Olufela Olusegun Oludotun Ransome-Kuti was born on 15 October 1938 in Abeokuta and raised by anti-colonial parents. As an artist he used the name Fela (Ransome) Kuti. Fela is a cousin to the poet writer Wole Soyinka, a Nobel Prize for Literature winner. Fela attended the Abeokuta Grammar School and in 1958 he moved to London to study medicine but soon changed his mind and decided to study music instead at the Trinity College of Music with the trumpet as his preferred instrument. Fela is a tenor saxophonist, pianist, vocalist, arranger, composer and producer. Besides that he is also a political activist.

He formed the band Koola Lobitos which played a fusion of jazz and highlife (a mixture of african Metre music and western jazz) and married Remilekun (Remi) Taylor in 1960. They had 3 children (Femi, Yeni and Sola).

In 1963 Fela returned to Nigeria, re-formed Koola Lobitos and trained to become a radio producer for the Nigerian Broadcasting Corporation. He named hist music style Afrobeat. Which is a combination of Fuji music (a Yoruba style), Funk, Jazz, Highlife, Salsa, Calypso and traditional Yoruba music (African style with drums from Nigeria, Togo and Benin). In 1969 he moved the band to Los Angeles where he discovered the Black Power movement through Sandra Smith (AKA Sandra Izsadore/Isidore). She influenced him politically and musically. His band changed the name to Africa 70 and made a quick recording session in LA which resulted in his first album ever released.

Paul McCartney and Fela

Fela with Ginger Baker

Back in Nigeria he formed the Kalakuta Republic. A commune, recording studio and home for many people connected to the band, which he declared later independent from the Nigerian state. His music became famous in Nigeria and the UK and US. He was not very popular by the ruling government from Nigeria because of his political ideas. He recorded many albums throughout the 70's in Lagos. Fela moved to London to record in the Abbey Road Studios in 1970 (Fela's London Scene) and again in 1973 (Afrodisiac). That last album was a remake of early hit singles he scored in Nigeria. The Talking heads were heavily influenced and inspired by Afrodisiac which resulted in their "Remain In Light" album in 1980. Fela recorded some albums with blues/jazz drummer Ginger Baker who played with Eric Claption in bands like Cream and Blind Faith. In 1973 he met Paul and Linda McCartney and they became friends.

Afrodisiac - original album cover

I consider the early seventies as his best period musically. Many people of you just like me probably don't understand a word Nigerian but the lyrics are in most cases very political. Sometimes he used english as language in his songs. So for most people it is not about the words but mainly the music. The afrobeat of Fela Kuti. The sound he invented!

Best albums: Fela's London Scene, Open & Close, Shakara, Afrodisiac and He Miss Road.

But best of them all with only 2 tracks is Expensive Shit (no that's the title of the album!).

"Expensive Shit" is already his 12th album since he recorded a lot of albums which are in most cases rather short in total time. Therefore on CD they paired 2 albums in many cases on 1 CD. The title referred to an incident in 1974 where the Nigerian police planted a joint on Fela so that they could arrest him. He ate the joint to prevent them from finding it so they waited until he had to go the toilet in order to intercept his feces (shit) as evidence. He managed to use another prisoner's clean fece to show to the police and he got released. That's where the title track is about. The second track is "Water No Get Enemy" which is inspired by a Yoruban expression about the power of nature and the universe.

Fela died on August 2, 1997 as a result of AIDS.

Original album cover

Expensive Shit (1975)
Expensive Shit / Water No Get Enemy

Paul McCartney and his memories of Fela Kuti

Expensive Shit

Water No Get Enemy