You are probably thinking how dare I cut down the great Olufela Anikalapo – Kuti to the bold ensembles that he effortlessly rocked or to the statement neck pieces that he wore ?
The late Fela Kuti is best known for making music that made people move and think, he was evidently aware of music’s ability to carry a message that could enlighten people and he often used his lyrics to take jabs at those that were in social power that refused to acknowledge the jobless, homeless and suffering African people.
“Music is the weapon. Music is the weapon of the future.” – Fela Kuti
Fela’s lyrical content and popularity in the late 70s made him a great threat to the military government,those that are familiar with his legacy often choose to remember him for the boldness he continually showed while the authorities haunted him. The are claims of planted dead bodies, 200 recorded arrests and a countless number of raids on his communal settlement, the kalakunta republic-which he named after the prison cell he stayed in after the first raid.
“I hold death in my pouch. I cannot die.” – Fela Kuti
One particular attack that stands out for me is the 1978 attack which resulted in his mother – Fumilayo Kuti being thrown from a window by an “unknown soldier” Fela’s mom who is also known as Nigeria’s first feminist, passed on a few months later due to the injuries she had received from the raid. The military claimed that an unknown soldier executed the attack which infuriated Fela and as a result he led a protest to the presidential home to deliver a coffin for the head of state he also penned his heartbreaking hit single “unknown soldier” It is impossible to miss the pain that shoots through his voice as he repeatedly sings “them kill my mama” “them kill my mama.”
Olufela led an unorthodox lifestyle and in one life time he pledged himself as husband to 28 women – he incorporated many of his wives into his live shows as dancers and singers. While many men claim that women are hard to understand, Fela’s secret to keeping that many women happy was “this and that” although he later decided to stay single after he served 20 months in jail as a prisoner of conscience.
Please do not judge me any further and consider this – by recognizing the Kalakunta president, political outlaw and musical genius as a style icon. I am remembering the great Olufela Anikalapo-Kuti as what he represents for me. A bold, expressive and unorthodox legend. After all, you are what you wear.