This month we are celebrating culture and traditions inherent to specific countries in Africa along with a few individuals who are cultural icons and were or are nonconformists, bold fearless and creative geniuses in their various fields in pushing the culture forward. And who better to kick off this theme than one of Africa's icons and legend, Fela Kuti, byname of Olufela Olusegun Oludotun Ransome-Kuti, also called Fela Anikulapo-Kuti, (born October 15, 1938, Abeokuta, Nigeria—died August 2, 1997, Lagos); Nigerian musician and activist who launched a modern style of music called Afro-beat, which fused American blues, jazz, and funk with traditional Yoruba music.
Upon learning that Fela has been nominated for the 2021 Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, I was personally taken back and my reaction was, so you mean to tell me he is not already inducted? And in reading a statement by John Sykes, Chairman of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Foundation “This diverse class of talented Inductees reflects the Rock Hall’s ongoing commitment to honor artists whose music created the sound of youth culture,” this statement makes Fela more than qualified to be amongst the inductees by now. We have seen this often times where African creators are not recognized and acknowledged for their work - especially for works that they are the original creators for.
Fela Kuti was up against Iron Maiden and other stalwarts of his genre. Fela is the original creator of Afro-beat, which has now become the most popular style of African music in mainstream media and Kuti died as its king. And to further argue the point of why Fela should have already been inducted, one of my favorite writers and marketers Seth Godin made this argument. "His nomination helps us understand what Scott Page means when he talks about the value of diversity within organizations. There are no all-clarinet orchestras because the combination of instruments is precisely why orchestras work. Pythagoras discovered the fifth hammer, the one that doesn’t sound quite like the others–and that is the hammer that makes the chord work.
Fela Kuti was from a country 2/3 the size of the USA, and yet Nigeria has few musical stars in the US. His impact can be felt in just about all the music we hear because his music was different, singular and remarkable. If some of the musicians in the Hall had never existed, rock and roll would not be that different. There are easily available substitutes. But sometimes, a skilled, passionate and talented voice changes things. Change can happen when a person’s contribution is unanticipated and boundary-stretching. As Carole King’s was. As Fela Kuti’s was. Change isn’t easy to recognize as it’s arriving, but it’s impossible to forget once it’s here."
At a time when no one could dare criticize an African leader and one could end up being raided, hunted and even killed, Fela used his music to denounce Nigeria's corrupt leaders as pay tribute to ancient deities while onstage at his in-house nightclub. Following his 1969 tour of the United States, where he was influenced by the politics of Malcolm X, the Black Panthers, and other militants, Kuti’s music became increasingly politicized. He exhorted social change in such songs as “Zombie,” “Monkey Banana,” “Beasts of No Nation,” and “Upside Down.” Fela (as he was popularly known) and his band, which was known variously as the Nigeria 70, Africa 70, and later the Egypt 80, performed for packed houses at the early-morning concerts that they staged at Fela’s often-raided nightclub in Lagos.
As the firebrand singer, who gyrated over the keyboard as he sang in English and Yoruba, struck a chord among the unemployed, disadvantaged, and oppressed. His politically charged songs, which decried oppression by Nigeria’s military government, prompted authorities to routinely raid his club, looking for reasons to jail him. Near there he also set up a communal compound, which he proclaimed the independent Kalakuta Republic. Although, he was accused of indiscreet activities in this compound, however, music was non-stop. Kuti would play until dawn in a haze of igbo smoke and as he would argue, "music is supposed to have an effect," Kuti once memorably said. "If you are playing music and people don't feel something, you are 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."
Fela will forever remain the king of Afro-beat his influence on music a lasting contribution – a biographical musical called Fela! became an unexpected hit, first off-Broadway and then on the Great White Way. Brian Eno argued, "Kuti is as relevant today as he was in his heyday, calling him "one of the great musicians of the 20th century — and the 21st." And although Fela did not win the nomination for induction into the 2021 Rock & Roll Hall of Fame his legacy and impact will forever live.