FELA KUTI: MUSIC IS THE WEAPON, 10 FACTS FROM THE DOCUMENTARY
The discovery of afrobeat was a real slap on the face for many of us. It mixes everything we love about music. Energy, groove, funk, African rhythms, emotions, catchy and meaningful lyrics. On top of that, afrobeat musicians often use their music to elevate our minds, denounce injustices and advocate for a better treatment of the people. And the man we owe it to is Fela Kuti, the legendary father of afrobeat. As we were watching Fela Kuti: Music is the weapon documentary (1982), we decided to share with you some of the key things we’ve learned from the documentary.
FROM SLAVERY TO ROYALTY
Fela Kuti came from an activist middle-class family. He was born under the name Fela Hildegart Ransome-Kuti, the name of a slave. In 1977, he decided to change his name to Anikulapo Kuti. Anikulapo is the name of a king and means “one who has captured death and put it in his pouch” in yoruba. The idea of eternity and Kuti’s invincibility is something that is indeed very present in the documentary.
FELA WROTE HIS FIRST PROTEST SONGS WHILE LIVING IN THE USA
Fela Kuti didn’t wrote his first protest songs in Nigeria, but in the United States of America. He arrived in USA in 1969 and spent 10 months there. Over there he studied the life of Malcom X who will become a source of inspiration. Living outside of Africa and experience the Civil Right movement actually brought him closer to home.
NIGERIA WORSE THAN APARTHEID SOUTH AFRICA?
When Fela Kuti came back to Nigeria, the Biafran War was killing millions of people. The Biafran War opposed the Nigerian government to the secessionist state of Biafra. This war was the origin of his mistrust toward the government. As much as he hated the racism of American and South African societies, he also pointed out how worse the situation in Nigeria was. There, violence and injustice had no explanation, no justification. It was just Black people killing their own people and being hypocrite about it in the meantime.
THIEVES WERE KILLED PUBLICLY AT VICTORIA BEACH
A huge underground traffic of weapon started to take place with the Civil War and got he number of hold-ups to be really high. As a result, public executions started to be organized. Thieves were shot on Sunday, once a month in the famous Victoria beach.
FELA KEPT LIVING IN HIS WORKING CLASS SUBURB
Despite success and money, Fela was attached to his working-class suburb, Kalakuta. He didn’t leave it for 10 years. It became Fela’s kingdom and the target of the government that made him public enemy number one.
HE PERFORMED YORUBA RITUALS DURING HIS SHOW AT SHRINE
He believed Christianity and Islam were artificial religions brought in Africa by Westerners and Arabs to divide and exploit African people. Therefore, Kuti was a fervent defender of traditional African religions and wanted to spread the religious knowledge. Yoruba became to take a much more important part of his life. In spring 1981, he had a spiritual revelation. From then on, he would perform a rite on behalf of the main yoruba spirits during shows at Shrine.
“I must identify myself with Africa. Then I will have an identity.”
SOLDIERS THREW HIS MOTHER THROUGH THE WINDOW
SOLDIERS THREW HIS MOTHER THROUGH THE WINDOW
On February 18th, 1978, about a thousand soldiers came in the Kalakuta republic and set Fela Kuti’s house on fire. The attack was a response to Kuti’s denunciation of corruption and dictatorship in his music. His mother, female right activist Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti, got thrown out of the window and died from the injuries a few weeks later.
NOTHING COULD STOP HIM, NOT EVEN TORTURE AND JAIL
What shows through the Fela Kuti: Music is the weapon documentary is Kuti’s mental strength. Despite the time he unfairly spent in jail, the lies and beatings, he stayed committed to his fight for justice. He was also strongly determined to become president of Nigeria.
“With my music, I create change…I am using my music as a weapon.”
ONE CLEAN AFRICAN GOVERNMENT CAN LIBERATE THE WHOLE CONTINENT
His faith and optimism are very inspiring. He believed it would only take one clean African government to liberate the whole continent.
NOT MUCH HAS CHANGED SINCE THE SEVENTIES
Watching the documentary about 40 years after his first released makes us notice that not much changed. Nigerians are currently fighting against police brutality with the End SARS movement and are unfairly being killed for it. All over the continent people are still suffering from poverty, corruption, neo-imperialism, sexism and greedy governments. The documentary reminds us to keep using music as a weapon and keep fighting for social justice by any means.