[#afrobeatcreator #panafricanglobalsuperstar #saxophonegiant #transformativeinsubordination #truthtopower #funkypoliticalmusicpowerhouse]
Twenty years ago today, Fela Kuti, the great musician, bandleader, political activist and founder of the Afrobeat genre, passed away. Over four decades and dozens of releases, his music exhorted its listeners to think, to speak, to stand up for our rights — and to dance. Through hundreds of songs, he showed us that only by coming together can the common people overcome the greed, corruption and overreaches of our “leaders.”
Part James Brown, part John Coltrane, part P-Funk and a whole lot of Nigeria, Fela’s music — typically expressed through 15-30 minute tightly improvisational, funksouljazzy, workout-like jams — transcended geographic, racial, political and economic boundaries to touch millions. What Bob Marley’s music was to the people of Jamaica, Fela’s music was to all of Africa (and in both cases, their music spoke to listeners well beyond their home constituencies.
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I had the good fortune of seeing Fela play live at Red Rocks in 1989. At the time, I had never heard of him, but he was the closing act at Reggae On the Rocks 2. Most people left after Jimmy Cliff’s set, but those of us who stayed were treated to an incendiary late night performance. Backed by his 20ish-piece band, Egypt 80, he yelled for “all you white people, get off your asses and dance!” And dance we did. I’d never seen or heard anything like it. Musically speaking, my life changed that night.
Since Fela’s death, there have been many tribute albums and remixes, and a great documentary of his life. There’s a Broadway show (Fela!) based on his legend, a thriving Afrobeat genre sprouted in his wake, and two of his sons — Femi and Seun — have made some pretty great music themselves. Not a bad legacy for a diminutive but fiery and feisty guy from Abeokuta, Nigeria.
Considering the impact of his music and the power of its message, one can only wonder how things might be different were he still alive. Probably the best way to honor this music icon is to keep up the struggle for liberty and equality — and to get off our asses and dance.
LISTEN (how to pick just one?!):