Nigerian icon and Afrobeat originator Fela Kuti passed away fifteen years ago but to this day his legacy lives on across the globe with his still-relevant, forthright political views and powerful music. The complete works of Fela, consisting of almost fifty albums, are now being re-packaged, with in-depth track commentaries written by Afrobeat historian Chris May, and prepared for a three-batch re-launch between March and September 2013.
The re-release programme will be spearheaded on4 March 2013 by the release ofThe Best Of The Black President 2, a two CD collection with foreword written bySenegalese-American R&B/hip-hop artist Akon, who writes: 'Despite everything they threw at him, Fela's music and his message never lost their way. He was always real and he was always with the people. That's why we love and miss him all the more.' The twelve tracks include 1975's 'Everything Scatter', probably one of the ultimate Afrobeat tracks, as well as an extended version of the classic 'Sorrow Tears and Blood', inspired by the South African apartheid regime's crushing of the Soweto uprising in 1976. Fela recounts stories such as police having unsuccessfully attempted to charge Fela for possession of weed in 'Expensive Shit', and speaks out about the practise of skin-bleaching among Nigerian women in 'Yellow Fever'. Aspecial deluxe edition ofThe Best Of The Black President 2 also includes aDVD of Fela's legendary 1984 Glastonbury concert.
Fela was very vocal in his views, with biting, acerbic critiques of European cultural imperialism, corrupt African governments and any forms of social injustice. This did not go down well with Nigeria's military regimes during the 1970s and 1980s who routinely harassed and brutalised Fela and his supporters. Two hundred arrests and serious beatings never stopped him from coming forward, again and again. On 2 August 1997 Fela died - and a million people, the people he fought for, came to his funeral in Lagos to pay their last respects.
Afrobeat, the music Fela created, didn't die. Fela's sons, Femi Kuti with his band Positive Force and Seun Kuti with Fela's band Egypt 80, both travel the world and release their albums, keeping the flame burning brightly. But it's not just Nigerian Afrobeat artists who make sure Afrobeat can be heard all over the planet: There are now in excess of fifty Afrobeat bands operating in Europe, the United States, Britain, Japan and Australia.
Fela even made it to Broadway: the Broadway hit musical, Fela!, recipient of eleven Tony nominations and three awards, directed by Tony award-winner, Bill T. Jones, with producer-backing from Jay-Z, Will and Jada Pinkett-Smith among others, continues to play in the world's most prestigious theatres.. The show commences touring once more in February 2013 across the United States and then culminates with a season during the Chekhov Festival in Moscow.
In recognition of Fela's burgeoning global stature, Oscar-winning filmmaker, Alex Gibney, is currently making the definitive Fela documentary, due for cinematic release in 2013. A feature film of Fela's life and times is also in the works with Focus Features, directed by Turner Prize and BAFTA winner, Steve McQueen.
Meanwhile, the new phenomena of 'Afrobeats,' performed by a digital-age generation of young African artists, is entering the mainstream charts with Nigerian acts like D'banj and Wizkid leading the way. While musically and lyrically departing from Fela's Afrobeat these artists are still paying homage to the man by adopting Afrobeats as the genre's name, and at the annual Felabration festival in Lagos, held around Fela's birthday (5 October), many of them perform in honour of one of Africa's true icons.
Listen to Fela Kuti's track 'Teacher Don't Teach Me No Nonsense' here: