Friday, October 15, 2010

Happy Birthday: Fela Kuti (The Black President)

Fela Kuti
(October 15, 1938 — August 2, 1997)

Fela Kuti, born Olufela Olusegun Oludotun Ransome-Kuti in Abeokuta, Ogun State, Nigeria, is known as the "Father of Afro-Beat" and also as "The Black President". Most of Fela's music was about socio-political struggles and the corrupted government of Nigeria.

The title of "Black President" stems from Fela establishing his own political state in 1970 after returning to Nigeria from the U.S. called the Kalakuta Republic, which housed a compound that had a free clinic and recording studio. After writing and releasing "Zombie", which was about the the local military regime, the compound was burned to the ground on February 18, 1977 after an assault by a thousand armed soldiers. During the assault, Fela was severely beaten and his mother was thrown from a second story window and died after being in a coma for 8 weeks. Fela took her remains and placed them on the steps of General Olusegun Obasanjo's residence. In further protest Fela composed "Coffin For Head of State" and "Unknown Soldier".

On the subject of Afro-Beat, Fela created this style with the help of his drummer Tony Allen. Fela is quoted to having said, "without Tony Allen, there would be no Afrobeat". Afro-Beat is a fusion of West African rhythms and chants, highlife of Ghana and Nigeia, Funk (mainly through influence of James Brown), psychedelic rock, Jazz and also borrowing from the native "tinker pan" style of percussion. He featured two baritone saxophone players and would sometimes have two bass guitar players who both would play interlocking melodic riffs. There were two guitarists, horns, percussion and his wives who would lend a hand at vocals, in which many of his songs were call and response. Fela called his show the Underground Spiritual Game.

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