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Artist Deep-Dive: Fela Kuti


 

Photo by Fela Kuti

Many have unwittingly enjoyed Afrobeat's captivating flow. Afrobeat, an amalgamation of jazz, funk, and West African music, has influenced many artists since its start in the late 1960s, including bands Antibalas and Shaolin Afronauts. Afrobeat has inspired the modern genre known as Afrobeats. Afrobeat has been enjoyed by people worldwide but remains most popular in the home of its maker, Nigeria.

Fela Anikulapo Kuti was born in October of 1938 in Abeokuta, Nigeria to activist Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti and Israel Oludotun Ransome-Kuti. Both his parents were heavily involved in anti-colonial and women’s rights movements in their community. His family sent him to London to study medicine, but Kuti chose a different path in studying music. It was during his time in London that he started his band Koola Lobitos with Bayo Martins and Wole Bucknor. Throughout their run, the band changed their name many times to fit their political beliefs.



 




 

With the formation of the band and its unique sound came the name for this new music, Afrobeat. The new genre was said to be a mix of traditional Yoruba music with highlife, jazz, funk, calypso, and salsa. Kuti took the band international, and their success spread. While in Los Angeles, Kuti learned about the Black Power Movement from a partisan of the Black Panther Party, Sandra Smith. This movement along with his upbringing influenced Kuti’s politics and, in turn, his music.

The band, now Egypt 80, toured much of Europe and the United States. Their American audience was substantial enough to pack Giants Stadium, earning them a spot alongside luminaries like Bono and Carlos Santana at Amnesty International's A Conspiracy of Hope concert. Kuti stopped making music in the 90s and unfortunately passed away at 58 years old. However, Kuti’s death did not bring an end to the band. Oluseun Anikulapo Kuti (stage named Seun) took over the band following his father's death, keeping the Afrobeat music of Egypt 80 flowing.



Photo by Seun Kuti


Seun’s Album Black Times was nominated for a Grammy in the category of world music back in 2018. Seun has not only preserved his father's band but also emulated his political activism. He was honored as one of TIME Magazine's "100 Most Influential People" in 2019. The artist hasn’t released any music since Black Times in 2018, but many would love to hear more from this legend.


 



 

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