Fela Photography

Fela

Musical innovator, political radical, human rights activist… Fela Kuti looms larger than life. His songs decried greed, corruption and oppression, and were often direct attacks on Nigeria’s military government. Fela integrated politicized lyrics with African musical roots and American influences—most notably the funk of James Brown and the jazz of Miles Davis—to single-handedly create an entirely new genre: Afrobeat.

Like Bob Marley, Fela was both a militant social critic serving as the voice of his people and a pioneer in bridging popular music with political agendas, resulting in his frequent arrests and beatings. In 1977 over 1,000 soldiers looted and burnt his home and inflicted injuries on his 82-year-old mother that would later prove fatal.

The “Black President” passed away from AIDS-related complications in 1997, and Lagos came to a standstill when more than a million people attended to his funeral procession. However, his music still resonates today, bolstered by 2010’s Broadway musical Fela!—backed by Jay-Z and Will Smith—which received 11 Tony nominations and three Tony Awards.

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