Lagos had its attractions. Chief among these was the chance to check out Fela Ransome-Kuti's band - 'the best band I've ever seen live...When Fela and his band eventually began to play, after a long, crazy build-up, I just couldn't stop weeping with joy. It was a very moving experience,' [said Paul McCartney in 1972.]
In the 1970s, McCartney wasn't the only superstar to recognise Fela's musical innovations, the way in which he fused high-life and jazz with the rhythms of funk to create 'Afrobeat'. When James Brown toured Nigeria in 1970, bassist William 'Bootsy' Collins recalls, '[Fela] had a club in Lagos, and we came to the club and they were treating us like kings.'
In 1975, at the height of his popularity and power, Fela changed his middle name. “I got rid of ‘Ransome.’ Why was my name ‘Ransome’ in the first place? Me, do I look like Englishman?” Fela’s full name was now Fela Anikulapo-Kuti, which meant in whole, ‘He who emanates greatness, who has control over death and who cannot be killed by man.’
On September 11th [President Olusegun Obasanjo] is due to appear to answer questions about the death in 1977, after an army raid which he had ordered, of the mother of Fela Kuti, Nigeria’s best-known musician.
Fela took his band, Koola Lobitos, to Britain and the U.S., where he read the writings of Malcolm X and befriended members of the Black Panthers. When he returned home, his band had been renamed Africa '70 and he embarked on the long, wild course of loud, unflinching criticism of corruption and ineptitude in African government.
Fela frequently fought with Nigeria's military governments, believing that inept or cruel local government was no better than inept, cruel governance from abroad. In Stephane Tchal-Gadjieff and Jean Jacques Flori's great 1982 documentary Music Is the Weapon, Fela... expressed his belief that blacks oppressing blacks in Nigeria is worse than whites oppressing blacks in South Africa.
Stevie Wonder has said that Fela was a "pioneer" to which the "musical world owes a debt of gratitude." Hip-Hop artist, QuestLove, draws stark parallels between Fela's life and music and the rebellion, raw and undiluted, that is evident in hip-hop.
[Fela] preferred his women to be passive and obedient, "the African way," and did not hesitate to strike one of his 27 wives if they did anything to displease him... It was Fela's perspective that some young girls are ready for sex as early as nine-years old
Fela's political lyrics usually forsake subtlety for immediacy, but I find it easy to forgive him-- the soldiers who threw his mother out the window after a raid on his commune weren't very subtle either. After she died, Fela dragged a coffin to one of the army's central barracks and wrote a song about it: "Coffin for Head of State". His music is feverish, urgent, and simple, but it reflects on simple evils: Corruption, subjection, brutality.
Fela is known outside of Africa as the “political voice of Afro-beat music,” nevertheless, it is actually his use of the Yoruba language, adages, and religious symbolism that solidified his musical message for Africans living in Africa.