To celebrate legendary musician, activist and progenitor of Afrobeat music, Fela Anikulapo-Kuti, who passed away 26 years ago this week, we bring you the most current guide to his life and music.
His large discography
This might read obvious, but to really know the man named Fela Kuti, his music is the best place to start. With a discography of 41 studio-recorded albums, five live albums and three compilations of his best songs, his music is one of the closest dives into his person, thought processes and ideologies.
Recommendations: Expensive Shit (1975) and Zombie (1977)
“Fela: This Bitch of a Life”
This is arguably the most popular book about Fela. It was written by Cuban writer and social researcher Carlos Moore, and was first published in France as “Cette Putain de Vie” in 1982. The 328-page book was born out of his friendship with Fela. Moore told the story majorly in Fela’s voice and documented his relationship with his native doctor, “Professor”. It also has interviews with 15 of his 27 wives.
“Dis Fela Sef! The Legend(s) Untold: A Memoir”
From the start of Fela’s career till his demise, Benson Idonije was there as his first manager (1963 – 1970) and friend. It’s no wonder he published a memoir in 2016, that tells untold stories about the late musician — from his ancestry to being a music producer at Nigerian Broadcasting Corporation to his promiscuity.
“Fela: The Life and Times of an African Musical Icon”
A Yale ethnomusicology professor, Michael Veal, wrote this book on Fela in 2000, and it’s considered the best publication on the Afrobeats legend. It covers everything about Fela’s life and music, politics and hedonism. It’s a collector’s item— it’s the most extensive research on Fela, the Nigerian music scene back then, and also a very cheap book.
“Fela Kuti: Music Is A Weapon”
At the peak of Fela’s career in 1982, French directors, Jean-Jacques and Stéphane Tchalgadjieff, travelled to Lagos to shoot a documentary about him. “Music Is A Weapon” is arguably the most sincere and intimate interview Fela has ever given. His famous quote, “Music is the weapon. Music is the weapon of the future”, came from this interview. The documentary shows the interview and visuals from his performances at The Shrine.
This is a music documentary made by Oscar award-winning director, Alex Gibney, in 2014. It features the Broadway musical biography, Fela! by Bill T. Jones, and interviews with Tony Allen, Seun and Yeni Kuti. It’s impossible to talk about Fela Kuti and leave out this music documentary.
Aside from the “yabis” of his music, another way to get his undiluted truth are through the interviews. In 1979, Jeremy Marre directed a music documentary, Konkombe, based on the Nigerian pop music scene. The documentary has performances, recording sessions and interviews from musicians like King Sunny Ade, Sunny Okosun, and of course, Fela. His popular quote, “Music cannot be for enjoyment. Music has to be for revolution”, is from this documentary.
The Kalakuta Museum
The Kalakuta Museum was Fela’s home and recording studio until 1997. Fela’s iconic photographs, posters, album art, line the walls of this iconic building which also houses his musical instruments, shirts, stage suits, shoes and famous underwear. Visit the place today, and you’ll feel close to the legend, his personality and upbringing.