Today marks 19 years since the demise of Africa’s Afrobeat pioneer, social maverick, and pan-Africanist Olufela Olusegun Oludotun Ransome-Kuti also known as Abami Eda. We therefore bring to you 27 things you probably didn’t know about him:
- Fela was born Olufela Olusegun Oludotun Ransome-Kuti on 15 October 1938 in Abeokuta, Ogun State,
2. His mother, Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti, was a feminist activist in the anti-colonial movement
3. His father, Reverend Israel Oludotun Ransome-Kuti, an Anglican minister, and school principal was the first president of the Nigeria Union of Teachers.
4. Fela is a first cousin to the Nigerian writer and Nobel laureate Wole Soyinka, the first African to win the Nobel Prize for Literature.
5. He was arrested 200 times and endured numerous beatings, but continued to write political lyrics, producing albums before he died on August 2, 1997, in Lagos.
6. He attended the Abeokuta Grammar School in Abeokuta and later he was sent to London in 1958 to study medicine but decided to study music instead at the Trinity College of Music.
7. The trumpet was his preferred instrument
8. Fela married his first wife, Remilekun Taylor, with whom he had three children (Femi, Yeni, and Sola).
9. In 1963, Fela moved back to Nigeria and trained as a radio producer for the Nigerian Broadcasting Corporation.
10. In 1967, he went to Ghana to think up a new musical direction
11. He first called his music Afrobeat In 1969.
12. He then formed the Kalakuta Republic, a commune, a recording studio, and a home for the many people connected to the band that he later declared independent from the Nigerian state.
13. Fela set up a nightclub in the Empire Hotel, first named the Afro-Spot and then the Afrika Shrine, where he both performed regularly and officiated at personalized Yoruba traditional ceremonies in honour of his nation’s ancestral faith.
14. He changed his middle name to Anikulapo (meaning “He who carries death in his pouch”, with the interpretation: “I will be the master of my own destiny and will decide when it is time for death to take me”).
15. He said that his original middle name of Ransome was a slave name.
16. He made the decision to sing in Pidgin English so that his music could be enjoyed by individuals all over Africa, where the local languages were spoken are very diverse and numerous.
17. In 1977, Fela and the Afrika ’70 released the album Zombie, a scathing attack on Nigerian soldiers using the zombie metaphor to describe the methods of the Nigerian military. The album was a smash hit and infuriated the government, setting off a vicious attack against the Kalakuta Republic, during which one thousand soldiers attacked the commune. Fela was severely beaten, and his elderly mother (whose house was located opposite the commune) was thrown from a window, causing fatal injuries.
18. Fela’s response to the attack was to deliver his mother’s coffin to the Dodan Barracks in Lagos, General Olusegun Obasanjo’s residence, and to write two songs, “Coffin for Head of State” and “Unknown Soldier”,
19. Fela and his band then took residence in Crossroads Hotel, as the Shrine had been destroyed along with his commune.
20. In 1978, Fela married 27 women, many of whom were his dancers, composers, and singers to mark the anniversary of the attack on the Kalakuta Republic.
21. Fela did not perform songs again after he had already recorded them
22. In 1979, he put himself forward for President in Nigeria’s first elections for more than a decade, but his candidature was refused.
23. In 1984, Muhammadu Buhari’s government, of which Kuti was a vocal opponent, jailed him on a charge of currency smuggling which Amnesty International and others denounced as politically motivated
24. Amnesty International designated him a prisoner of conscience and his case was also taken up by other human rights groups.
25. He was released from prison by General Ibrahim Babangida after 20 months,
26. On his release he divorced his 12 remaining wives, saying that “marriage brings jealousy and selfishness”
27. In 1989, Fela and Egypt ’80 released the anti-apartheid Beasts of No Nation that depicts on its cover U.S. President Ronald Reagan, UK Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and South African State President Pieter Willem Botha,