative as he was sometimes confusing to even his most ardent admirers. His social promiscuity and hyper-sexual relationships with women, mainly his retinue of dancers were, at once, revolting to many, as he was also an object of curiosity for all manner of people, Americans, and Europeans, Africans and Arabs, men and women. He was a genius, albeit, for lack of a better word, a usefully mad genius, a creative iconoclast. In my opinion, there was just one Fela; there has never been any like him in his country; there will never be another like him. Fela's imprints on the sand of our social time are permanent. Although Fela's (ab)use of drugs (hemp) did not help his health and focus on the other things that were important. He could have been better. But to some, it was all part of his eccentricities, a part of his mystique as Fela Anikulapo Kuti! No.
The king of Afro-beat, the guru of strategic irreverence and pan-Africanism, the master exponent of "Shakara" and the enchanting saxophone rhythms and synthesizers which waft through his classic song "Lady" has joined his ancestors but his views on every day, existential matters are relevant today across Africa. Fela, the king of socio-musical commentary, is dead. One of the best apologists and creators of the most compelling and inimitable ethnic-orchestra sessions of the 20th century is dead but his call that Africans get beyond colonial mentality and and-corruption songs "Yellow Fever."
He was proud of the country (Nigeria) he left, dying of AIDS-related complications? Does anyone know what the statistic and measures to make Nigerians and other Africans safe from the AIDS virus? What will happen to the hundreds, yes, hundreds of women who made a different kind of (bed) sheet music" with Fela? Is jazz, especially Afro-jazz, today in the African continent, in Black America and the rest of the world better than when his likes put the genre on the globe?
A real patriot.
Is his country, Nigeria, moving towards what he hoped for in his music and views? In fact, it must be asked did he contribute to the decay of the country's morals and direction by his various sexual devotions. Fela was no angel or saint, to be sure. But Fela's genius as a musician had an unmatched stellar power, may be an acute acoustic verve and caustic provocations to the powers that be.
His courage to speak his truth, his strong, unvarnished views to the face of power and "all dem oppressors" will be missed by millions of other Africans and people of the world. He remained a tower of guts, even while his pants were barely on!
The death of Fela has left a sad pall over the country while soaring sales for his records/compact discs. A Lagosian, Adetiba Omowale told one of our reporters "this is the death of an original, an African original. Fela was unequaled." Ikenna Ibeneme said "he was the best. He had style and guts."
No chances to live more.
He died on Saturday, August 2, 1997, after several weeks of illness at the age of 58. Fela resided in Ikeja, operated and played at a famous joint called "The Shrine." He has toured the U.S (including the city, Houston) and dozens of European cities.
Before his death, Fela refused treatment for his deteriorating health. He rejected both Western and traditional Nigerian medical services insisting it was on the grounds of "principle." The Nigerian Drug Law Enforcement Agency led by Gen. Bamayi tried without success to stop him from using marijuana with threats of legal incarceration. After their efforts failed the NDLEA agents released (see USAfrica The Newspaper April 25, 1997, edition)
Remarkably, and unusually too, Fela has not made major, if any, effort to challenge or criticize Nigeria's current military ruler Gen. Sani Abacha, despite the fact one of his brothers, Beko Ransome-Kuti, a democracy activist, is serving a prison sentence for involvement in an alleged "coup plot." Beko Ransome-Kuti turned his 57 the same Saturday Fela died. He is reportedly removed from news and radio access. He has also been actively opposed to military dictatorships in Nigeria.
Fela's social and political activism led to his forming a political party called Movement of the People (MOP) during Nigeria's militarily aborted attempt by civilians in 1978/79 and the early 1980s to establish a democratic government. Fela never shied away, until few years before his death, from stating his opposition to military men and ordinary soldiers whom he referred to, pejoratively, as "zombies." He paid for his vocal, and critical stance.
Jailed presidential claimant Moshood K.O Abiola did not escape the lethal, no-holds-barred and bazooka-like biting attacks on Nigeria's ruling class from Fela. In fact, he called Abiola "a Thief" while categorizing the ITT for which Abiola served its interests in Nigeria and the Middle East as nothing more than "International Thief, Thief." That was merely a tip of Fela's acerbic directness. His kinsman and now detained former head of state of Nigeria Olusegun Obasanjo did not escape his peppery barb.
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