Oct 28, 2009

Fela Kuti - Articles about his death




Article 1

Fela: The Life & Times of controversial Afrobeat superstar


The African continent's most creative Afrobeat superstar, anti-military dictatorship activist, social maverick and pan-Africanist Fela Anikulapo-Kuti has died of AIDS-related reasons and heart failure.

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. 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. The military in Nigeria feared only one man in Nigeria: Fela.

The African continent's most creative Afrobeat superstar, anti-military dictatorship activist, social 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 there were many complications 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.

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 really 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 saxophonic rhythms and synthesizers which waft through his classic song "Lady" has joined his ancestors but his views on everyday, existential matters are relevent today across Africa. Fela, the king of socio-musical commentary is no more; one of the best jazzologists and creators of the most compelling and inimitable ethno-orchestra sessions of the 20th century is dead but his call that Africans get beyond "colonial mentality"and anit-corruption songs "Yellow Fever"
are entirely valid.

Coincidentally, a few hours after his death, I had the privileged of being the guest (with my wife) of creative events photographer Richard Dabon's at the Omni Hotel this August 3 weekend for the 1997 Houston Mayor's Jazz Brunch. Tunes reminiscent of Fela's saxophonic vitality and energies were played occasionally at the event. May be only a few persons at the Omni would have known the giant had passed. It all seemed like an unscheduled, unmentioned tribute to Fela-- with the likes of the very remarkable South African Jonathan Butler doing an incredible, elevating live jam session with the Houston Jazz Education All Stars. Fela would have been proud.

But is he proud of the country (Nigeria) he left, dying of AIDS-related complications? Does anyone really know what the statistic and measures to make Nigereians 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?

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 multiple 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!

According to USAfrica The Newspaper's correspondents in Lagos , the death of Fela has left a mournful 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 unequalled." Ikenna Ibeneme said "he was the best. He had style and guts."

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 our 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 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. Even his mother, a noted nationalist was a victim of military-police brutality.

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 simply 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.

Fela is dead, alright; but his music lives on. Long live Fela, Long Live the King of Afro-beat.

August 4, 1997

by Chido Nwangwu, Founder & Publisher of USAfrica The Newspaper, USAfrica ONLINE


Article 2

Charismatic Fela put his passionate politics in the groove

It's impossible to find another recording artist with the precise combination of skills possessed by Fela Anikulapo-Kuti, the Nigerian singer and activist who died on Saturday of heart failure caused by AIDS.

The 58-year-old Fela, as he was known by fans worldwide, had the groove sense of James Brown, Prince's poised skills as an arranger, the articulate indignation of Pete Seeger, the galvanizing charisma of Bob Marley, and -- for a time -- the inescapable popularity of Bruce Springsteen at his peak.

He was a lover. At a ceremony in 1978, the performer -- whose favorite stage attire was a pair of bikini briefs -- married 27 women. He later divorced them, but retained a throng of female admirers.

He was also a fighter, who ran into trouble with a string of Nigerian regimes. In 1984, he was sentenced to five years in prison on what Amnesty International later called ``spurious'' charges of currency violations; he served two years, and was released when a new government came to power.

Most of all, the man who called himself ``the chief priest'' was one of the music world's most skilled agitators: His songs, which could stretch over an hour, were filled with passionate chants about military corruption and social inequality. Singing and shouting in pidgin English, a marijuana cigarette ever-present between his teeth, he conveyed both indignation and political awareness within a genre many outside of Africa had dismissed as mere dance music. Among his most famous rants:
"Teacher, Don't Teach Me No Nonsense,'' ``Black President'' and ``Coffin for Head of State.''

Accompanying Fela's antigovernment rhetoric was fierce, carefully polyrhythmic music unlike anything else from Africa. He called his blend of funk vamping, jazz improvisation and Nigerian high-life ``Afro-beat,'' and it was perfect for live performance. A brief sermon -- about, say, Nigeria's need for modernization -- would be followed by a forlorn blast from a horn section, or a high-intensity call-and-response between Fela and his battalion of backing singers. When he finished
singing, he turned his attention to the keyboard or the tenor saxophone, and crafted patient solos that took his large, interactive band down unlikely avenues.

The results were hypnotic. A typical Fela show was a marathon that could be appreciated on several levels: as incessantly funky party music, as a mix of overt and subversive political messages, and as a sophisticated improvisatory excursion.

Asked recently what was in his CD player, the artist and record producer Brian Eno said that he'd grown tired of most pop music. ``All I really find myself listening to are Fela's records. I have about 30 of them, more than any other artist.''

In fact, Fela recorded more than 50 albums. He played a key role in the spread of African pop music around the world, and served as a godfather to other well-known artists. "He is a legend,'' Malian singer Salif Keita told a reporter several years ago. "All modern African singers and musicians owe a lot to him.''

For us, he was a monument, a reference point,'' said singer Lokua Kanza of Congo. "To hear him was like a blast of fresh air.''

Fela was born in 1938 in Abeokuta, a Yoruba town in western Nigeria known as a haven for freed slaves. His father was a well-known priest and educator; his mother was an activist involved in Nigeria's quest for independence, which was realized in 1960.

Fela worked briefly for the government, but persuaded his parents to send him to London's Trinity College of Music. He formed his first band there, and upon returning to Nigeria in 1963, began playing jazz with little success. His concept for the politically charged Afro-beat came together in the late '60s, after he heard the Sierra Leonean singer Geraldo Pino and visited the United States, where he encountered the ideas of Malcolm X and others.

Afro-beat became a huge phenomenon in Nigeria, and by the mid '70s, Fela and his band, Afrika 70, were stars throughout Africa. Recordings spread their unique sound around the world: Between 1975 and 1977, the extra-large Afrika 70 (which later became Egypt 80) recorded 17 albums, including the classic No Agreement. Many were available, at least briefly, in the U.S.

As his popularity grew, Fela utilized his platform for ever-more-public antigovernment agitation. He opened a nightclub, the Shrine, and a commune, Kalakuta Republic, in a Lagos suburb. And in 1977, after he'd sung forcefully about civil liberties in what was becoming a military state, he got an official response: 1,000 government soldiers burned the compound to the ground.

Overnight, Fela became known as much for his politics as for his music; after military rule ended in 1979, he established his own political party, MOP (Movement of the People). In the early '80s, he responded to the rise of conservatives such as Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher with the blunt, threatening Beasts of No Nation. He was arrested in 1984 at the Lagos airport as he was preparing to leave for a U.S. tour. The charge: illegally exporting foreign currency. He served 18 months of a
five-year sentence.

Rumors about Fela's health began to circulate in 1995, and though he occasionally appeared at the Shrine, he no longer toured. In April, he was held by Nigeria's drug squad, which attempted to get him to renounce marijuana publicly. They eventually gave up and released him.

That probably didn't surprise Fela's fans or family -- which includes a brother, Beko Ransome-Kuti, currently in prison for his involvement in an alleged coup attempt, and another brother, Olikoye Ransome-Kuti, a former deputy director-general of the World Health Organization, who used the announcement of Fela's death to criticize the Nigerian government for not implementing effective AIDS-prevention programs. That was Fela: stubborn, committed to what he believed was a righteous
path, and blessed with the rare ability to translate that passion into intense, evangelical music.

By Tom Moon


Article 3

FELA ANIKULAPO-KUTI ... Nigerian pop singer

LAGOS, Nigeria -- (AP) -- Fela Anikulapo-Kuti, a pop superstar who fused rock with African rhythms into a blend known as "Afrobeat'' and was a persistent critic of Nigeria's military regime, has died of AIDS, his family said Sunday. He was 58.

The singer's death Saturday was announced by his brother, Olikoye Ransome-Kuti, in a statement broadcast on national television. No cause of death was given at the time. Throngs of stunned, tearful fans gathered outside Fela's nightclub, the Shrine, after hearing the news.

Ransome-Kuti, a doctor and former health minister, joined other family members at a news conference Sunday and confirmed that Fela had died of heart failure caused by AIDS. That immediately raised questions about whether any of Fela's 27 wives had contracted the disease.

Fela, known across the continent by his first name, was one of the dominant superstars of African music in the 1970s and '80s and had recorded more than 50 albums.

He also became famous for his songs criticizing the military junta of Gen. Sani Abacha, as well as earlier military regimes in Nigeria, West Africa's most populous nation.

``Fela was a great legend who used his music tirelessly to bring about social justice,'' said Rasheed Gbadamosi, a prominent businessman and writer.

Fela, a saxophone player, was born in 1938 in Abeokuta, about 50 miles north of the capital, Lagos. He started out as a jazz musician but shifted toward pop and reggae while studying at Trinity College of Music in Oxford, England, from 1959 to 1962.

He also spent time in Ghana and the United States, where he developed a strong interest in politics and civil rights. Returning to Nigeria for good in 1973, he swiftly became a big star. His top albums included Zombie, Army Arrangement and Vagabond in Power.

"For us, he was a monument, a reference point,'' prize-winning singer Lokua Kanza of Congo told The Associated Press in Paris. ``To hear him was like a blast of fresh air, a shock.''

He became enmeshed in a long-running confrontation with military authorities because of his urging that young Nigerians become more politically active. Troops burned down Fela's house in 1977.

In 1979, Fela and his entourage of wives and girlfriends went to the ruling junta's headquarters and placed the coffin of his recently deceased mother on the steps. Fela said he wanted to demonstrate that the power of the state was impotent compared to the power of the human spirit.

Fela was convicted of illegally exporting foreign currency in 1984 and was sentenced to 10 years in prison. A year later, the military government of Gen. Muhammed Buhari was overthrown by Gen. Ibrahim Babangida, who freed Fela.

In March 1996, Fela's home was attacked by gunmen. His most recent arrest came April 9. He and about 100 others -- including several of his wives -- were detained for marijuana use by police drug agents who raided his nightclub north of Lagos.

Fela's fans had known for weeks that he was ill, but few details about his condition were made public before his death.

Ransome-Kuti, who once worked as deputy director-general of the World Health Organization, used Sunday's news conference to accuse the Nigerian government of failing to implement effective AIDS programs. He said AIDS cases at Lagos University Hospital had risen from less than 10 annually to more than 300 since 1992.

Another brother of Fela's -- Beko Ransome-Kuti -- is an outspoken political dissident who was sentenced to 15 years in prison last year for alleged participation in a coup plot.


Article 4

Nigerian Musician Fela Anikulapo-Kuti Dies

LAGOS, Nigeria -- Fela Anikulapo-Kuti, 58, the maverick Nigerian singer, composer and saxophonist who fused rock with African rhythms into a blend known as "Afrobeat" and popularized it around the world, died here Aug. 3. He had AIDS.

Known to his fans as "Fela," he rose to national and international fame with his distinctive Afrobeat music and his criticism of Nigeria's military government, and for his bohemian lifestyle. Known for openly smoking marijuana, dressing only in his underpants and sleeping with numerous women, Fela was a legend among his fans.

After learning of his death, hundreds of tearful fans gathered to mourn at "the Shrine," Fela's home and club in the Ikeja working-class district of Lagos, Nigeria's capital.

Fela, one of the dominant superstars of African music in the 1970s and 1980s, recorded more than 50 albums. He also became famous for his songs criticizing the military junta of Gen. Sani Abacha, as well as earlier military regimes in Nigeria. He was detained several times and even imprisoned on a variety of charges.

In his final two years, Fela made no effort to oppose military rule, even though one of his brothers, democracy activist Beko Ransome-Kuti, is serving a prison term for involvement in an alleged coup plot. The musician stayed at home, giving infrequent, and usually brief, musical performances at the Shrine.

Fela was born in Abeokuta, about 50 miles north of Lagos. He started out as a jazz musician but shifted toward pop and reggae while studying at Trinity College of Music in Oxford, England, from 1959 to 1962.

He also spent time in Ghana and the United States, where he developed a strong interest in politics and civil rights. After returning to Nigeria for good in 1973, he swiftly became a star. His top albums included "Zombie," "Army Arrangement" and "Vagabond in Power."

He became enmeshed in a long-running confrontation with military authorities because of his urging that young Nigerians become more politically active. Troops burned down his house in 1977.

In 1979, Fela and his entourage of wives and girlfriends went to the ruling junta's headquarters and placed the coffin of his recently deceased mother on the steps. Fela said he wanted to demonstrate that the power of the state was impotent compared with the power of the human spirit.

Fela was convicted of illegally exporting foreign currency in 1984 and was sentenced to 10 years in prison. A year later, the military government of Gen. Muhammed Buhari was overthrown by Gen. Ibrahim Babangida, who freed Fela. In March 1996, Fela's home was attacked by gunmen. His most recent arrest came April 9. He and about 100 others -- including several of his wives -- were detained for marijuana use by police drug agents who raided his nightclub north of Lagos.

During his heyday, Fela changed part of the family name from Ransome to Anikulapo -- which means "one who keeps death in his pouch" in his local Yoruba language.

The announcement of the cause of his death raised questions about whether any of his 27 wives had contracted the disease.

The Washington Post - Monday, August 4, 1997


Article 5

Nigerian Afrobeat superstar Fela dies

Maverick artist brought continent's music to the world

LAGOS, Nigeria - Nigeria's maverick Afrobeat superstar Fela Anikulapo-Kuti, who helped bring the continent's music to a global audience, died at 58 after weeks of illness, national television said.

The television quoted the musician's brother, Olikoye Ransome-Kuti, a medical doctor, as saying the artist died Saturday afternoon.

A star of the Nigerian and international music scene in the 1970s and 1980s, Anikulapo-Kuti, known to fans as "Fela," won a reputation for smoking marijuana, sleeping with large numbers of women and dressing only in his underpants

"It's not true, Fela will live forever, he can't die," said one of the local toughs, known as area boys, outside the Reuters office in the heart of Lagos when told of the news.

In recent weeks Fela had been critically ill with an undisclosed sickness. He initially refused treatment by both Western and traditional Nigerian doctors.

For decades Fela got under the skin of the military governments that have dominated Africa's most populous nation and he was detained several times and even imprisoned on a variety of charges.

Earlier this year he was held by the drug squad, which said it hoped to reform his character and wean him away from marijuana, but the narcotics agents later released him and admitted defeat.

"I have been smoking for 40 years. It helps my music. People know I smoke worldwide. It is not drugs, it is grass," Fela said.

Fela was long a thorn in the side of military governments in Nigeria, mixing his music with social criticism and advocacy of radical pan-Africanist ideas.

His music reached its peak in the 1970s when his outspoken social comment was expressed in songs that preached human dignity in Africa and abused soldiers who seized power.

"He is the first person to make democracy and human rights serious issues in Nigeria," said Nigerian journalist Dulue Mbachu.

Pro-democracy groups now proliferate in Africa's most populous nation, ruled by the military for 27 of its 37 years of independence from Britain.

Fela, who married more than two dozen women at once and slept with hundreds of others, had his most spectacular clash with authorities in 1977 when soldiers stormed his house in Lagos, which he had declared "Kalakuta Republic."

His mother was badly injured in the raid and died six months later. This also marked the beginning of his decline and loss of a fortune he had made from a successful music career.

Fela was born on October 15, 1938, and received formal musical training in Britain.

He returned home in 1963 and formed the Koola Lobitos band, playing a fusion of jazz and "highlife".

Koola Lobitos metamorphosed into Nigeria '70, later Africa '70 and finally Egypt '80 and became his medium for preaching African emancipation and lampooning the army rulers.

Fela's first break in the music business came in 1969 when he visited the United States and met members of the radical Black Panthers, who helped him set up a band in Nigeria to promote the African rock music he called "Afro-beat."

By 1972, he was on his way to stardom with records that pulled no punches in criticizing military rule in Nigeria. In 1976, he topped the charts with "Zombie," which attacked soldiers as no more than machines following orders.


Article 6

Nigeria Mourns Maverick Afrobeat Legend Fela

LAGOS, Aug 3 (Reuter) - Nigerians on Sunday mourned the death of maverick Afrobeat superstar Fela Anikulapo-Kuti, who helped bring the continent's music to a global audience. ``The music legend of our time, Fela, joins his ancestors,'' said the majority state-owned Sunday Times in heavy black type across the front page. The singer, composer and saxophonist, known to his fans simply as "Fela,'' died on Saturday after several weeks of illness. He was 58.

A star of the Nigerian and international music scene in the 1970s and 1980s, Fela won a reputation for smoking marijuana, sleeping with large numbers of women and dressing only in his underpants.

"It's not true, Fela will live forever, he can't die,'' said one of the local toughs, known as area boys, outside the Reuters office in the heart of Lagos when told of the news. Newspapers reported scenes of shock and disbelief at ``The Shrine,'' Fela's club in a working class district of Nigeria's humming commercial capital.

In recent weeks Fela had been critically ill with an undisclosed sickness. He initially refused treatment by both Western and traditional Nigerian doctors. Although under pressure from his family Fela was moved into a clinic, it was not made public whether he was accepting medicinal drugs -- against which he had always taken a stand on principle.

For decades Fela got under the skin of the military governments that have dominated Africa's most populous nation. He was detained several times and even imprisoned on a variety of charges. Earlier this year he was held by the drugs squad, which said it hoped to reform his character and wean him away from marijuana -- but the narcotics agents later released him and admitted defeat.

In his final two years Fela made no effort to challenge military strongman General Sani Abacha, even though his brother Beko Ransome-Kuti, a democracy activist, is serving a prison sentence for involvement in an alleged coup plot. Beko Ransome-Kuti, who is kept alone and banned from hearing news from outside his prison cell, had his 57th birthday on Saturday. It was not clear whether he had been informed of his brother's death.

Local newspapers recently reported Fela's death, something which was later said by the same papers to have amused him. They speculated that he had been suffering from AIDS, given a life during which he reputedly slept with hundreds of women, dozens of whom hung around his home until the end.

During his heyday Fela changed part of his family name from Ransome to Anikulapo -- which means "one who keeps death in his pouch'' in his local Yoruba language. ``After years of raising hell, doing what mere mortals with a healthy respect for death would not dare, death uncorked itself from Fela's pouch and sneaked in on him,'' said the Punch newspaper on Sunday.

By Matthew Tostevin - Reuters/Variety August, 03 1997


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1 comment:

  1. The idea of a politically united Africa, Pan-Africanism, has been around for over a hundred years. While the pan-african movement has been involved in anti-slavery and anti-colonial struggles and the fight against Apartheid South Africa, there has never been any significant movement towards a political unification. However, recent historical events, quite unexpectedly, may provide an impetus in this direction.

    http://www.watchinghistory.com/2009/11/african-union.html

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