Fela Kuti

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  • Zombie
  • Gentleman

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About Fela Kuti

Fela Kuti’s influence is so immense that even the sprawling African continent can’t contain it. During his heyday in the ’70s, the Nigerian bandleader revolutionized African pop with a genre dubbed Afrobeat—a potent blend of Yoruba rhythms, American funk, and scathing social commentary that rattled his country’s postcolonial order and still reverberates worldwide today. Born Olufela Olusegun Oludotun Ransome-Kuti in Abeokuta in 1938, Kuti grew up listening to regional stars like Victor Olaiya and Geraldo Pino, borrowing from their breezy highlife when he started his first band in the early ’60s. But at the end of the decade he took a more radical turn, embracing James Brown-style funk and pan-African politics for his new group, Africa ’70. Kuti’s most famous albums—like 1975’s Expensive Shit and 1977’s Zombie—combine piercing lyrics sung in pidgin English with invigorating horn riffs and marathon grooves, and in all-night performances at his legendary Lagos club The Shrine he would challenge listeners to think while goading them to the dance floor. Kuti’s prolific output included collaborations with Western artists like Cream drummer Ginger Baker, and in the ’80s, Kuti moved into denser, jazzier territory with a new backing band, Egypt 80. Although his huge personality and frequent confrontations with the authorities occasionally overshadowed his musical innovations, Kuti’s legacy following his 1997 death has lived on through a wide range of Afrobeat torchbearers—including his sons Femi and Seun, his grandson Made, and groups like New York’s Antibalas and Berlin’s Afrobeat Academy.

Abeokuta, Nigeria
October 15, 1938

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