Felapedia : Fela's Story

Felapedia

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Fela was born Olufela Olusegun Oludotun Ransome-Kuti on 15th October 1938, in Abeokuta, Ogun state, Nigeria. His mother was Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti, a politician of considerable influence, active in women’s rights and anti-colonial campaigns. She founded the Nigerian Women’s Union and was the first Nigerian woman to drive a car.
His father, Reverend Israel Oludotun Ransome-Kuti, was a protestant minister and school principal and the first president of the Nigerian Union of Teachers. He had three siblings, two brothers; Beko Ransome-Kuti, a political activist and founder of Campaign for Democracy (CD) and Olikoye Ransome-Kuti, a renowned pediatrician and former Federal Health Minister and a sister, Dolu Ogundipe. He was also first cousin to Nobel Laureate Wole Soyinka.

When he was 18, he got a job as a clerk in the Federal Ministry of Commerce but lasted only 6 months. According to him “the job was too rigid”. He was sent to London in 1958 to study medicine but instead registered at the Trinity School of Music, where he was to spend the next five years.
In 1959, he met Remilekun Taylor at a party in London, where she was studying to become a secretary. Her father was Nigerian and her mother a blend of African American, Red Indian and British. They married in 1961. Fela was 23 and Remi was 20. The couple had three children; Yeni was born the same year (1961), Femi was born in 1962 and the late Sola was born in 1963. Yeni and Femi were born in England, while Sola was born in Lagos.

While in England the couple lived separately because as his wife said “Fela could not practice with his band in my apartment”. The family returned to Nigeria in 1963 and Fela started work at the Nigerian Broadcasting Corporation (NBC) before resigning to pursue his professional music career leading the High Life and Jazz band, Koola Lobitos. Back in Nigeria, the couple lived together for a while until Remi’s health couldn’t cope with Fela’s hectic life. Once again they decided to live separately, she with her three children and Fela with his teeming followers. In 1969, during the civil war with the South-Eastern Nigerian province of Biafra, Fela and his band went on a 10 month tour of the United States.
In America he met Sandra Izsadore, a political activist and member of the Black Panther Party. Through her he discovered the Black Power Movement and the writings of Malcolm X and other black radicals. This experience greatly influenced his music and political views. Towards the end of the American tour, he renamed his band Fela Ransome-Kuti and the Nigeria ’70. He created his own unique style of music which he named Afrobeat and returned to Nigeria, where he renamed his band Fela Ransome-Kuti and the Afrika ’70.

Fela’s death on 2nd August 1997 was mourned by the Nigerian nation, with over a million people attending his funeral.

In 1974, Fela built a fence around his house and declared it to be an independent state: The Kalakuta Republic. Kalakuta was the name of a cell Fela had occupied after being arrested in April 1974. In 1975, Fela changed his middle name to Anikulapo (He who carries death in his pouch). In 1977, Fela and the Afrika ’70 released the album Zombie, a powerful attack on Nigerian soldiers. The government was infuriated and Kalakuta was raided by about 1,000 soldiers, who burnt down Fela’s house and beat many of its occupants, even throwing Fela’s elderly mother out of a window.
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