Classical Journey Episode 114 – Abami Eda

Fela Anikulapo Kuti

Today, we feature the enigma, Fela Anikulapo Kuti and his music and the philosophy behind his music. I had in the past avoided the subject of Fela because I’ve always been in a quandary on how to really present or represent his music and views. But today, I bite the bullet.

Olufela Olusegun Oludotun Ransome-Kuti (15 October 1938 – 2 August 1997 ), known professionally as Fela Kuti, Fela Anikulapo Kuti, or simply Fela, was a Nigerian multi-instrumentalist musician and composer, pioneer of Afrobeat music, human rights activist, political maverick & leader of the largest ever big band in Africa.

HMV Magazine ranked him as #46 on a list of the 100 most influential musicians of the 20th century.

The musical style performed by Fela Kuti is called Afrobeat, which is essentially a fusion of jazz, funk, highlife, and traditional Yoruban chants and rhythms. It is characterized by having African-style percussion, vocals, and musical structure, along with jazzy, funky horn sections. The endless groove is also used, in which a base rhythm of drums, shekere, muted guitar, and bass guitar are repeated throughout the song. His band was notable for featuring two baritone saxophones, whereas most groups using this instrument only use one. This is a common technique in African and African-influenced musical styles, and can be seen in funk and hip-hop. Some elements often present in Fela’s music are the call-and-response within the chorus and figurative but simple lyrics. Fela’s songs were almost always over 10 minutes in length, some reaching the 20- or even 30-minute marks, while some unreleased tracks would last up to 45 minutes when performed live. This was one of many reasons that his music never reached a substantial degree of popularity outside of Africa. His songs were mostly sung in Nigerian pidgin, although he also performed a few songs in the Yoruba language. Fela’s main instruments were the saxophone and the keyboards, but he also played the trumpet, guitar, and took the occasional drum solo. Fela refused to perform songs again after he had already recorded them, which also hindered his popularity outside Africa. Fela was known for his showmanship, and his concerts were often quite outlandish and wild. He referred to his stage act as the Underground Spiritual Game.

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