FelaKuti Africa Music
Hip-hopcan be viewed as "funk" that is characterized by a musicalform and a powerful essence of the black cultural aesthetic (Neal andForman 391). Idiosyncratic styles and regional variations amongproducers and artists extend the breadth of musical subgenres andgenres that influence funk. Afrobeat, like hip-hop, is characterizedby a hard-driving African funk sound. Fela Anikulapo Kuti can be saidto have pioneered Afrobeat in the 1970s. The emerging funk soundsduring his era, and the radical politics of the Black Panthermovement inspired his music. Fela`s interest in music was inspired byLondon`s fertile African jazz scene, which prompted him to abandonhis studies to pursue music. This paper deliberates Kuti`s biography,his contribution to hip-hop, the Afrobeat genre, and analyses andinterprets of one of Fela Kuti`s most impactful songs, Zombie.
Felawas born in 1938, in Abeokuta, north of Nigeria. His family wasmiddle-class and engaged in politics. His father was both a pianistand a pastor while his mother was a political activist. Thus, fromhis early childhood, Kuti was exposed to a seamless combination ofmusic and politics. Nevertheless, Fela`s parents wanted him to becomea doctor, so they sent him to pursue medicine in London in 1958.However, upon reaching London, Fela chose to register at TrinityCollege`s school of music. In 1961, Anikulapo opted to create his ownband, Koola Lobitos, which quickly gained popularity in London. In1963, Fela returned to Nigeria and started another band, a differentversion of Koola Lobitos. This band was influenced by the JamesBrown-style of singing Geraldo Pina from Sierra Leone. Thiscombination, coupled with elements of regular high life and jazz, ledto the birth of the intensely rhythmic hybrid "Afrobeat."
In1969, Kuti toured Los Angeles with his band, Koola Lobitos. Aftermeeting his friend Sandra Isidore and being introduced to thewritings of Eldridge Cleaver, Malcolm X, and other pioneers of BlackNationalism, Fela decided to change the name of his band to Afrika 70and make his music politically explicit and critical of worldwideoppression. However, before returning to Nigeria, Anikulapo decidedto record the ‘69 Los Angeles Sessions, which indicated a maturingsound and raucous and propulsive music that propelled Fela`s careereven further. After returning to Nigeria, Kuti founded a freecompound-cum-recording studio and practice space, which he called theKalakuta Republic. His biggest fan base was the poor in Nigeria sincehe sang about issues that affected them. Anikulapo also developedmusic which was relatively lengthy. His ecstatic and skillfullycrafted music, which sometimes lasted 30 minutes when performed livecaptivated people`s attention in a manner that could only beperceived as irresistible.
Fela`sson, Femi, was born in 1962 in London. He continued Kuti’s AfrobeatLegacy. He sought to create his own separate genre, based on hisfather`s musical style. Similar to his father`s take on raisingpolitical awareness, Femi rooted his music in political and socialmovements. He has collaborated with other famous musicians, forinstance, Mos Def, Jaguar Wright, and Common to produce the album"Fight to Win." This album has been considered the mostinfluential Neo-Afrobeat album of the 21st Century. Like his father,Femi has incorporated the colorful style that his father forwarded inhis music, in addition to using the storytelling technique to givehis music a unique and modern twist.
Consideringthe above hip-hop can be said to incorporate the different aestheticsensibilities of blacks from various generations, and draws attentionto the issues affecting society (Neal and Forman 63). Fela Kuti`ssong, Zombie, is a clear depiction of this concept. The song has adeeply funky and upbeat groove, with horns raging in fury. Also, thelyrical content of the song is aimed at the government, which hasimposed a brutal rule on its populace.
Onmany occasions, Zombie has been advanced as being Fela`s legacy morethan any other album that he has ever recorded. The album directlycriticizes the Nigerian army. Kuti sings "Zombie no…Go, lessyou tell…go. Zombie no…think less you tell…think."Anikulapo depicts the military as a mindless institution that is onlygood at following what it has been instructed to do. This songinspired the Nigerian nation to follow Fela`s assertions and startcriticizing the army, which had seized the country by the throatthrough its brutal rule.
TheNigerian army was ruthless in its administration of law. For example,the soldiers shoved broken bottles into the private parts of women.They also hurled Kuti’s mother out of the window, beat Felaruthlessly, burned his compound to the ground, and preventedfirefighters from accessing the premises. All this was done afterAnikulapo criticized government`s use of excessive force to implementthe law.
Fela,in his song, barks out the commands directed to the army. Forexample, he says "Attention! Get Ready! Fall in! Fall out!Double up! Fall down!" Meanwhile, Kuti’s choir responds bysinging "Zombie!" after each statement. The contagiousnature of the groove makes its listener relate with what Anikulapo iscommunicating zealously. As a result, Nigerians began wearing blankstares and walking with their hands affront, proclaiming "Zombie!"whenever they saw the Nigerian soldiers. On the flipside, the songalso caught the attention of the authorities, which led todevastating personal and professional consequences on Kuti’s life.
Moreover,Zombie covers the ills of oppressive rule all over the world.Although Fela`s primary target was the actions of the Nigerian army,his song also brought into view the problems that face countries thatare ruled by the military. Anikulapo’s satire of the militaryunearths the consequences of military rule in a way that is lessprovocative. The rhythm, the horn section, the singers, and Fela Kutibuild up steam, leading the song to burst into melodic advancementthat is both lengthy and repetitive and hypnotizing. Consequently,the music sounds powerful, wistful, "unwell," and angry.Thus, the song hypnotizes its audience as well as raise its awarenessof the surrounding issues.
Ina recap of the above discussion, Fela Kuti pioneered h development ofAfrobeat. In many ways, Afrobeat can be said to be derived from thetenets of Hip-hop. Afrobeat is funky, powerful, representative of theplight of the Black community, and raises both political and socialawareness. Kuti’s contribution to the development of Afrobeat isindispensable. After gaining an understanding of the European styleof music, Fela developed a sub-genre of music that he used to bringto light issues that affect the poor Nigerian populace. His music wasboth enjoyable and educative thus, talking about critical issuesfacing society became somewhat less perplexing.
Neal,Mark Anthony and Murray Forman. That`s The Joint!. New York:Routledge, 2004. Print.