Loved in and outside his country, Fela Anikulapo-Kuti is popularly known as a musician and a human rights activist. With his songs, he challenged the government while calling for a better life for the citizens.
Fela’s first band was Koola Lobitos, where he played Highlife and Jazz but he became really successful when he started Afrobeat, becoming the pioneer.
He had many women with him, who were often referred to as his prostitutes but Fela couldn’t have been so successful without them as they were said to have increased the attraction and attention to his music.
Known as the Kalakuta queens, the 27 women did not start out as Fela’s wives, even though he married them in a controversial ceremony in February 1978. The women were his disc jockeys, back up singers, dancers, supporters and counselors until they became his girlfriends and later, his wives.
In Fela’s biography, he explained that he married his Queens to protect them because they were targeted and attacked by law enforcement agents and the press. So, his marriage to them was a cover and a reward for the women’s troubles.
A recent article, written in two parts by Ayodeji Rotinwa of Guardian, titled, “Loving Fela: A tale of two Kalakuta queens,- Part 1” gives us an insight into the life Fela’s wives lived with him.
In “Loving Fela: A tale of two Kalakuta queens – Part 2,” Ayodeji chatted with two of the last surviving members of Fela Anikulapo-Kuti’s band of 27 wives, Laide Babayale and Lara Shosanya, who shared how they came to be with him.
Read Laide and Lara’s story below
At 16, Laide Babayale wanted to be an air hostess, a decision inspired from travelling with her parents. Raised by her uncle in Ibadan, Laide frequently visited her family in Lagos.
Laide’s parents were a lover of Fela’s music and whenever she visited home, she usually hears Fela’s songs from the vinyl or over the radio. Sometimes, she hears his music from across the road. Laide’s family house was right opposite Surulere Nightclub, where Fela regularly played his set.
One day, she visited Fela’s nighclub and saw him perform live. She went back to school in Ibadan with the memories and when a mid-term break from school came up, Laide decided to go to Fela’s place.
“I decided to go and see what was happening in Fela’s house. I planned to spend maybe two days. I got there and did not remember I was supposed to go back to school,” she said.
From that day, Laide stayed with Fela for almost 20 years and her parents stopped listening to Fela’s music.
Lara Shosanya came from a polygamous family. She didn’t have a knack for education, so, she dropped out in her second year in secondary school to become a fashion designer.
She moved to Lagos, where she lived with her sister and brother-in-law. Her brother in-law played Fela’s songs and Lara, who had grown to love dancing would dance to his music.
“The first time I heard his music, I was touched because it had a message. I wanted to know this man. I wanted to meet him. I wanted to know who was making this sound over the radio,” Lara said.
So, Lara asked her uncle, who was Fela’s road manager at the time, for an introduction as she wanted to become one of his dancers.
One day, with nobody at home, she left the house and for about a year, none of her family member knew where she was.
“I did not tell anyone where I was going. I just left. Nobody would imagine or think that that’s where I would have ended up. Fela’s house was seen as a house of drug addicts and prostitutes. People were afraid of his house. Eventually, someone who knew me saw me and told my family. My elder sister came to look for me and asked why I left our house and why I was at Fela’s. I told them I enjoyed being at Fela’s and that I danced for him. Omo jaiye jaiye l’emi. I came to this life to enjoy,” she said.
Both Laide and Lara do not regret their life with Fela. Laide believes that being with Fela did not affect her dream, it only changed it. For Lara, she loved entertainment.
Today, 60-year old Laide Babayale runs a honey retail business, while 57-year old Lara Shosanya is a caterer.