Fela Kuti - Basic Facts:
Fela Kuti was born on October 15, 1938 in Abeokuta, Nigeria, to parents who were political activists. His mother was a feminist and anti-colonialist, and his father was active in the Nigerian teachers' union. Fela Kuti died in 1997 of AIDS.
Fela Kuti's Early Musical Career:
In 1958, Fela Kuti moved to London, where he began studying music. He soon formed a group called Koola Lobitos, which was later renamed Nigeria 70, then Afrika 70, and finally Egypt 80. They played a kind of music which Fela named "Afrobeat", which was American jazz, pop and funk blended with West African highlife music and traditional Yoruba music.
Fela Kuti's Sound:
Fela Kuti was a gifted multi-instrumentalist, playing, among other things, saxophone, keyboards, trumpet, drums and guitar. He was also a talented singer and a highly energetic live performer. His lengthy songs (most were over 10 minutes long) were backed up by a consistent groove of drums and bass, a style which heavily influenced the genre of hip-hop.
Fela Kuti's Personal Life:
In 1961, Fela Kuti married Remilekun Taylor. They had three children, Femi, Yeni and Sola. Femi Kuti went on to become a well-known Afrobeat musician in his own right. Later in his life, Fela would become a strong believer in polygamy, and married dozens of women. Fela fathered several more children, including Seun, who would also go on to become a successful Afrobeat musician.
Fela Kuti's Political Activism:
Fela Kuti was a major activist for Pan-Africanism and anti-colonialism, and because of his socialist beliefs, had many run-ins with the authorities of several African countries. His struggles made him an icon of the Black Power movement. Fela Kuti attempted to run for Nigerian President several times, but was never allowed to.
Fela Kuti's Death:
Fela Kuti died of complications from AIDS in 1997 in Lagos, Nigeria. His illness was, and is, kept very private by his family members, so no further verifiable information is known about his experience with that disease.
FELA! The Musical:
In 2009, a musical about Fela Kuti's life and music, titled FELA!, debuted on Broadway. Choreographed by the legendary Bill T. Jones, the show was a major hit among both critics and audiences, and ran for over a year on Broadway, garnering three Tony Awards and a host of nominations during its tenure. The show continues to tour and is currently running on London's West End.