The immortal Fela Kuti

From Baobab Fri Nov 9 2012, 10:51:00

FELA KUTI's electrifying performances, seismic music and defiant lifestyle gave him a worldwide following. Fearlessly confronting the Nigerian establishment through his music, he was a thorn in the flesh of every military and civilian despot that occupied Nigeria's presidential seat during his adulthood. Now, 15 years after his death, the authorities he so often railed against have helped honour the King of Afrobeat.

A new museum in Lagos opened in October at the start of a week-long annual "Felabration" to mark what would have been his 74th birthday. The three-storey building hidden in the backstreets of Lagos, now the home of the museum, grew famous as a hub of raucous dissent during his 27 years of running resistance against successive Nigerian dictators. The commune and self-declared republic housed a recording studio and many of the musicians and dancers connected to his band. The Lagos State Government, now recognising his cultural significance, has chipped in with a grant of $250,000.

Inside, album covers and murals adorn the walls, with old family photographs embellishing the staircase as you climb up to a rooftop bar. A room is devoted to Fela's eclectic wardrobe, where a collection of his vibrant shoes line an entire wall. Colourful underpants, sometimes the only thing he wore, sit on hangers, including a pair covered with a purple dancing image of "Barney the Dinosaurs". His bedroom, preserved as a shrine since he died of AIDS in 1997, contains his flamboyant shirts, a mattress and a few modest belongings. His saxophone sits alone on the floor.

Fela's creation of "Afrobeat" in the 1960s is a brew of traditional African drumming, funk and highlife, punctuated with simple shrill vocals and solo interventions from his saxophone. His irrepressible rebelliousness and determination to champion the cause of Nigeria's underdogs through his music earned him physical punishment, brutal military and police raids and numerous arrests. "He fought for the common man, for ...

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