Afrobeat is the most popular style of music in the African continent today. Created and popularized by Fela Anikulapo Kuti in the 1970s, it is a concoction of funk, highlife, jazz and traditional Yoruba rhythms. This music genre became a medium of preaching the need for positive change in a badly managed African society. Even in death, Fela’s legacy remains intact and interest in him is as strong as ever.
Fela Anikulapo Kuti was quoted as saying “music is the weapon of the future”. That future he talked about is now the present. With songs such as “Unknown Soldier”, “Zombie”, “Sorrow Tears and Blood”, “Army Arrangement”, and “Beasts of No Nation”, Fela challenged the African and Western governments for their failures in guaranteeing equality amongst people of the world. He challenged successive Nigerian military administrations for their abuse of power, corruption and for the murder of his mother Olufumilayo Kuti who was considered the mother of Nigeria. In the song “ITT (International Thief Thief)”, Fela condemned the Nigerian government’s relationship with the ITT Corporation, a massive conglomerate that had been alleged to orchestrate several coup d’états in Latin America. In addition to being a critic of the governments that ruled all over Africa and Nigeria especially, Fela was also a religious and social critic. In one track, “Shuffering and Shmiling”, he described religious leaders as those that enjoy pleasant lives at the expense of their followers, who are usually the poor masses. In other tracks like “Gentleman”, and “Colonial Mentality”, he berated Africans who betrayed their culture and customs with the adoption of western ones. Examples of those who betrayed their culture were people who refused to teach their children the native tongue of their tribe. Other examples include those who adopted European last names in exchange of the traditional names bestowed by their forefathers.
Fela’s non-violent form of protest through his music somehow embarrassed the Nigerian government and his art earned him several arrests and jail terms. Many attempts by the authorities to shut him up were unsuccessful, as his messages today have become unfolding prophecies of the past long after his death in 1997. Africans are still suffering and smiling as they continue to live under corrupt leadership. They continue to chase religious leaders who are worth as much as some top business executives. There is still an abuse of power by the police and the military.
With the rerelease of 45 of his albums in 1999, the Broadway play “Fela!”, the recent opening of the “Kalakuta Museum”, and the upcoming biopic on his life, Fela’s legacy of civil disobedience and non violence protest will be on full display for the world to know. Fela’s body may have died, but his soul will forever live through his legacy and his music.