Fela Kuti and the Rise of Afrobeats

You absolutely cannot introduce Afrobeats without discussing its king, Fela Kuti. Yes, this vivacious brotha is music royalty! His music embodied the soul of the Black power, anti-Colonial, and Pan-African movements of the 1960’s and 1970’s and is still well played today among diverse populations.

Olufela Olusegun Oludotun Ransome-Kuti was born October 15, 1938 in Abeokuta, Nigeria. His mother, Funmilayo, was a political activist and his father, Rev. Israel Oludotun Ransome-Kuti, was a pastor. Fela began making music in his school choir playing the drums and piano as a child. While his mother and father focused on his professional career as a doctor, he continued to focus on his music. [1]


In 1958, Fela left Nigeria for London to study medicine; however, he ended up studying music at Trinity School of Music. While in London, he formed a band called Koola Lobitos which was prominent in European club scenes. In 1963, he left London and went back home to Nigeria and reformed Koola Lobitos which evolved into Afrika 70, then Egypt 80. The music Koola Lobitos played was an intricate and extraordinary amalgam of Free Jazz, Soul, Salsa, Calypso, and Traditional Nigerian Yoruba sound. He performed in West African Pidgin English and Yoruba. Fela coined this new and exciting fusion, “Afrobeats.” [2]

In 1969, Fela and his band toured the States where he learned of the Black Power movement through a good friend and member of the Black Panther Party, Sandra Smith. His contact with the Black Power Movement greatly influenced his music and political stance. When Fela and his band returned to Nigeria, he established a recording studio called “Kalakata Republic.” Subsequently, he established a nightclub called “Afro-Spot” and “Afrika Shrine” in the Empire Hotel where he both performed and officiated traditional Yoruba ceremonies. While his sound captivated people of various African nations and nations outside of Africa, the Nigerian government remained unfazed. [3]

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In 1977, the release of Fela and his band’s (now Afrika’70) album, “Zombie,” angered the Nigerian government. This led to the destruction of Kalakata Republic and military brutality against Fela and fatal injuries to his mother. However, this did not deter his advocacy. It only inspired him to write more! [4]

In the 1980’s, he reformed his band and called it Egypt’80 after reading literature inspired by Pan-Africanism. In the 90’s, he was not as active as he had been in the previous decades. A few members of Afrika’70 were imprisoned for murder. The socio-political situation in Nigerian greatly affected Fela’s music and advocacy.[5] In 1997, Fela died of AIDs related complications. His son, Femi, opened a new Afrika Shrine continuing the work of his late father. [6]

Afrobeat continues tseun-femioday predominately among young Nigerian artists; however, there are many Ghanaian Afrobeats artists. While writing this article, I listen carefully to the different approaches taken by the younger generation that keep Afrobeats alive. Neo-R&B, neo-Soul, Hip hop, Jazz, Caribbean, and some Latin elements dominate neo-Afrobeats, and thus it remains a unique blend of Africa and the African diaspora. For this reason, it is one of my favorite genres. A few of my favorite artists are Femi Kuti, who maintains a similar style to his father, Efya, a Ghanaian artist who has a neo-Soul sound, and WizKid.  Though, I must admit… I’m an ol’ skool fool… nothing can beat the original. Long Live Fela Kuti!

[1] “Fela Kuti,” 2015. The Biography.com website, http://www.biography.com/people/fela-kuti-21215355 (accessed Sep 02 2015).

[2] “Fela Kuti,” 2015. The Biography.com website

[3] “Fela Kuti.” 2015. Wikipedia website, https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fela_Kuti (Accessed Sep 02 2015)

[4] Dougan, John. 2015. “Fela Kuti.” AllMusic.com website, http://www.allmusic.com/artist/fela-kuti-mn0000138833/biography (Accessed Sep 02 2015)

[5] “Fela Kuti.” 2015. Wikipedia.com website.

[6] “Fela Kuti.” 2015. The Biography.com website.

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