Chief Priest of the Shrine
Nigerian Soul Prophet, Fela Kuti
"You Africans -- please listen to me as Africans. And you non-Africans -- listen to me with open mind."
-- Intro to "Shuffering and Shmiling"
Seven hours. That's how long it took Fela Anikulapo-Kuti's funeral procession to make its way to Ikeja, the working-class district of Nigeria's metropolis Lagos and center of Anikulapo-Kuti's politically charged musical empire. Normally, this trip would take a half-hour, but on August 12, 1997, 10 days after Anikulapo-Kuti's death, one million people packed the streets of Nigeria's largest city to say goodbye to the man known as Abami Eda -- Chief Priest. During this somber motorcade, streets overflowed with tears and plumes of herb smoke. And music. One of the vehicles in this cortège was an open truck from which Anikulapo-Kuti's music flowed in thick sonic waves. The music was live, from a band playing on the moving vehicle for the entire seven-hour journey.
Who was Fela Anikulapo-Kuti -- or Fela as he's commonly referred -- that such a mass of humanity would come pay their final respects? Who was this larger-than-life character famous for his copious use of marijuana, his way with women, and for his penchant of wearing only underwear? Hugely popular and notorious, Fela Kuti was, and is, many things to many people. A risqué reverend, music was his means of conversion and the fountain of his spiritual energy.
The Black President
Politically, he was a barbed thorn in the government's side, outspoken about the hypocrisy, theft, and violence that has plagued the Nigerian government since England relinquished colonial rule in 1960, leaving a corrupt, puppet military dictatorship to further British and multinational interests. Dubbed the Black President, Kuti was Nigeria's most vocal and influential politician -- amazing, given the fact he never held public office.
"Everyone acknowledged that Fela was a talented musician," says Nigerian-born Gregg Ukaegbu, a longtime Austinite who recently moved to the East Coast. "And then he had this outrageous lifestyle, which I think was more of a political statement than a preference. He thumbed his nose at traditional African society and at the Nigerian military establishment, for he never saw the military as a substitute for a democratic government.
"Remember," continues Ukaegbu, "the bedrock of Nigerian political establishment is a legacy of the British -- walk in straight lines, etc. Fela was constantly using his music to channel the people's needs to the army, but they never got it. They saw him as a powerful rival with his own pulpit -- music. That frightened the Army even more."
Culturally, Kuti was outlandish. He openly smoked a potent recipe of Nigerian hemp called goro, often in banana-sized cigarettes. At one point, he married 27 women in a single traditional ceremony. He lived in a self-styled counterculture commune which he dubbed the Kalakuta Republic, home to artists, political activists, musicians, and a mass of adherents -- Kuti's disciples.
Musically, Fela Kuti was a true pioneer, not only creating a peerless musical style he termed afrobeat, but also influencing everyone from the Art Ensemble of Chicago to Fugazi. Impressive, especially since his 70-plus albums were not widely available outside of Nigeria.
Kuti was all these things and more. Extremely talented, cocksure, controversial, and brutally frank, he was 100% original.
In the 1981 film Fela In Concert, Kuti and his band are in their prime. After nearly 20 minutes of trademark smoldering grooves and call-and-response horn solos, the Musical Minister addresses the soon-to-be converted.
The Best Best of Fela
"You know in Europe, you have music critics," he laughs sardonically from the stage. "In Africa also, we have music critics -- made in Europe. How can you criticize music when you are not the one playing it?"
If Kuti had it in for music writers when we was alive, he's certainly laughing from the Great Rehearsal Complex in the Sky now, because a generous chunk of his sizable output is being re-released en masse, keeping music writers busier than mid-April tax attorneys.
In addition to the necessary 2-CD The Best Best of Fela Anikulapo-Kuti, no fewer than 20 of Kuti's remastered albums were recently re-released by MCA. For the most part, these albums, contained on 10 CDs, were recorded in the Seventies -- arguably Kuti's most fertile period. Equally important, these reissues feature Ghariokwu Lemi's incomparable hand-drawn cover art.
"Nobody put out artwork like that," declares Nigerian-born, Los Angeles resident and impresario DJ Nnamdi Moweta. "Those artworks alone say a lot, even before you hear the songs."
The cover to Original Suffer Head, for example, features a deathlike character in the shape of Africa with pipelines for arms, an oil drum spilling blood over its shoulder. A photo of a gorilla wearing a business suit graces the front of Gentleman. Since the Nigerian government barred release of some albums, Kuti's music could often only to be found in the U.S. on select output like Shanachie's Black Man's Cry. Otherwise, Western fans would be lucky to come across a bootleg or a high-priced Japanese JVC import.
With their crucial lyrics, booty-busting grooves, and riveting cover art, these re-releases aren't merely good -- they're important. The only reason they're available now, in fact, is because Kuti has ascended from this mortal coil. As the story goes, Kuti, a few years before his death, reportedly turned down a multimillion-dollar reissue deal with Motown on the grounds that African music shouldn't be overcommercialized.
In order to understand Kuti and his music, it's imperative to understand the highly complex socialscape of Nigeria. Beginning in the 1400s, the delta region of the mighty Niger River -- modern-day Nigeria -- supplied much of the human chattel that filled slave ships heading towards the Americas.
After their Christian conscience finally kicked in and slavery was outlawed, European nations set their sights on extracting Africa's natural resources. To make a very long and sad story short, Britain ultimately claimed rights to the area now known as Nigeria.
In spite of Britain's monolithic approach to the region, Nigeria -- the 10th most populous nation on earth -- is anything but homogenous. Imagine a country more populous than the geographically much larger Mexico. A country with more people than France and England combined. An area the size of Texas with about half the U.S. population. Now imagine this populace speaking more than 300 languages and you'll have a good sense of Nigeria's cultural diversity. Add to this the biggest political poker chip of the modern age -- oil -- and Nigeria being one of the top 10 oil producers in the world, and the country should be swimming in petro-dollars, right?
Unfortunately, Britain federalized the disparate ethnic groups of the Niger River Delta into the nation of Nigeria, concentrating political power and oil resources into the hands of a ruthless military dictatorship that learned their trade from the British and who had no qualms about exploiting their own people. So while Nigerian self-rule was, in theory, better than English rule, in practice, Britain's departure created a power vacuum with their military cronies in charge. Chaos was bound to erupt.
And it did. Nigeria claimed independence in 1960, became a republic in 1963, and in 1966 experienced its first military coup. The Biafra civil war followed, where nearly three million died from intentional starvation (at one point up to 10,000 a day), fighting, and disease. With the blessing of the U.S. and Europe, another corrupt military dictatorship gained power -- and remains so to this day.
Unto this troubled soil was born Kuti and his music. Born Hildegart Ransome Kuti in 1935, he changed his name for the first time when he was three, to Fela. He changed his name again in 1975 to Fela Anikulapo-Kuti, translated roughly into his native Yoruba to mean, "One who radiates eminence, has control over death, and can't die by man's hand."
Los Angeles & A Green Mercedes
Both Kuti's grandfather and father were preachers. His father was also a teacher who headed the local grammar school and was bayoneted by a soldier for defying the British Flag. Funmilayo Anikulapo-Kuti, Fela's mother, was also a teacher, but more influential as a social and political activist. In a country where women weren't encouraged to speak their mind, Fela's mother was more influential than most men, once dining with Mao Tse-tung.
After graduating from London's Trinity College of Music in 1963 and playing a mixture of West African highlife and jazz for several years, Kuti and his group Koola Lobitos found themselves stalled in Los Angeles at the dead end of a troubled U.S. tour in 1969. There, Kuti met Sandra Iszadore, an anthropology student and activist who would change his life by introducing him to the ideas of Malcolm X and the Black Panthers.
"Everything changed after L.A.," says DJ Nnamdi. "It had to do with the Black Power movement from here."
According to Kuti's description in Carlos Moore's 1982 biography Fela, Fela: This Bitch of a Life, it was at this point Kuti received his calling to spread the politically fueled gospel of groove.
"As soon as I got back home [from L.A.], I started to preach," writes Kuti. "And my music did start changing according to how I experienced the life and culture of my people."
What made Kuti's message so appealing was both the truth he spoke and the music accompanying it. Changing his group's name to Nigeria 70, the band's lattice horn arrangements, sinewy bass lines, funky guitar, and jugular pulse percussion all contributed to a massive sound unlike the world had ever heard before. Or since. After L.A., Kuti's music got more energetic, his lyrics becoming much more politically charged. As did Kuti himself. At one time, the Nigerian Army prohibited citizens from owning a Mercedes painted their color, green.
"So here comes Fela," recounts Ukaegbu. "He bought a brand new green Mercedes, and drove it over to the main headquarters of the Nigerian Army. I think the army destroyed the car."
Some might view this act as a publicity stunt, but the Chief Priest was deadly serious in his criticism of the authorities. Imagine if you were repeatedly put in prison on trumped-up charges. Or beaten for running for public office. Or if the government burned your house, your studio, and all your possessions.
Or if the army killed your mother.
Kuti's first instrument was the trumpet, and after digesting Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, John Coltrane, and Afro-Cuban bands, he blossomed into an accomplished jazz musician. But his talent ran deeper, Kuti becoming a musical Swiss Army Knife: bandleader, keyboardist, composer, dancer, and percussionist -- a potent gestalt that often obscured the fact that he was a phenomenal soloist, especially on tenor saxophone.
Expensive Shit ... Music & Politics
The Chief Priest's afrobeat was wholly unique, a blend of Yoruba traditional music, funk, political meditations, jazz, and West African highlife. Often compared to James Brown, Kuti's music was a bit slower paced -- thicker, longer, with some songs lasting a half-hour. Onstage, Kuti was the eye of a sonic hurricane, conducting and inspiring his enormous company, who, at their kinetic best, were called the "underground spiritual game" by their bandleader. With upwards of 70 performers onstage at any given time, each musician added an arc to Kuti's massive circular trademark groove. Later, Kuti disavowed the afrobeat label.
"I want to play music that is meaningful, that stands the test of time," explained Kuti in 1986 interview. "It's no longer commercial. It's deep African music, so I no longer want to give it that cheap name."
Kuti's oratory style was direct and fervent. Like a Mississippi country preacher, his voice would vibrate and tremolo during emotional heights, such as the recording of "Gimme Shit I Give You Shit" and "Custom Checkpoint" from Fela & Egypt 80, Live in Amsterdam, featuring former Cream drummer Ginger Baker. More importantly, each of Kuti's 70-plus albums was a commentary on the times, often dealing with his many false arrests, beatings, and mock trials.
A good example was "Expensive Shit," a song chronicling the police's attempt to plant marijuana on him. The Chief Priest took the herb and ate it, after which the police threw him in an Alcatraz-like prison waiting for him to defecate the evidence. Forced to release him when lab tests found nothing, the government let Kuti return to his Kalakuta Republic commune where he wrote the song to mock the authorities.
Compositionally, Kuti came up with the music first, applying lyrics later. He wrote music for his entire gargantuan band, except for his drummer and special guests. Tony Allen, percussive octopus for much of the bandleader's career, was known as the heartbeat of Kuti's music, layering polyrhythm upon polyrhythm, bringing to mind Coltrane's creative collaborator Elvin Jones.
The late great Lester Bowie of the renowned Art Ensemble of Chicago also composed with Kuti. Bowie heard good things about Nigerian music while touring Europe with the Art Ensemble. Buying a one-way ticket to Lagos, Bowie stayed with Kuti at Kalakuta Republic for months as a visiting dignitary. Bowie and the Chief Priest hit it off immediately, Bowie returning Fela's generosity with a sparkling trumpet solo on "No Agreement."
Albums were recorded spontaneously, often within two weeks. Kuti also had a curious rule of never playing a song live after it was recorded. Not surprisingly, this principle severely limited what material he could play live. The Chief Priest didn't lack material, however, sometimes recording seven albums a year.
Kuti's first big hit came during the early Seventies, "Jeun K'oku" ("Eat and Die"), a tune directed at politicians and soldiers who squandered Nigeria's resources to feed their own avarice. The song was an instant success and afforded Kuti and band the opportunity to record both London's Scene and Live With Ginger Baker in London. "Lady," nothing less than a 13-minute funk symphony, was his next big hit. Released domestically, it's probably Kuti's best known song, the remastered, reissued version sounding vastly superior.
While Kuti was a prolific and creative musician, his albums often weren't released. Like most record companies, Decca Records got nervous whenever controversy flared up around Kuti, which, given his confrontational nature, was often. Not surprisingly, they wouldn't release his Why Black Men Dey Suffer until Kuti went to jail on yet more trumped-up charges, at which point they released it to capitalize on the situation.
While there are notable exceptions, such as Beast of No Nation, the MCA re-releases feature Kuti's best known and most influential work, two albums per CD: Shakara/London Scene, Confusion/Gentleman, Yellow Fever/Na Poi, Expensive Shit/He Miss Road, Stalemate/Fear Not for Man, Opposite People/Sorrow Tears and Blood, Shuffering and Shmiling/No Agreement, V.I.P./ Authority Stealing, Coffin for Head of State/ Unknown Soldier, and Original Suffer Head/I.T.T.
With this many albums, normally one or two rise above the rest. Not here. It's all good. It just depends on one's mood. Shakara is more of an upbeat crowd pleaser, whereas Unknown Soldier is deadly serious musical art. Opposite People features quite possibly the best bass line ever recorded.
As influential as Kuti's songs was the place they were enacted, his musical church, the Afrika Shrine. The Shrine, a nightclub as well as a political gathering place, was the happening epicenter of Lagos, home to over 13 million.
The Shrine and the Kalakuta Massacre
A typical night in the Shrine would end at dawn, after many hours of music and talk. Behind the stage was a ceremonial Yoruba altar with pictures of Malcolm X, Pan-Africanist guru Dr. Kwame Nkrumah, and Kuti's mother. The singer always kept the cover charge to a minimum so all could attend. People who needed a roof over their head could find refuge in the Shrine, too, for Kuti had an open-door policy.
"At the Shrine, you have a long groove, but before that, you have what's called yabis time," remarks DJ Nnamdi. "Yabis is when he tells off the government, when he talks about current affairs."
Far from being turned off by political topics, the Shrine's disciples listened intently to the Chief Priest's pentecostal power.
"You don't go there only to listen to the music," adds DJ Nnamdi. "You went for yabis -- everything he'd say at that time was right on track."
Nearly as vital as the Shrine was Kuti's counterculture commune, the Kalakuta Republic. "Kalakuta" was the name of a jail cell he wrongly occupied, and "Republic," because Kuti declared his establishment a state unto itself. The large residence housed Kuti's closest apostles, including his many wives called the Queens.
But Kalakuta was more than simply Kuti's house, it was the center of his varied musical and protest activities. Kuti was the fountainhead of an organization of resistance, running a think tank for oppositional voices and a printing press to spread the word. The Kalakuta Republic was a vital locale of free thought and creativity in both Lagos and the African continent, if not the world. And the Word of Kuti was spreading: Once Kalakuta held a political rally at Lagos City Stadium and over 250,000 people showed up.
"Zombie," one of Kuti's most directly critical works, was angering an already hostile and violent autocracy for its depiction of Nigerian soldiers as brain-dead automatons. In his excellent work Fela: The Life and Times of an African Musical Icon, Michael Veal describes the effect the very popular song had on the faithful:
"'Zombie' demonstrates that Fela's yabis was increasingly directed toward official targets, and the song began to be sung and danced by youths who, to taunt the soldiers in the streets of Lagos, marched robotically and used sticks as mock rifles."
While Kuti had been jailed and beaten myriad times before -- the police once breaking his hands so he couldn't play his instruments -- the worse was yet to come. And it came hard.
On February 18, 1977, over 1,000 government troops stormed the Republic for over 15 hours, using mortar fire and thug tactics, beating children and raping women. The soldiers threw Kuti's 78-year-old mother out the window. The Army then burned the building to the ground, on the way out beating Kuti's physician brother Beko and destroying his free medical clinic. Both the singer's brother and mother had fractured skulls.
As was typical, Kuti went to jail on trumped-up charges. After outcry over the event, and prompted by international news of the bloodshed, the junta rulers decided to "investigate" the incident, finding only "unknown" soldiers at fault.
As usual, Kuti responded to these injustices musically, crafting two of his most moving and intense songs, "Sorrow Tears & Blood" and "Unknown Soldier." But things were not well with Kuti. His house, his possessions, and his studio were gone. So was his money. Broke and homeless, Kuti and company had nowhere to go. To add insult to injury, Decca refused to release his albums, so Kuti and his clan went to Decca's offices to protest, where they stayed, living there for nearly two months.
Coffin for a Head of State
Shortly thereafter, Kuti's mother died from injuries sustained during the raid on Kalakuta. As a bold protest, Kuti, his son Femi, and his Queens -- dodging soldiers with automatic weapons -- placed a replica of his mother's casket on the steps of then-President Obasanjo's house on the eve of Independence Day. From this daring act came the song "Coffin for Head of State," the Chief Priest's voice cracking with emotion as he sings "You killed my mother, you killed my mama."
The following year, Kuti engaged in one of his most controversial acts, and in doing so, demonstrated his complex relationship with women. On the year anniversary of his mother's death, the Chief Priest married his 27 Queens in a simultaneous ceremony.
On one hand, this act could be viewed as Kuti's embrace of traditional African polygamy, albeit in a grandiose and self-serving way. On the other hand, it could be viewed as a gesture to the establishment that Kuti was still King of his Kingdom, in spite of the Kalakuta Massacre. On another level, one could view the mass wedding as a way for Kuti to reconnect with Woman Power, previously embodied in the strong and instrumental women of his life, from his mother and his first wife Remi to Sandra Iszadore and his Queens.
Nineteen Eighty-One: Yet another raid on Kalakuta, this one caught in still photos by a French film crew as they filmed the powerful documentary Music Is the Weapon. As before, the soldiers burned structures and beat residents, including children and pregnant women. Kuti was once again sent to jail, ultimately being released again, seemingly stronger than before. In the film, Kuti shows off the fresh scars he received while being tortured in jail.
By the mid-Eighties, these struggles were exacting their toll on the Chief Priest. Mentally and physically wounded, Kuti was not the same man as before the raids on Kalakuta. Within a few years, Kuti had lost his mother, a lawsuit against the government, the Shrine, his house, a legal war with Decca, and a band that grew weary of the singer's stubborn personality.
While he remained vital and involved, he was never the same after this time. He was beaten so often in jail that he had head injuries and permanent scars from rifle butts and flogging, enduring chronic pain for the rest of his life. Down, but far from out, Kuti launched his political party, M.O.P., Movement of the People. The Chief Priest had a clear picture of what this party would be like.
"There is only one good government," he announced. "A straight and progressive, clean government that knows what its doing. No compromises, no Marxism-Leninists, no capitalism. Africanism."
Reflecting his more Pan-African orientation, he rechristened his band Africa 70, and continued to record and tour throughout the Eighties, including a visit to Austin, where he put on a three-hour show at City Coliseum complete with 45 minutes of yabis. Ukaegbu was there.
"He was accusing the Nigerian government of kleptocracy," recalls Ukaegbu. "He wasn't fabricating anything -- he was just pointing out facts."
As Kuti became more political, he lost fans more interested in dancing than thinking. It was the mid-Eighties, however, and record companies were also eager to fill the "exotic world music" void created by the recent death of Kuti's only real peer, Bob Marley.
Marley and Kuti had a lot in common. Both miraculously survived attempts on their lives. Both sang in their vernacular tongues. Both were vocally pro-herb. Both were highly political, although Kuti probably more so; he criticized Marley's earthly savior, Ethiopian ruler Haile Selassie, for Swiss accounts totaling $40 million. Both have sons who carry on their father's tradition. And both Kuti and Marley refused medical treatment until the 11th hour and died in their creative primes.
"I don't think the struggle for African emancipation has a better voice than in the Seventies when Fela and Marley spoke out against colonialism and the excesses of established authority," declares Ukaegbu.
Having been arrested by the still-corrupt government only four months before, Fela Anikulapo-Kuti succumbed on August 2, 1997. Not from an army assassin's bullet, not by a police truncheon, not in a government jail. But of heart failure, exacerbated by his unsuccessful battle with AIDS. During the Chief Priest's burial, his son Femi played a lugubrious eulogy on saxophone. Like manna, a light rain fell from the heavens.
What is Kuti's legacy? Does it warrant the re-release of 20 albums? The answer is a resounding yes. As a musician, Kuti was wholly original, incorporating musical forms from throughout the African Diaspora to create something new and lasting. One could also judge Kuti's influence by the musicians who go gaga for his music.
Music Is the Weapon
Although his albums were not readily available in North America, Kuti's music crossed the Atlantic and took root. "Stretchin' Out" is master bassist Bootsy Collins' Kuti-inspired tune, while the Talking Heads' "The Great Curve" and arguably their best album, Remain in Light, serve as odes to the Nigerian superstar.
David Byrne and Brian Eno were greatly influenced by Kuti while recording My Life in the Bush of Ghosts, the title taken from a famous work by Yoruba writer Amos Tutuola. Eno was particularly vocal about his love of Kuti's music, the British producer once stating that he had grown tired of most popular music, spending time instead wearing out the grooves on one of the 30 Kuti albums he owned.
The list of folks influenced by Kuti continues: Beastie Boys, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Detroit rapper Common, Stevie Wonder, Ian MacKaye of Fugazi, Santana, African superstar Manu Dibango, and Paul McCartney. And it's growing each day; Kuti's super-phat tracks are now de rigueur in the techno-sampling world. Twenty re-releases will only cement the singer's influence.
As a political and cultural critic, Kuti was vocal and painfully to the point. Even though he talked most powerfully about the specifics of his environs, he did it with such effect that it applied to life outside Nigeria, and in fact, outside of Mother Africa. Many of his lyrics are still relevant, such as the Africa-by-Africans "Buy Africa" or "Going Slow," about traffic jams.
Kuti was also a Pan-African saint, a catalyst for African emancipation. Golden-throated Malian singer Salif Keita perhaps said it best when she summed him up as "a legend. All modern African singers and musicians owe a lot to him." Up until the early Seventies, Kuti only sang in his native Yoruba. Knowing that he had to reach non-Yoruba speakers, he used a local version of the oppressor's tongue, Pidgin English, adding Yoruba phrases for flavor.
In doing so, the Chief Priest not only reached out to Igbo, Hausa, Fulani, and the other 300 Nigerian ethnic groups that knew this de facto lingua franca, but he also reached across nationalistic lines into other English-speaking regions that could benefit from the Gospel According to Kuti: Liberia, Jamaica, Ghana, India, Kenya, Australia, South Africa, etc. Equally important, however, is that by singing protest songs in English, Kuti pointed directly at the exploiters of Nigeria -- England and America.
No real fan of music will want to be without a handful of Kuti's albums, if not at least The Best Best. The last song on that compilation's second CD, 1989's "O D O O," is not only one of his most direct criticisms of corrupt establishments (at the time the media wondered out loud whether the Chief Priest had a death wish), he also closes the song with a medley sewn from the government's Most Wanted list: "Zombie," "Unknown Soldier," and "Coffin for Head of State."
Here Comes the Son
One of the reasons The Best Best is such a fine, representative collection of Kuti's work is because his son Femi hand-picked the tracks. With serious talent, a steamy, drum-tight band, and a surplus of diplomatic charisma, Femi is well-equipped to carry the tradition of his accomplished family.
"People say he may even be bigger than Fela, in terms of audience reach," states DJ Nnamdi Moweta.
Moweta would know. In addition to spinning worldly wax on his Afrodicia show on L.A.'s KPFK, DJ Nnamdi was at the Hollywood Bowl in the mid-Eighties for what was supposed to be a Peter Tosh/Fela Kuti double bill. Instead, the Nigerian kleptocracy fabricated charges against Kuti as he prepared for his departing flight. Femi filled in for his father, and put on an extraordinary performance under difficult circumstances.
Like his father, Femi rises to the challenge, staring adversity in the eye. But unlike Fela, Femi is loyal to one wife and prefers to let music, not herb, be his high. Also like his father, Femi is politically committed, yet more diplomatic than inflammatory.
Musically, he's more concise than his father, eschewing the super-jams for power-packed shorter songs, as can be found on Shoki Shoki, his recent U.S. debut. And word about Femi is out. Both D'Angelo and Lauryn Hill asked for Femi's input on their rendition of Fela's "Water No Get Enemy." Plus, Femi worked with the Roots on their skilled remix of his "Blackman Know Yourself" (both the original version and the remix are on Shoki Shoki).
In fact, it seems as though the Roots and the Kutis have a mutual admiration society going. Speaking about the Fela reissues, Roots skinbeater and producer ?uestlove Thompson broke it down in a recent issue of Spin.
"Those reissues have made a whole new generation of sample madness. The race to use the tracks has started already: Q-Tip, Lauryn, D'Angelo, Black Star, Mos Def, and myself. Afrobeat is the next crop to get appetized."
Fela's music is such delicious vinyl because it moves -- heavy and deep. Fela's music doesn't possess a groove. It possesses the groove. The primordial, transnational, intergalactic booty motor. The Motherlode of Rhythm. The Flow. Nearly 80 albums' worth.
Fela Kuti's political legacy is established. There can be no doubt about his role in eliciting political discussion and in drawing attention to the evils of the corrupt Nigerian leadership; all forms of thievery and violence, in fact. But after all his fighting, cynics would say that the situation in Nigeria isn't much better today than 20 years ago, pointing out the fact that President Obasanjo -- military dictator who killed Fela's mother -- rules Nigeria today.
I Go Shout Plenty
However, this doesn't mean that Kuti didn't have a lasting effect on political life in Nigeria. Before the Chief Priest, it was unthinkable to openly criticize the army or the government. Thanks to Kuti, that's changed.
"If I can think of any one factor that speeded up freedom of speech, to the extent that it exists in Nigeria today, I'll give that credit to Fela," opines Ukaegbu.
Fela Kuti has no real equal. He was a superconductor of social criticism and a hot fusion of musical muscle. He lived through his music, he lived his lyrics. He crafted not only new songs, but also a new song structure. Through head-swaying harmonies, beats that moved butts, and memorable melodies, Kuti's message traveled past Nigeria's colonial-made boundaries. It was a human word, struggling from oppression while retaining a sense of humor and self-worth.
Government critic, saint of the people, and groundbreaking musician, Fela Kuti fought for Nigerian rights, while fighting for African rights. And in doing so, he fought for human rights. Consequently, the re-emergence of the Chief Priest has been a long time coming. If for no other reason than his music simply kicks ass.
Special thanks to Gregg Ukaegbu, Nnamdi Moweta, Shaka Sankofa, Michael Veal, and Joseph Naraguma.