This week we’re talking about influential Black Leaders. We caught up with Jeremiah Ajagun, Planning Coordinator in our Learning Delivery team, who provided some insight into his idol Fela Kuti, a famous and influential Nigerian musician.
I grew up in Nigeria, where I experienced a lot of things that really shaped my life. Music is a huge part of my life, and I’ve always sought inspiration from people who stand up to oppression in all its forms.
I remember in the late 80s my father, who was a huge fan of Fela Kuti at the time, would always play and listen to his songs daily. At my young age it was difficult to understand what his songs were all about but over time it slowly made sense as I became exposed to the kind of injustices that Fela discusses in his music.
I think music is an incredible medium to share experiences and empower people. Fela always inspired me because he stood up for what he believed in and encouraged others to do the same. While not everyone may have liked his music and what it stood for, he didn’t bow to pressure to conform to other people’s expectations of him.
Fela led a movement through his use of Afrobeat music which has been adopted by several recent musicians like Wizkid and Burnaboy just to mention a couple. Though he passed away in the late 1990s he lives on through his music and is, without doubt, the most popular Fuji/Afrobeat musician to date. He left a long-lasting legacy for Africans to withstand all sorts of bullying through his music and that has had a profound impact on Nigerians and Africans in general.
Fela’s songs are still regularly played not only in Nigeria but across the world from London to Toronto to New York and even Cairo, Egypt.
Fela Kuti would be my Black Icon and he will forever be remembered as one of the longstanding influencers in Black History.
Who was Fela Kuti?
Musician and political activist Fela Kuti was born Olufela Olusegun Oludotun Ransome-Kuti on October 15, 1938, in Abeokuta, Nigeria. Kuti was the son of a Protestant minister, Reverend Ransome-Kuti. His mother, Funmilayo, was a political activist.
As a child, Kuti learned piano and drums and led his school choir. In the 1950s, Kuti told his parents that he was moving to London, England, to study medicine, but wound up attending the Trinity College of Music instead. While at Trinity, Kuti studied classical music and developed an awareness of American jazz.
Activism through music
In 1963, Kuti formed a band called Koola Lobitos. He would later change the band's name to Afrika 70, and again to Egypt 80. Beginning in the 1960s, Kuti pioneered and popularized his own unique style of music called "Afrobeat." Afrobeat is a combination of funk, jazz, salsa, Calypso and traditional Nigerian Yoruba music. In addition to their distinctive mixed-genre style, Kuti's songs were considered unique in comparison to more commercially popular songs due to their length—ranging anywhere from 15 minutes to an hour long. Kuti sang in a combination of Pidgin English and Yoruba.
Afrobeat has come to be associated with making political, social and cultural statements about greed and corruption.
Fela produced roughly 50 albums over the course of his musical career, including songs for Les Negresses under the pseudonym Sodi in 1992.