FELA ANIKULAPO KUTI'S fearless and indefatigable spirit makes him a true African hero. He was one of the greatest and most influential pop musicians of the 20th century. Born into a middle-class family in 1935, Fela's father was an ultra-conservative reverend, Israel Oludotun Ransome-Kuti, an ordained minister, grammar school headmaster and the first president of the Nigerian Union of Teachers. By contrast, Fela's mother, Funmilayo, was something of a political firebrand--an early organiser against British colonialism, the first woman to hold a driver's licence in Nigeria, and a leader of the country's nascent socialist-nationalist and suffragette campaigns. As an activist, she travelled to Russia, and also to China where she met Chairman Mao Zedong.
Fela's parents, wanting what all middle-class Nigerian parents aspired to for their children, no matter what their political inclinations--that they qualify for a professional career--decided to send him to London to study medicine. But he had other plans.
He dropped out of medical school and registered at a college of music, a path more usually associated with pursuing a career in classical music. While in London, he married his first wife, Remi, in 1961 and started his own band, the Koola Lobitos.
By 1963, Fela and Remi had had two children--daughter Yeni and son Femi -and Fela had made the decision to return to Nigeria with his family. But back in Nigeria, he had a hard time finding work for his band, so in 1967 he embarked on a tour of Ghana. As John Collins' new book, Fela: Kalakuta Notes, makes clear, Fela loved his time in Ghana.
Collins, a Ghana-based musician and academic, has been on the music
scene since 1969--as a musician, band-leader, recording engineer, music union executive, writer and music journalist. He is currently the resident professor of music at the Music Department of the University of Ghana, Legon, Accra; and tells us that Fela liked Ghana so much that he even considered building a house and settling there.
"Ghana, with its Nkrumahist legacy, was Fela's second home," the author states. Collins is uniquely well qualified to write about Fela's life and times, as in the 1970s he stayed with Fela in Lagos, playing in his band during that golden era.
"What Collins does is draw together the reminiscences of Fela's various friends and colleagues, mainly but not exclusively Ghanaian, and provides an illuminating interview which Fela gave to him in 1975...