20 years after Fela’s death, his music, lifestyle and influence lives on

by Wareez Odunayo

20 years after the demise of Abeokuta born multi-instrumentalist, musician, composer and human rights activist, Fela Anikulapo-Kuti, the world is yet to recover his persona.

The Abami Eda as he was often called was hailed by many as one of Africa’s most charismatic music performers.

Fela was born on 15 October 1938 in Abeokuta, Ogun State, into an upper-middle-class family. His father, Reverend Israel Oludotun Ransome-Kuti, an Anglican minister and school principal, was the first president of the Nigeria Union of Teachers and his mother, Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti, was a feminist activist in the anti-colonial movement.

Fela was infamously known as a connoisseur of the herb popularly known as marijuana. You don’t need to go to the New Afrika Shrine to see young people smoking weed. The weed habit is common among young Nigerians than.

Corruption was one of the worst, if not the worst, political problem facing Africa in the 70s and Nigeria was among the most corrupt countries of the time. The Nigerian government was responsible for election rigging and coups that worsened poverty, economic inequality, unemployment, and political instability, which further promoted corruption and thuggery.

Fela Kuti was a political giant in Africa from the 70s until his death. He condemned the corruption of Nigerian government officials and the maltreatment of Nigerian citizens. He spoke of colonialism as the root of the socio-economic and political problems that plagued the African people.

To say Fela was an icon is an understatement. He is a demi-god who still baffles, inspires and amazes millions of people till today.

He was arrested on over 200 different occasions, including his longest stint of 20 months after his arrest in 1984. Aside spending jail time, the government would send soldiers to beat him, his family and friends, and destroy wherever he lived and whatever instruments or recordings he had.

On 3 August 1997, Fela’s elder brother, Olikoye Ransome-Kuti, a former Minister of Health, announced his death. It is widely said that Fela suffered and may have possibly died from Kaposi’s Sarcoma, which is a symptom of HIV/AIDS infection.

Among local and international musicians who respect Fela today include, Common, Paul McCartney, Talib and Wizkid. Wizkid has a tattoo of him on his arm and sometimes addresses himself as Young Fela. The stage play Fela! about his life held Broadway spellbound.

Twenty years on, the Abami Eda still speaks from the great beyond.

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