20 years after the death of Nigerian Afrobeat legend Fela Kuti, his youngest son, Seun Kuti has carried on his legacy with the release of a new album that addresses current political and social issues affecting Nigeria and Africa as a whole.
Titled, Black Times, the album is Seun’s fourth as well as his first self-funded work recorded with his father’s band Egypt 80 which he currently leads. The album has a similarity with the philosophy and style of Fela Kuti.
“Black Times is a true reflection of my political and social beliefs; it is also dear to my heart because for the first time ever I wanted to own my masters, so I personally invested my funds in it. That gave me the opportunity to say the things I wanted to say,” Seun said on Monday at the Fela Museum in Lagos where he hosted a listening session.
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The album was released by Strut Records in March and features top artists including guitarist Carlos Santana, Yasiin Bey (Mos Def), Robert Glasper and Nai Palm of future-soul quartet “Hiatus Kaiyote”.
Seun said the album he co-wrote with veteran Egypt 80 saxophonist Abedimeji ‘Showboy’ Fagbemi honours his parents and revolutionaries who have gone before him and rallies the torch-bearers to come.
“Too many African rulers do not have the country’s best interests at heart. Too many people in Africa and the West have sunk or are sinking into complacency,” he said.
He told music review site Bandcamp Daily: “These black leaders, they don’t represent black people’s interest. He [Buhari] fits that model. He doesn’t invest in the people, he only invests in businesses and the service industry. That’s one of the major reasons I don’t support most black leadership here.”
Seun Kuti said the album is for “anybody who believes in change and understands the duty we have to rise up and come together. The elites always try to divide the working class and the poor people of the world. The same oppression felt by workers in Flint, Michigan is felt by workers in Lagos and Johannesburg.”
“We are all capable of change, us iron people, us workers. Black Times is the sound of the people, and a weapon of the future. The big picture needs more colour,” he added.
Who is Fela Anikulapo Kuti?
Olufela Olusegun Oludotun Ransome-Kuti was born in 1938 to an educated middle-class family.
His father was an Anglican minister and teacher, and his mother was a feminist activist while his two brothers were medical doctors.
Fela was sent to London in 1958 to study medicine but diverted to music at the Trinity College of Music where he formed the band Koola Lobitos.
He later married in 1960 and moved to Nigeria in 1963 where he trained as a radio producer for the Nigerian Broadcasting Corporation.
The trumpeter re-formed his band in Nigeria which played a Jazz and Ghanaian Highlife fusion.
Fela moved to Ghana in 1967 where he named his musical fusion Afrobeat. The band played in the United States for months where Fela was attracted to the Black Power movement.
The band which was renamed The Afrika ’70 upon return to Nigeria recorded music about social issues from the regular love songs.
Fela formed the Kalakuta Republic community which had a recording studio and served as a home for band members and other musicians.
He further opened the Afro-Spot nightclub which was later renamed Afrika Shrine where he regularly performed and promoted the African traditional religion of the Yoruba ethnicity.
He changed his name to Fela Anikulapo Kuti, started singing in pidgin English and declared his Kalakuta Republic independent from Nigeria.
Fela became popular among the Nigerian public and unpopular with the government at the time which ordered raids on his community. He was beaten, arrested, home, records and instruments torched among others.
He married 27 women, most of them his dancers in 1978 to stand against the authorities who accused him of kidnapping women in his commune.
His popular song Zombie, which was released in 1977 created a lot of buzz and notoriety against ruling governments in West Africa.
Riots broke out in Accra during the performance of the song which led to the banning of Fela from entering the country.
He formed the Movement of the People (MOP) political party to preach Africanism. He vied for the Nigerian presidency in 1979. His candidature was rejected.
Fela Kuti fell out with the regime of then General Olusegun Obasanjo in 1979, Muhammadu Buhari in 1984 and later Sani Abacha for songs including Zombie and I.T.T. (International Thief-Thief).
He spent 20 months in prison under Buhari for charges of currency smuggling which was regarded as politically motivated. He was released from prison by General Ibrahim Babangida.
Fela changed his band’s name to Egypt ’80 to educate Africans about Egyptian civilization. The band embarked on international tours in the United States and Europe where he performed with stars including Bono and Carlos Santana.
The 1990s came with more challenges affecting the band’s release of albums. Fela and four members of his band were arrested for murder in 1993 and released on bond. He denied the charges.
Fela went off the radar as rumours spread that he was suffering from AIDS.
He died on August 2, 1997, at the age of 58. His older brother Dr Olikoye Ransome-Kuti announced at a press conference that the immediate cause was heart failure, but he had suffered from AIDS.
Fela Kuti left behind seven children who have taken after his musical talent. They include Femi Kuti, Seun Kuti, Yeni Kuti, Sola Kuti, Omosalewa Anikulapo Kuti, Kunle Anikulapo Kuti, Motunrayo Anikulapo Kuti.
His eldest son, Femi Kuti, has maintained and managed his father’s Afrika Shrine where concerts and musical activities are held almost daily.
Fela Anikulapo Kuti’s songs still live on with renditions and remastered versions.