“British artist-turned-director Steve McQueen has signed up to direct a biopic of Fela Kuti, the larger-than-life musician who created Afrobeat, inspired James Brown to make funk music, almost ran for the presidency of Nigeria, and at one point had 27 wives.
Variety reports that McQueen will also co-write the screenplay for Fela with Biyi Bandele. The film, partly based on Michael Veal’s book Fela: The Life and Times of an African Musical Icon, is announced at a time of renewed interest in the controversial Nigerian star – he is also the subject of a new Broadway musical,” Gaurdian.co.uk.
At anytime in the world media, Fela Anikulapo Kuti could have created a headline and surprise the audience with the power of his creativeness. Yet, his story had a simple beginning. He was born 15 October 1938 in Abeokuta, presently Ogun State, Nigeria. His mother, Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti was a feminist activist in the anti-colonial movement. His father, Reverend Israel Oludotun Ransome-Kuti, was a Protestant minister and school principal. He was the first president of the Nigerian Union of Teachers.
Being sent to study medicine in London in 1958, Fela decided to study music instead, at the Trinity College of Music. He later set up his own revolution in the world of music. His Afrobeat, a fusion of jazz, highlife and the traditional African rhythms was not only popular in the whole of African continent; it equally had a strong impact in the world outside Africa.
In the words of ex-Beatle, Paul McCartney, “Fela Kuti’s band is the best band I’ve ever seen. When Fela and his band eventually began to play, after a long, crazy build-up, I just couldn’t stop weeping with joy. It was a very moving experience,” Broadway TV.
In Nigeria, Fela is a household name. From social/political, economy to religion, he was always there interpreting everything with his music. Fela repeatedly tormented the brutal military dictatorship in Nigeria, a process which completely destroyed the Nigerian integrity and thwarted its true growth as a country.
He was a good example of human struggle for freedom. Freedom, not just for himself and his family but also for the poor Nigerians whose pitiable situation he had described as ‘Suffering and Smiling’. He created his own republic ‘the Kalakuta Republic’ from where he was campaigning against the totalitarian government and the oppression of the Nigerian people.
“In 1977 Fela and the Afrika ’70 released the hit album Zombie, a scathing attack on Nigerian soldiers using the zombie metaphor to describe the methods of the Nigerian military. The album was a smash hit with the people and infuriated the government, setting off a vicious attack against the Kalakuta Republic, during which one thousand soldiers attacked the commune. Fela was severely beaten, and his elderly mother was thrown from a window, causing fatal injuries.
The Kalakuta Republic was burned, and Fela’s studio, instruments, and master tapes were destroyed. Fela claimed that he would have been killed if it was not for the intervention of a commanding officer as he was being beaten. Fela’s response to the attack was to deliver his mother’s coffin to the Dodan Barracks in Lagos, General Olusegun Obasanjo’s residence, and to write two songs, “Coffin for Head of State” and “Unknown Soldier,” referencing the official inquiry that claimed the commune had been destroyed by an unknown soldier…,” Wikipedia.
The military government attacked him again in 1984. He was jailed for currency smuggling related offence. With the intervention of several human-rights groups, he was released by General Ibrahim Babangida; the then Nigerian military head of state.
With his Egypt 80 band, Fela continued to release albums, making a number of successful tours to the United States and Europe. In 1989, Fela & Egypt 80 released the anti-apartheid album, ‘Beasts of No Nation’. The cover of the album was depicted with the U.S. President Ronald Reagan, UK Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and South African Prime Minister P.W. Botha; pointed teeth dripping blood.
Between 1993 and the following years, Fela illness was beginning to be a real problem. There were rumours that Fela was suffering from Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome, also known as AIDS.
“Even though you are made weak by time and fate, you remained strong in will and never abandoned your goal of a free, democratic, socialist Africa,” some of his sympathisers remarked.
On August 2, 1997, he died, leaving the battle for those who believe in his vision.
12 years has past on. The Nigerian society is still not getting any better. The government, though now civilian, is still doing the business as usual, neglecting its responsibility and allowing tension to grow.
A philosophy of corruption and none accountability is been supported by few local and foreign elites who manipulate the system. They are not disturbed to hear of the thousands and millions of Nigerians who are fleeing their homeland, as if it has been doomed by nature. A country not at war but worst than one.
Fela might have been right after all, not to have relented in his effort of fighting injustice and oppression in the Nigerian system.
His story, therefore, is worth reconstructing so that someone, somewhere, can learn from it.
Ewanfoh Obehi Peter
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