Features June 20, 2024
Roundtable Discussion on Legendary Nigerian Fela Kuti’s Music and Activism

“The more the people are organized, the better” - Fela

In April (2024), the New York-based advocacy group Musicians For Musicians (MFM) presented a global roundtable discussion on the legacy of Fela Anikulapo Kuti’s music and activism, as part of the organization’s ongoing “Music Is Essential” series. The event was organized by Sohrab Saadat Ladjevardi, the founder of MFM, with support from Afropop Worldwide. You can watch the entire event on YouTube, here.

This historic panel, gathered over Zoom, included several special guests who knew or worked closely with Fela (October 15, 1938 - August 2, 1997). Celebrated worldwide as the godfather of Nigerian Afrobeat, Fela infused traditional Yoruba roots music with American blues, jazz and funk. But Fela was more than a saxophone and keyboard player, composer and influential band leader. Equally important is his legacy as a political activist, influenced by Malcolm X, the Black Panthers and other voices of Black liberation. Over time Fela’s music became increasingly volatile and politicized. He always had a message: “I was not a politician, I was a revolutionary musician.”

At the Roundtable, Fela’s manager of fifteen years Rikki Stein talked about his adventures touring with Fela's band in Africa. Lemi Ghariokwu, the Nigerian artist and creator of Fela Kuti's album covers, joined the discussion all the way from Nigeria sharing insights on how cover art became a defining feature of Fela's catalog.

Various industry professionals shared personal anecdotes of working with Fela, including Chris May, who interviewed Fela in Lagos in the aftermath of the Nigerian army’s 1977 sack of Kalakuta Republic; Sandra Izsadore, who sang in Fela's band and introduced him to Black consciousness; Michael Veal, author of Fela: The Life and Times of an African Musical Icon (Temple, 2000); Stuart Leigh, who produced an NPR profile when Fela toured the U.S. in 1986; Noel Smith, the recording engineer who ran Ginger Baker's studio in Lagos, Nigeria in 1971-72; Dr. Tee Mac Omatshola Iseli, musician and co-founder of the Classical Music Society of Nigeria; Leon “Kaleta” Ligan-Majekodunmi, Beninois guitarist in Fela’s Egypt 80 band; and Duke Amayo, a Nigerian musician who grew up in Fela’s Lagos neighborhood and became the front man for the Brooklyn-based Afrobeat band Antibalas.

Banning Eyre, Senior Producer for Afropop Worldwide, moderated the session and helped direct questions in an open discussion about Fela’s legacy. The session was planned for 90 minutes, but wound up lasting almost an additional hour.

The panel showcased the historical depth of Fela's music, his authenticity and adherence to principles and his prolific performances and recordings. The message was consistently a "wake up call to the people to uplift and educate a society.”

MFM believes that Fela’s aesthetic and mission are things today’s musicians should be aware of, on and off stage. The world needs more musical activists like Fela who incorporate a positive, but probing, message into their music. This conversation among Fela aficianados is enjoyable and informative, well worth revisiting, even for those who experienced it.

Click here for a complete Fela Discography.

"Let Music Be Your Weapon" - Fela
"Music must awaken people to do their duty as citizens and act" - Fela
“Fela was a life-transforming artist” - Miles Davis

About MFM:
MFM seeks to bring together musicians from all disciplines, styles, traditions and localities in the cause of their mutual self-betterment. Whether through education, networking or political action, MFM's ultimate goal is to elevate the work of all musicians to the level of a true profession. If you care about the future of music and musicians, check out MFM for future events and help support their advocacy for professional musicians.

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