The Iconic Journey: Exploring the life and impact of Fela Kuti

Naija has witnessed a ton of icons that have impacted her journey since its inception. We cannot make a list without mentioning Abami Eda himself Fela Anikulapo Kuti, a musical and socio-political voice of international significance.

He was born Olufela Olusegun Oludotun Ransome-Kuti into the Ransome-Kuti family on Oct. 15, 1938, in Abeokuta. His mother, Chief Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti was an anti-colonial feminist, and his father, Reverend Israel Oludotun Ransome-Kuti, was a school principal,  Anglican minister, and the first president of the Nigerian Union of Teachers. His secondary school education was in Abeokuta grammar school.  In 1958, he was sent to London to study Medicine, instead, he decided to study music at the Trinity College of Music with the trumpet as his preferred instrument. While he was still there, he formed the band Koola Lobitos and played a fusion of jazz and highlife.

Baba Fela entered the married club in 1960, marrying his first wife Remilekun Taylor with whom he had three children (Femi, Yeni, and Sola). He moved back to Nigeria three years after independence reforming his band. Moving back to Nigeria, he trained as a radio producer for the Nigerian Broadcasting Corporation and played with his All-Stars and Victor Olaiya. 

He’s the Idolo who brought a different genre of music that resonates with Africans into existence which is now widely embraced and celebrated all across the globe. He referred to this genre of music as Afrobeat _ a combination of Fuji music, high life, jazz, salsa, funk, calypso and traditional Yoruba music.


Years after, Kuti took the band to the United States where he got to know about the Black Power movement through Sandra Akanke Isidore which had a great influence on his music and political views. This made a significant impact on his lyrical themes which changed from love to social issues

During his time he used his songs to criticize the Nigerian government. He was vocal about the oppressive and Violent regime controlling Nigeria. He spoke of corruption and colonialism as the root of socio-economic problems that plagued Africa especially Nigeria. All of these activities didn’t go without consequences which led to his jail term for twenty months and arrests on two hundred different occasions. Not just that, he, his family and friends were also beaten by the corrupt government damaging his musical instruments and all he had.

Fela Kuti

Still, Baba no rest! He published content in newspapers under the title “Chief Priest Say” condemning the Nigerian government’s criminal behaviour coupled with Islam and Christianity’s exploitative nature with lots of constructive remarks on the situation of things. These were evident in his song “Beast of no Nation” where he refers to Buhari as an “animal in a madman’s body. 

He preached Peace and believed the only way to conquer European cultural imperialism was to support traditional religion and lifestyle. Which he depicted in changing his name to “Anikulapo” meaning “he who carries death in his pouch.  It is interpreted to mean ” I will be the master of my destiny and will decide when it is time for death to take me “. He stopped using his hyphenated name “Ransome” because he considered it a slave name.

Just as it is known_ a story cannot have such good qualities without its shortcomings. He struggled with substance abuse which to an extent might have contributed to his death.

His brother announced that he died from complications related to AIDS on August 3, 1997, leaving a legacy duly followed by his son Seun Kuti.

In his remembrance, his daughter Yeni Kuti pioneered the “Felabration Festival” which is held once every year at the “New Afrika Shrine” to celebrate the life of “Abami Eda” himself and his birthday. He will be forever remembered as an influential icon who aired his opinions on matters that affected the nation through his music.