Sunday, April 22, 2007

Frank Sinatra and Huey Newton Rolled Into One

Fela Kuti's music was a blend of African chant and jazz (Afrobeat) with lyrics sung in pidgin English so that they could be understood across the many borders within the African continent.

He lived in Nigeria, a nation of much corruption, and endured many attacks by the police state. One of which resulted in the death of his mother after she was thrown from a window. The establishment of his commune Kalakuta Nation, after visiting the United States and being inspired by the black revolutionary movement there, had rankled somwhat and the Nigerian government decided they wanted to teach him a lesson. Each time he was attacked, he struck back through his music with even more vigor than before.

Fela ran for president of Nigeria and announced that when he won, he would deputize everyone in the entire nation so that police wouldn't be able to harass them any longer, for they would be a part of the police force as well. Needless to say, he wasn't allowed to run in the electoral race.

His live shows were quite the spectacle, with 30 members on stage consisting of both musicians and dancers. His music was revered even by those who despised his political views and attacks on those in power.

He recorded over 50 albums in his lifetime and once a song was recorded, he never publicly performed it again, much to the chagrin of the record labels who released his work.

He put his life and his freedom on the line time and time again and never allowed his principles to be forsaken, even up to his death in 1997 from AIDS.

To learn more about his music and his life, a good book to read is Fela: From West Africa to West Broadway edited by Trevor Schoonmaker.

Listen to Black-President.

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