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Music / Fela Kuti

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Africa's greatest musical superstar.

Fela Anikulapo Kuti (15 October 1938 – 2 August 1997) was a Nigerian singer, saxophonist, dancer and activist, famous for creating the musical genre Afrobeat, a cross between African traditional music, Jazz and Funk. He wrote and performed several songs attacking political and social conventions in his native country and African society in general. Needless to say, he was arrested and beaten up for this several times during his career. He died in 1997 from complications from AIDS.

In 2008 the stage musical Fela! was made about his life and in 2014 a documentary, "Finding Fela" was released in theatres.


This musician provides examples of:

  • Afrobeat: Trope Namer and Trope Codifier.
  • African Chant: His musicians often provide backing vocals to his epic jams.
  • Ancient Egypt: Album cover art on "Shuffering And Shmiling" (1977).
  • Anti-Love Song: Wrote about lust and nothing else.
  • Antiquated Linguistics: "Shuffering And Shmiling" instead of "suffering and smiling".
  • Badass Boast: Kuti was very cocksure.
    • "No Agreement tomorrow, No Agreement today!"
  • Badass Preacher: Kuti's concerts sometimes felt like a spiritual experience with Kuti preaching his message to his audience. This despite the fact that he wasn't particularly religious himself.
  • Bawdy Song: "Mattress" in which he compares women to mattresses. And "Na Poi" was banned from Nigerian radio for its explicit lyrics.
  • Bilingual Bonus: Most of his songs were sung in pidgin English, but there are also a few in Yoruba.
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  • Blasphemous Boast: Later in his career Kuti poked fun at organized religion a lot, as in "Shuffering And Shmiling".
    I want you all to please take your minds
    Out of this musical contraption
    And put your minds into any goddamn church
    And goddamn mosque, any goddamn Celestical
    (...) We now have to carry our minds out of those goddamn places
  • Blasting Time: Kuti and his band always ended their shows by raising their arms in the air and clenching their fists.
  • Body Paint: He and his band wore body paint during concerts.
  • But Not Too Black: Attacked this mindset in "Yellow Fever", pointing out that skin-lightening creams just made the user look sick, and that "light skin is more beautiful" was a holdover from colonialism that needed to die.
    • In "Gentleman" he also criticized Africans who try to Westernize themselves into gentlemen and forget their roots.
  • Call-and-Response Song: When Kuti sings his backing vocalists often repeat his lines after him.
  • Cool People Rebel Against Authority: Fela embodied this trope!
  • Crapsack World: His lyrics attack colonialism, militarism, war, organized religion, dictatorships and racism.
  • Creator Provincialism: "Africa, Center of the World", where Kuti reminded people that the origins of human evolution started in Africa.
  • Dancing Is Serious Business: His catchy songs were accompanied by him and his female dancers dancing about on stage. The grooves could take for several minutes.
  • Epic Rocking: Most of his albums only have two to four tracks, which typically take over 12 minutes on an "eternal groove". Some of them are even divided in two parts!
  • Funk: His music is damn groovy!
  • Grief Song: "Coffin For Head Of State" was written after his mother died when presidential soldiers raided his house.
  • Harem Seeker: Kuti had a lot of wives and lived together with them. He was criticized for this by some people in the Western Media, but he did financially take care of all of them. Also, in 1986 he changed his mind about marriage and divorced them all. As he said it: "No man has the right to own a women's vagina."
  • I Am the Band: Had a huge band with musicians, singers and dancers, but he was the star. However, he once praised drummer Tony Allen by stating "without Tony Allen, there would be no Afrobeat".
  • I Ate WHAT?!: Once, to avoid being tried for possession of a joint, Kuti swallowed the item. The prison guards had a hunch though and waited until the item would come out the natural way. Kuti wasn't born yesterday either: he switched his feces with those of another prisoner and was sent home free from all charges. The incident was recounted in the song "Expensive Shit".
  • Iconic Item: The white paint on his face and bare breast.
  • I Have Many Names: Called himself Abami Edo' ("The strange one"), Anikulapo'' ("The one who carries death in his pouch") and billed himself as "The Black President".
  • Intercourse with You: Had very open-minded ideas about sex.
  • Just Following Orders: His song "Zombie" is an attack on soldiers obeying their leaders at all cost. "Mister Follow Follow" is similar.
  • Live Album: "Live!" (1971).
  • Misogyny Song: "Mattress", "Lady",...
  • My Country Tis of Thee That I Sting: Kuti attacked his country's leaders so much that he was frequently arrested, beaten up and had his house destroyed.
  • Neoclassical Punk Zydeco Rockabilly: Afrobeat started when Fela Kuti mixed American funk and jazz with Ghanian highlife music (which itself is a hybrid genre) and Nigerian tribal chants.
  • Neologism: "Shuffering and Shmiling" instead of "suffering and smiling".
  • Overly Long Title: "Teacher Don't Teach Me No Nonsense", "Don't Worry About My Mouth O (African Message)", "Why Black Man Dey Suffer", "Ikoyi Mentality Versus Mushin Mentality", "Mr Grammarticologylisationalism Is the Boss", "Trouble Sleep Yanga Wake Am",...
  • Pep-Talk Song:
    • "Shuffering And Shmiling"
    Suffer, suffer, suffer for war/ not your fault to be that.
    • "No Agreement" which ought to be understood from the viewpoint of black Africans against their colonial oppressors.
    No agreement tomorrow, no agreement today!
  • Protest Song: Kuti came up for poor and oppressed black people everywhere, especially in Africa.
  • Real Life Writes the Plot/Ripped from the Headlines: Most of Kuti's songs were directly inspired by (at the time) real life events.
    • After escaping jail time over marijuana possession Kuti wrote the song "Expensive Shit".
    • "Unknown Soldier" was inspired by the raid on his home, where he was severely beaten.
  • Religion Rant Song: "Shuffering And Shmiling", where he advices people to get their minds out of churches and mosques while their dire daily life remains the same, despite believing and waiting for higher powers to come and helpt them out.
  • Shout-Out:
    • Kuti's drummer Tony Allen is given a shout-out in "Music Is My Radar" by Blur, with the line "Tony Allen got me dancing".
    • Paul McCartney visited Kuti and his band in 1972 in Lagos, Nigeria and called it one of the best performances he saw in his life. He tried to sign Kuti up on his label and draw more attention to the musician and the troubles of his country, but Kuti distrusted him.
    • Brian Eno once said he owned more albums by Fela than by any other artist and that he listened to him 'over and over again'.
    • Brazilian musician Gilberto Gil says that meeting Fela in Lagos changed his life ('I felt like I was a tree replanted and able to flourish').
    • One of the B-sides of Red Hot Chili Peppers' Blood Sugar Sex Magik is called "Fela's Cock".
    • One of the outtakes from Talking Heads' Remain in Light is called "Fela's Riff".
    • The novel Beasts of No Nation - and, by extension, The Film of the Book (Beasts of No Nation) - is named after one of his albums.
  • Smoking Is Cool: Kuti smoked both cigarettes and marihuana.
  • Start My Own: He eventually founded his own political party.
  • Take That!: The government.
    • "Beasts of No Nation" attacks Ronald Reagan, Margaret Thatcher and P.W. Botha, president of South Africa and proponent of apartheid on the album cover.
  • Tribal Face Paint: He and his band always wore white face and body paint during concerts.
  • Uncommon Time: Fela's songs make heavy use of polyrhythms.
  • Walking Shirtless Scene: Back stage and during performances he was often bare chested.
  • World Music: When not categorized as afrobeat Kuti is sometimes categorized as world music.
  • You No Take Candle: Kuti sang in pidgin English so that the majority of Africans could understand him.


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