Faces of Africa - Fela Kuti: The Father of Afrobeat

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Nigerian Afrobeat musician Fela Anikulapo Kuti gained worldwide prominence not only for his mastery of music but also for being a political activist. From a young age, he knew he wanted to be a musician. After trying jazz for some years, he increasingly bent towards Afrobeat because he wanted to make music that would resonate with the struggles of the common man.

His mother, a renowned human rights activist, played a huge role in shaping his political views. At a time when Nigeria was ruled by military strongmen, it was unthinkable for one to criticize the regime in power. Fela bravely did this through his music. He paid a heavy price though, through constant arrests and torture. Things came to a head in 1977 when he released an album called Zombie. The titular song Zombie was directed at Nigerian soldiers, calling them brainless fools who carried out any order they were given.

General Olusegun Obasanjo's regime responded particularly harshly to this perceived insult. 1000 soldiers surrounded Fela's residence, known as the Kalakuta Republic, raped female residents and thoroughly beat others. The buildings were ransacked and burned, while Fela's mother was thrown out of a window. The injuries she received were so severe that she died 14 months later. Fela himself was beaten senseless and later said he expected to die that day.

Despite all these, he was never intimidated into keeping quiet. He kept criticizing the excesses of the military through his music, while also exploring other social causes.