It was Thomas Sankara who said that “while revolutionaries as individuals can be murdered, ideas cannot be killed.” Granted, Fela Kuti was not murdered, but as another Felabration, or the celebration of Fela’s life ends in Lagos, Nigeria and London, England, one can see how that statement is totally apt for Fela Anikulapo Kuti.
Fela Kuti was an activist through and through. For him, art had to have political meaning. And to spread his message far and wide, he took the decision to sing in Pidgin English.
He explained, “Music is supposed to have an effect. If you’re playing music and people don’t feel something, you’re not doing shit. That’s what African music is about. When you hear something, you must move. I want to move people to dance, but also to think. Music wants to dictate a better life, against a bad life. When you’re listening to something that depicts having a better life, and you’re not having a better life, it must have an effect on you.”
This activism meant that he was constantly the target of politicians. For instance, the album “Zombie” released in 1977, which ridiculed the military government, caused him to suffer the ire of the military that burned Kalakuta Republic (a commune Fela had set up), beat him and threw his mother, the renowned feminist activist Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti, out of a window. She died from her injuries.
Fela, who died in 1997 from aids complication, is as much loved, or even more loved today than he was at the height of his fame. Many contemporary musicians honoured him at the Felabration, which was held on Wednesday in Lagos, and those who attended the concert were mostly those who had not been alive when Fela was dying.
“When you listen to the lyrics, it tells you a whole lot about yourself, about Nigeria and about the world,” many of the revelers said.
His life has inspired movies, books and plays. In 2008, an off-Broadway entitled Fela! celebrated his life. Nearly two decades after his death, the relevancy he sought to give his music lives on.