Multi-instrumentalist and Afrobeat pioneer Fela Anikulapo Kuti (born Olufela Olusegun Oludoton Ransome Kuti) fused music and politics to become a singular global revolutionary voice. Fela was born in 1938 into a politically active and musical Nigerian family: his father founded the Nigeria Union of Teachers and had a passion for piano, and his mother was known for her anti-colonial, Nigerian home rule movement advocacy. In 1961, while studying music in London, Fela formed his first band, Koola Lobitos, and quickly became a fixture on the London club scene. He later toured the United States, where he was influenced by soul and funk legends James Brown and Sly Stone. Reflecting the musical and cultural flavors of Africa and Black America’s Civil Rights Movement, Fela fused elements of traditional West African highlife, jazz, and soul music and dubbed this rhythmic hybrid “Afrobeat.”
Throughout his career, Fela showcased his love for jazz and soul on hits like “Water Get No Enemy,” “Expensive Shit,” and “Beasts of No Nation.” It was with the album Alagbon Close (1974) that Fela addressed the ills of the Nigerian government openly in his music. His revolutionary Pan African ideology was even depicted in his album covers, and he focused his music on provoking political change. Although vilified by the press and jailed for his anti-corruption stance, Fela was celebrated as a hero in Africa, and that soon stretched to a global reach.
“As an artist, the whole idea about your environment must be represented in music,” Fela said. “So, I think, as far as Africa is concerned … music has to be for revolution.” Even 24 years after his death in 1997, Fela Kuti’s innovative music, revolutionary message, and generational impact continue to represent the indomitable and evolving spirit of rock & roll.
Nominee: Fela Kuti
Cleveland, Ohio 44114