Tag Archives: Nigerian music

Interview with Afrobeat Master Femi Kuti

Acclaimed Nigerian musician Femi Kuti and his band Positive Force are set to release their new album One People, One World in February 2018 on Knitting Factory Records. Femi talked to us about his music and upcoming album.

Angel Romero – Tell us about your musical background, and how your father influenced your choice of music as a career.

Femi Kuti – Musical background is I practically taught myself everything I know by just reading and listening. And by playing in my father’s band. My father advised if I wanted to be a musician then it was best I listened to a lot of jazz music. This was difficult for me as I didn’t like jazz, he then introduced me to Moody’s mood for love by James Moody. This was really my introduction into jazz.

What do you consider as the essential elements of your music?

My father’s influence for sure, these days my music comes from my heart and soul.

Who can you cite as your main musical influences?

My father and all great jazz musicians from Miles Davis, Charlie Parker and for sure most of them great jazz musicians of that era.

How is your Afrobeat different from your father’s Afrobeat?

Hard for me to describe. And if I did, most people would think I’m being critical of my father. One easy way is my music is shorter 😊.

Afrobeat has spread to many corners of the world and is still popular with many fans. How is the Afrobeat scene in Nigeria currently?

Still very relevant. Especially as things are still bad economically for majority of the people. And most young artists or bands are influenced by my father or me in a way.

Femi Kuti – One People, One World


What’s the concept behind your new album One People, One World?

That we are all one living on one planet basically. And we have to urgently understand this before we destroy our planet.

Your son Omorinmade Anikulapo – Kuti participated in One People, One World. What was his role and what did he bring to the table?

For me, he brought beauty and love; I have no words to describe. To see my son play on my album and contribute was …. true love.



What are the challenges you face as a musician, composer and father?

Being on the road missing my children, always trying to make my band understand what we are doing is a fight against injustice and corruption. Finding great melodies to keep people that love what we are doing happy and inspired and making sure my music stands the test of time.

What is your vision of what music can bring to our complex world?

Peace, love, understanding to complex issues that politicians are too afraid to talk about.

What countries will you visit on your next tour?

Hopefully everywhere. Europe, the USA, Africa, Australia, New Zealand, Asia.

If you could gather any musicians or musical groups to collaborate with, whom would that be?

I keep an open mind. I could really work with anyone or any band if time permits.

What advice do you have for aspiring musicians out there?

To pick up at least one musical instrument. And music isn’t about just the fame and money. Music is as important as studying medicine, law etc.


American Debut of Afrobeats Star

Rayce – African Juice

Rayce – African Juice (Shanachie, 2017)

African Juice is an international release of hit songs and new material by Nigerian star Rayce. He’s part of the increasingly popular Afrobeats scene and this compilation is the first Afrobeats (not to be confused with Afrobeat) album released in the United States.

Rayce combines vocoder-style electronically processed vocals, regular vocals, irresistible electronic dance music beats, traditional Nigerian rhythms, pop and American R&B. On African Juice, Rayce is joined by Davido, another Afrobeats star.




Buy African Juice


Irresistible Afrobeats Hot Hits

Various Artists – Afrobeats Hot Hits: New Urban Dance Grooves from Africa (Shanachie, 2017)

Afrobeats Hot Hits: New Urban Dance Grooves from Africa presents a fabulous new wave of young Nigerian stars who combine African-rooted music and neosoul with cutting edge electronic dance music and electronically processed vocals. The multifaceted electronic beats are seductive and ingenious.

The artist selection includes Davido,  Wizkid,  Timaya, Tiwa Savage, Tekno,  Yemi Alade, Wande Coal, Seyi Shay, Skales, Kiss Daniel, 9ice, Falz, Anthony David, Kayefi.














Buy Afrobeats Hot Hits: New Urban Dance Grooves from Africa


Artist Profiles: Kotoja

Comprised of a heady mix of top Nigerian and American musicians Kotoja led by Nigerian bassist/vocalist. Baba Ken Okulolo has excited audiences around the U.S. with their infectious mix of African highlife, juju, funk and jazzy horns.

Kotoja’s animated powerful shows featuring Okulolo’s original songs and vocals brighten the scene with bubbling dance rhythms jazz-informed musicianship and an uplifting universal message that brings music lovers to their feet. The band’s national tours and three album releases Freedom Is What Everybody Needs and Sawale on Mesa Recordings and The Super Sawale Collection on Putumayo have won critical acclaim.

Nigerian master musician Bab? Ken Okulolo is one of the few popular African musicians of today whose roots extend deep into traditional village life and folk music. Better known as the bandleader whose warm smiling personality enlivens the popular Afro-beat band Kotoja and the all-star West African Highlife Band Okulolo was first seen in the U.S. as bassist withKing Sunny Ade’s world tours and he continues to appear on Ade’s latest recordings. Five times the Nigerian Journalists’ Association has voted him the country’s top bassist.

In addition to his vast body of Nigerian studio and production dates he is known for his early work with highlife master Dr. Victor Olaiya Steve Rhodes’ African Voices and the seminal Afro-rock group Monomono.

Okulolo was born into the Urhobo ethnic group to a family of traditional dancers and musicians. In the tiny fishing village of Aladja surrounded by deep forests and lagoons traveled by dugout canoes he was exposed to the traditional stories rhythms and songs of his people.

As a student in the city of Warri Okulolo was exposed to the historic touring highlife bands of the era. On short-wave radio he listened avidly to jazz Afro-cuban rhythm and blues and Congolese music.

Inspired he took up the bass guitar and began sitting in with bands coming through town and was soon touring regionally with the highlife band Harmony Searchers until a talent scout for the great bandleader Dr.Victor Olaiya recruited the young bassist with the ‘roots’ feel to leave his homeland and head for the giant city of Lagos.

In a few years restless to explore the modern potential of African music he joined vocalist Joni Haastrup to form the seminal and legendary Afro-rock band Monomono. By the early 7’s they were at the top of the charts and touring West Africa with the albums Give a Beggar a Chance and Dawn of Awareness (EMI) fusing African roots music with rock soul and funk.

Okulolo became a mainstay on the Nigerian music scene touring Europe with various groups producing and performing on countless recordings including his own hit album Talking Bass (EMI) and leading his band Positive Vibrations.

After moving to the U.S. he assembled a heady mix of top Nigerian and American musicians to create the modern Afro-beat band Kotoja. Featuring Ken’s vocals and original tunes KOTOJA blends jazz funk highlife Afro-beat, and juju into exciting” animated shows.

Okulolo also leads the West African Highlife Band joined by other distinguished West African music veterans to revive the great hits of the highlife music era. Their hot dance-inspiring music is available on the CD Salute to Highlife Pioneers (Inner Spirit/Stern’s).

Recently to satisfy the demand for traditional African music in an acoustic format Okulolo started The Nigerian Brothers. They recreate the sweet lilting sounds of their earliest village memories bringing folk, palmwine, and highlife songs to life with their harmonious voices acoustic guitars and hand percussion. This gentle but rhythmic music has been a special treat at museums and folk music festivals for those who love authentic African music.

Today he lives in Oakland California with his family. Says Okulolo: “I see the world today as one family as one village. We all have the same needs and wants. Peace love and understanding will help solve the world’s problems and that’s what we are trying to spread to all people with our music.”


Freedom Is What Every Body Needs (Inner Spirit Records, 1990)
Sawale (Mesa/Blue Moon Recordings, 1992)
Super Sawale (Putumayo World Music, 1994)


Artist Profiles: King Sunny Ade

King Sunny Ade


King Sunny Ade was born Sunday Adeniyi in the Ondo State of western Nigeria in 1946, the son of a Methodist minister. Although his father was a church organist and his mother sang in the church choir, his parents rejected his musical aspirations. He was, after all, Nigerian royalty — a prince in fact — and a career in law seemed more appropriate. Sunny Ade started with percussion. At the age of seven, he would follow his mother to church and he liked to be in between those people playing percussion. From there, he started touching the drums.

Sunny Ade began his musical career when he dropped out of school, at the age of 17, first joining the band of a traveling musical comedy troupe. Ade later moved to Lagos, the capital of Nigeria, where he joined a highlife (Nigerian dance music) band. Inspired by the music of Nigerian musician I.K. Dairo and American artists like James Brown, Brook Benton and Jim Reeves, Sunny Ade joined the Rhythm Dandies, led by Moses Olaiya (later known as Baba Sala). As his interest in his own Yoruban culture grew, however, Sunny Ade joined Juju bands. King Sunny was influenced by the legendary Tunde Nightingale (early Juju pioneer) and borrowed stylistic elements from Nightingale’s ‘So wa mbe’ style of Juju.

Until civil war broke out in Nigeria in the 1960s, highlife was king, but as the band leaders, many of whom were from eastern Nigeria, headed home to join their Ibo compatriots, many stages were left to be filled. Juju ascended and Sunny Ade along with it.

In 1966, Ade created his own group called the Green Spots Band and from then on refused to take orders. His first big hit, in 1967, was in honor of the local soccer team, the Stationery Stores Football Club. “Challenge Cup” sold over half a million copies, more than any Juju record had done before. Two and three best-selling albums have followed every year since, until, by 1976, Ade was chosen as best musician in Nigeria and called the King of Juju by his fans. It is a name he has held on to ever since.

After eight years in which the the Green Spots Band recorded 12 LPs for the Nigerian Africa Song label, Ade decided to form his own record company in 1974. At that time he changed the name of his band to the African Beats.

King Sunny Ade and The African Beats tour with a line-up of 20-30 members. They play a spacey, jamming sort of Juju, characterized by tight vocal harmonies, intricate guitar work, backed by traditional talking drums, percussion instruments, and even adding the unusual pedal steel guitar and accordion.

Even though he has released more than 100 records in Nigeria, the King first became known in the United States after a critically acclaimed three-record run on Island Records in the 1980s. Since then, he and his African Beats have become perhaps the leading lights in bringing African pop to the West.


King Sunny Ade


Sunny Ade is known to many Nigerians as the Chairman, a title he earned due to his leading in numerous and diverse businesses. King Sunny has invested the revenues earned as a music superstar into participation in a multitude of companies, including an oil firm, a mining company, a nightclub, a film and video production house, record labels for African artists and a few other enterprises.

About 70% of Sunny Ade’s business is about music. The Chairman estimates that over 700 people work for him in one way or another, with 200 of them directly employed in music. Sunny Ade also chairs the Musical Copyright Society of Nigeria, an organization whose mandate is to halt the uncontrolled record piracy that plagues Africa, as well as to protect the intellectual property and international copyrights of his fellow musicians.

In his continuing efforts to support African music, Sunny has also established the King Sunny Ade Foundation, which the Chairman founded with Nigerian civic and business leaders. The Foundation is situated on a large parcel of land donated by the Lagos State Government. It includes a performing arts center, a fully equipped recording studio and housing for young performers and musicians, and offers financial assistance to both the children of dead musicians as well to elderly musicians who can no longer perform.



Selected Discography

* Juju Music (Mango, 1982)

* Live at Montreux (PolyGram, 1982)

* Synchro System (Mango, 1983)

* Vintage (King Sunny Ade Nigeria, 1984)

* Aura (Mango, 1984)

* Explosion (Sar, 1985)

* Togetherness (Sar, 1985)

* Gratitude (Sar, 1985)

* The Truth (Sar, 1985)

* The Return of the Juju King (Mercury, 1988)

* Live Live Ju Ju (Rykodisc, 1988)

* Live at the Hollywood Palace (Sound Wave, 1992)

* E Dide (Get Up) (Mesa, 1995)

* Odu (Mesa/Atlantic, 1998)

* Seven Degrees North (Mesa/Bluemoon, 2000)

* Synchro Series (IndigeDisc, 2003)

Anthologies and compilations

* Best of the Classic Years (Shanachie)
* Gems from the Classic Years 1967-1974 (Shanachie)


Artist Profiles: Femi Kuti

Femi Kuti
Femi Kuti

One of the heirs of the genius of Nigerian Afrobeat superstar Fela Kuti is his son, Femi. Femi’s version of Afrobeat is the exciting new sound to emerge from Nigeria for years, borrowing the best elements from his father’s powerfully polyrhythmic prototype – the funky, jazzy, heavily percussive sound that took James Brown’s beat back to Africa. Femi adds to the winning formula with a freshness and exuberance of young Lagos and its taste for the new R&B and dance music of the United States of America and Europe.

Femi first rose to international prominence in 1985, when he appeared at the Hollywood Bowl, fronting Fela’s forty piece band, Egypt 80. Fela failed to make it onto the plane, having been arrested at Lagos airport and jailed on a trumped-up fraud charge. Femi, already a member of his father’s band, came to the rescue that night, giving a show that brought the audience at the packed Bowl to its feet. Even though the fans had paid to see and hear the charismatic Fela, Femi was able to fully satisfy them with the same rude, muscular saxophone style (soprano, alto, tenor and baritone) and lean self-confidence bordering on arrogance.

Two years later, Femi had formed his own young band, The Positive Force, and released their debut album for Polygram Nigeria. Titled No Cause for Alarm, the album was a raw but impressive mixture of funky soul-jazz, driving percussion and horns, with sharp social comment.

Strong interest in this album prompted a dramatic debut appearance in Paris, where Femi’s no-hold-barred show devastated a huge audience. He has since carried out numerous, extensive European tours with critics favorably comparing the big band sound of the sixteen member group with Fela Kuti’s legendary Egypt 80.

The performance of The Positive Force’s lithe and sensual dancers/singers is described as a visual feast which has to be seen to be believed. In 1994, Femi was signed by the legendary Motown label. An album, Wonder Wonder, was released in 1995, and was followed by a successful tour of the United States. Unfortunately, soon after the record’s release, a change in the presidency of Motown resulted in the scrapping of Tabu, the African music boutique label which the company’s former president, Jeryhl Busby, had championed. An undaunted Femi pressed on, carrying out extensive tours within Africa, with further acclaimed visits to Europe in 1996 and 1997.

Femi Kuti
Femi Kuti

Sadly, in August of 1997, Fela Kuti died. Another tragedy was to shake the Kuti family to their roots shortly afterwards with the untimely death from cancer of Femi’s younger sister, Sola. Together with his other sister, Yeni, Sola had been a founding member of The Positive Force and her presence sorely missed. Her place in the group was taken by Femi’s wife, Funke, who has proved to be a gifted singer and dancer. In December 1997, Femi signed a recording contract with Barclay/Polygram. His Shoki Shoki album was first released in Europe to tremendous critical acclaim.

Femi performs regularly in Lagos, the capital of Nigeria. He has also toured extensively in Europe and the United States, including a 50-date European tour and US club tours. Femi and The Positive Force will continue to return to the US on tours and festival dates.

In July of 2000, UNICEF published Femi’s AIDS in Africa essay in its Progress Of Nations 2000 report. On September 4, Femi received top honors at the Kora All Africa Music Awards, including Best Male Artist in Africa and Best Song for his sexually charged single, “Beng Beng Beng.” At the globally-televised World Music Awards in May, 2000, Femi received the Best-Selling African Artist award and performed “Beng Beng Beng” to a captivated audience.

In 2001 Fight to Win continued to evolve this development of a democratization and an openness in afrobeat instigated by Femi Kuti since his first album. Containing Nigerian jazz funk rhythms with a touch of hip hop, Femi collaborated with American rappers such as Mos Def and Common, and soul singer Jaguar Wright, creating an album of universal critical acclaim.

After three years spent between studio work and touring, Femi Kuti returned to the roots of a musical and political movement of which he is, as of now, the unique symbol and only representative. He decided to invest his success in the reconstruction of a new Shrine, a musical temple, erected, displaced and rebuilt by Fela Kuti following repeated attacks against the old ones by a corrupt military power.

Just as his father before him, Femi Kuti and his Positive Force continue to make of this place a space in which music is the weapon of the future. For this heir to afrobeat it’s a turning point. Having achieved recognition on the international scene since the 1990s, Femi Kuti could have chosen to live in a western city such as Paris, London or New York City, all cities which have taken him to their hearts. But it’s in Femi Kuti’s hometown of Lagos, one of the most explosive cities in the world, he has decided to pursue the fight.


No Cause for Alarm (Polygram Nigeria, 1987)

M.Y.O.B. (Melodie, 1991)

Wonder Wonder (Motown, 1994)

Shoki Shoki (Barclay, 1997)

Fight to Win (Barclay, 2001)

Africa Shrine (P Vine, 2004)

The Best of Femi Kuti (Wrasse, 2005)

The Definitive Collection (Wrasse, 2007)

Day by Day (Wrasse Records, 2008)

Africa for Africa (Wrasse Records, 2010)

No Place for My Dream (Knitting Factory Records, 2013)


Femi Kuti – Live at the Shrine (Palm Pictures, 2005)


Artist Profiles: Fela Kuti

Fela Kuti - Photo by Bernard Matussiere
Fela Kuti – Photo by Bernard Matussiere

Fela Anikulapo-Kuti, previously Ransome-Kuti, was born in Abeokuta, Nigeria, in 1938. His family belonged to the Egba branch of the Yoruba tribe. His father, like his grandfather, was a minister of the Protestant church, and director of the local grammar school. His mother was a teacher, but later became a politician of considerable influence.

As a teenager, Fela would run for miles to attend traditional celebrations in the area, already feeling that the authentic African culture of his ancestors ought to be preserved. His parents sent him to London in 1958, but rather than study medicine like his two brothers and his sister, Fela chose to register in the Trinity School of Music, where he was to spend the next five years.

While still a student, he married a Nigerian girl called Remi and had three children. In his spare time, Fela played in a highlife band called Koola Lobitos with other Nigerian musicians living in London. Among these was J.K. Bremah, who had previously influenced Fela by introducing him to African music circles in Lagos at a time when Western music predominated there.

Fela returned to the Nigerian capital in 1963, three years after independence. Soon after, he was playing highlife and jazz, fronting the band with those of the musicians who had come back from England. Over the next few years, they performed regularly in Lagos and then in 1969, in the midst of the Biafra war, Fela decided to take Koola Lobitos to the United States.

In Los Angeles, he changed the name of the group to Fela Ransome-Kuti and Nigeria 70. At the club where they were playing, he met an African-American girl, Sandra Isodore, who was a close friend to the Black Panthers. She introduced Fela to the philosophy and writings of Malcolm X, Eldridge Cleaver and other Black activists and thinkers, through which he was to become aware of the link existing between Black peoples all over the world. Through this insight, Fela also gained a clearer understanding of his mother’s fight for the rights of Africans under colonial rule in Nigeria, together with her support of the Pan Africanist doctrine expounded by Kwame Nkrumah, the Ghanaian Head of State, who had negotiated independence for his country with the British.

While in Los Angeles, Fela also found the inspiration he was seeking to create his own unique style of music, which he named AfroBeat. Before leaving America, the band recorded some of these new songs.

Back home, Fela once again changed the name of the group, this time to Fela Ransome-Kuti & Africa 70. The Los Angeles recordings were released as a series of singles. This new African music was a great success in Lagos, and Fela was to open a club in the Empire Hotel, called the Afro-Shrine. At that time, he was still playing the trumpet, having not yet changed to the saxophone and piano. He started singing mostly in Pidgin English rather than Yoruban, so as to be understood all over Nigeria and in neighboring countries. In his songs, he depicted everyday social situations with which a large part of the African population was able to identify.

Young people from all over Nigeria flocked to hear his songs, which developed themes relating to Blackism and Africanism, encouraging a return to traditional African religions. Later he was to become satirical and sarcastic toward those in power, condemning both military and civilian regimes for their crimes of mismanagement, incompetence, theft, corruption and marginalization of the underprivileged.

In 1974, pursuing his dream of an alternative society, he built a fence around his house and declared it to be an independent state: The Kalakuta Republic. To the chagrin of the bourgeois section of Nigerian society, this act of defiance was soon to spread throughout the entire neighborhood as more and more people were inspired by Fela’s stance. The authorities remained vigilant, fearing their potential power of his ‘state within a state.’

Fela Kuti - Photo by Bernard Matussiere
Fela Kuti – Photo by Bernard Matussiere

On countless occasions, Fela was to suffer the consequences of his scathing denunciations with arrests, imprisonment and beatings at the hands of authorities. With each incarceration and violent confrontation with the powers that be, Fela became more outspoken, changing his family name from ‘Ransome’ to ‘Anikulapo’ (‘he who carries death in his pouch’). His notoriety spread and his records began to sell in the millions. The population of the Kalakuta Republic grew amidst mounting criticism, particularly of the young people, many of whom were still in their teens, who left their families to live there.

During the Festival for Black Arts and Culture (FESTAC) held in Lagos in 1977, Fela sang ‘Zombie,’ a satire against the military, which was to become enormously popular throughout Africa, bringing down the fury of the Nigerian army upon him and his followers. As Fela relates in ‘Unknown Soldier,’ a thousand soldiers attacked the “Kalakuta Republic,” burning down his house and beating all of its occupants. The song tells that, during the course of this attack, his mother was thrown from a first floor window and later died from her injuries. Homeless and without his Shrine, which had also been destroyed along with the entire neighborhood, Fela and his group moved to the Crossroads Hotel.

A year later, Fela went to Accra (Ghana)to arrange a tour. Upon his return, to mark the first anniversary of the destruction of the Kalakuta Republic, Fela married twenty seven women in a collective ceremony, many of whom were his dancers and singers, giving them all the name Anikulapo-Kuti. After the wedding, the whole group set off for Accra where concerts had been planned. In a packed Accra stadium, as Fela played ‘Zombie,’ riots broke out. The entire group was arrested and held for two days before being put on a plane bound for Lagos, banned from returning to Ghana.

Upon his return to Lagos, still with nowhere to live, Fela and his entire entourage squatted at the offices of Decca, where they remained for almost two months. Soon after, Fela was invited with the seventy member-strong Africa 70 to play at the Berlin Festival. After the show, almost all of the musicians ran away. Despite this catalog of set-backs, Fela returned to Lagos determined to continue.

The King of Afro-beat and his Queens went to live in Ikeja, in J. K. Bremah’s house, a new Kalakuta. There, Fela, more political than ever, went on to form his own part, “Movement of the People” (M.O.P.). He presented himself as a Presidential candidate in the 1979 elections that would return the country to civilian rule. His candidature was refused. Four years later, at the next elections, Fela once more stood for President, but was prevented from campaigning by the police, who again rampaged through his house, imprisoning and beating Fela and many of his followers.

Any further presidential aspirations were crushed, however, when a coup brought Nigeria back to military rule. In 1984, with General Buhari in power, Fela served twenty months of a five year prison sentence on trumped-up currency charges. He was only released when, under General Babangida, the judge confessed to having sentenced him with such severity because of pressure from the previous regime. The judge was dismissed from office and Fela was given his liberty.

Over the next decade, with an entourage of up to eighty people, now called Egypt 80, Fela made several visits to Europe and the United States. These tours were to receive tremendous public and critical acclaim, and made an important contribution to the worldwide popular acceptance of African rhythms and culture. Considering himself to be the spiritual son of Kwame Nkrumah, the renowned Pan Africanist, Fela Anikulapo-Kuti was a virulent critic of colonialism and neo-colonialism.

Fela Kuti - Photo by Bernard Matussiere
Fela Kuti – Photo by Bernard Matussiere

For over twenty years, he became famous as a spokesman for the great mass of people, in Nigeria and elsewhere in Africa and the African diaspora, disenchanted with the period of post-independence.

Fela’s sad death in August 1997 was mourned by the nation. Even those who did not agree with him were among the million people or more who attended his funeral. Even the many governmental letters of condolence sent to his family were eloquent testimonials to a great man. His death was attributed to an AIDS-related heart failure, though a more popular diagnosis was that, as a result of the countless beatings at the hands of the authorities, his system was sufficiently weakened to allow disease to enter.

Throughout his life, Fela was sustained by the unconditional love and respect offered to him by the millions of people whose lives he touched. In death, he retains the legendary status to which he was elevated by the throngs of people who came to pay their last respects at his laying in state in Tafa Balewa Square: ‘Adami Eda’ – (Chief Priest). “He will live forever!”

In 2009, Fela Kuti’s legacy gained new significance and popularity. Knitting Factory Records, a new label, licensed the 45-album Fela Kuti catalog. Over the next 18 months, the label will release remasters of all the Fela Kuti CDs in unique digi-packs with the original artwork, as well as certain releases on vinyl for the first time in North America. Knitting Factory Records will also be giving the first official release to the entire Koola Lobitos catalog- this was Fela’s highlife band which he fronted through the 1960’s.

The first release in the series was a compilation set titled The Best Of The Black President. The Deluxe Version includes two CDs and a DVD. The DVD includes segments from “Music is the Weapon”, the Berlin Jazz Festival, “Teacher Don’t Teach Me Nonsense,” and interviews with Bill T. Jones and Carlos Moore.

A Broadway musical titled Fela! opened in November at Eugene O’Neil Theatre, a follow-up to the highly acclaimed off-Broadway show. The musical is directed and choreographed by Tony Award-winner Bill T. Jones (Spring Awakening), with a book by Jim Lewis and Bill T. Jones. Sahr Ngaujah and Kevin Mambo play the title character on alternate performances, while Afrobeat band Antibalas and other members of the New York City Afrobeat community, under the direction of Aaron Johnson, perform Kuti’s rousing music live onstage. Winner of 2009’s Lucille Lortel Award for Best Musical, Fela! was conceived by Bill T. Jones, Jim Lewis and Stephen Hendel. Fela! had its world premiere at Off-Broadway’s 37 Arts in September 2008, where it enjoyed a sold-out limited run.

Fela Anikulapo-Kuti Obituary

“Fela was sweet, perhaps not an adjective that would normally be used to describe this tornado of a man, but Fela was sweet to me. This sweetness that I perceived in him emanated from his love for humanity, particularly for those who had drawn life’s short straw.

Hundreds of people depended upon Fela for a living. Many more than he needed to run his Lagos club, The Shrine, or to play in his band. I saw him as a social engineer, concerned with issues of injustice, corruption, the abuses of power. He was ready to lay his life on the line in defense of such causes, which he did on countless occasions.

For his trouble he was beaten with rifle butts, endlessly harassed, imprisoned, vilified by the authorities, despised by bourgeois society (whose sons and daughters were captivated by him). His house was once burned to the ground by a thousand soldiers after they had raped and beaten his followers, thrown his mother and brother from a window, both of whom suffered fractures (his mother was ultimately to die from her injuries).

Each time they were to beat him, though, he always bounced back with a vengeance, stronger than ever. It is my view that the only thing that kept him alive, and the ultimate source of his strength, was the love the people had for him.

And his music – the rumble of thunder and the crack of lightning – layer upon layer of sublimely interwoven rhythm and melody, tangled in a delicious knot of divine inspiration. Deliberate conspiracies of hot brass woven around the intricately hypnotic consistency of bass and guitar lines, all driven by the dual forces of lavish percussion and Fela’s own passion for the precision of his musical vision.

Heaven help any musician who might stray from his given task. Fury would descend upon him until, in mortal terror, he would struggle his way back into the groove. The icing on the cake of a Fela performance was his singers and dancers, fabulous glittering unreal creatures from another world who would exude waves of sensuality and downright sexiness that you could cut with a knife.

All in all, thirty-something people on stage, each playing their part in what Fela called “the underground spiritual game.” In the center of the audio-visual feast for the senses, Fela reigned supreme. He was everywhere at once, playing keyboards, soprano or alto sax, the occasional drum solo, a sinuous dance from one side of the stage to the other and then it was time to sing, the ever-present spliff held in his elegant fingers. No moon and toon and joon for this articulate firebrand. Only eloquent, biting poetic social observation, expressed with a breathtaking clarity and natural authority which placed him firmly in an unsurpassed realm in which he had no equal.

Perhaps Pavarotti can break a wine glass at sixty paces, maybe Bono can make girls wet their pants with a flick of his sweat laden hair, but for sheer master, panache, style and guts nobody could or can beat this guy. To get a bead on who he was, once he had recorded a song, he would never perform it again on stage, no matter how record company execs may plead.

Recently, however, he had ceased his endless harangue of politicians, big business, organized religion, the military, police, etc. (Once, when running for President of Nigeria, he proclaimed that his first act upon being elected would be to enroll the entire population in the police force. Then, he said, “Before a policeman could slap you, he would have to think twice because you’re a policeman, too.” The authorities ultimately refused to allow him to enter the race. Too bad.) He now saw politics as “a distraction,” saying that our only task was to enter into contact with our own spirit, without which “we would not survive.”

His last years were spent in spiritual contemplation. He never left the house, except twice a week to go to the Shrine to play. He wouldn’t arrive until two in the morning. There would be fifteen hundred people waiting for him and he would finish at dawn. And now he has gone. AIDS they said. As far as I’m concerned it was one beating too many which had weakened his body sufficiently to allow disease to enter. He was a giant of a man, but a man nevertheless. The system can only take so much. I went to his funeral.

A hundred and fifty thousand people or so gathered in Tafawa Balewa Square to pay their last respects. Bands played, people queued endlessly to file past his glass coffin. We then ran with the coffin to a hearse (there were still thirty thousand people queuing up) to make the 20 mile journey to the Shrine, where Fela’s children were to carry out a private ceremony for family and friends.

In a cavalcade of vehicles we rode through Lagos City behind a band in the back of a pick-up truck playing Fela tunes. The road was thronged with tens of thousands of people, until we came to the brow of a hill. I looked down across the valley to the distant horizon. The road was filled with people from one side to the other and as far as the eye could see.

A million people or more, and even more came as we passed through each neighborhood. Seven hours to cover 20 miles and the band never dropped a note. As we came nearer to Ikeja, we began to worry. What would happen when we reached Pepple Street, a small side street in which The Shrine was situated. How, in fact would we reach The Shrine with a million people in front of us? Night fell as we drew near. We turned in to Pepple Street. There was hardly anyone there. One million or more people had decided that it was not appropriate for them to be there.

Fela was my friend for the past fifteen years. Our fourteen year working relationship had grown from that friendship. I regret his passing but celebrate his life. He will live forever through the incredible legacy of more than 50 albums of music which he has left up and through the love and respect of the millions of people who knew him, from near or far. He was finally laid to rest in front of his house, Kalakuta, in Ikeja on the morning of Tuesday, August 12, 1997. His son, Femi, played a plaintive sax solo. A gentle rain fell like perfume.

By Rikki Stein. Courtesy of MCA Records.


Aigana (1960)
Onifere (1966)
Yeshe Yeshe (1966)
Mr. Who Are You (1967)
The ’69 Los Angeles Sessions (1969, Stern’s, released 1993)
Blackman’s Cry (1970)
Viva Africa (1970)
Fela’s London Scene (1970)
Lady (1970)
White Man to Suffer (1970)
Wayo (1970)
Who Are You (1971)
Nai Poi (1971)
Shenshema (1971)
Why Black Man Dey Suffer (1971)
Open and Close (1971)
Live! (1971)
Stratavarious (1971)
Alijon-Jon-Ki-Jon (1972)
Egbe Mi O (1972)
Shakara (1972)
Na Poi (1972)
Afrodisiac (1973)
Gentleman (1973)
Alagbon Close (1974)
He Miss Road (1975)
Fela’s Budget Special (1975)
Expensive Shit (1975)
Noise for Vendor Mouth (1975)
Everything Scatter (1975)
Confusion (1975)
Jealousy (1975)
Kalakuta Show (1976)
Ikoyi Blindness (1976)
Yellow Fever (1976)
Upside Down (1976)
No Bread (1976)
Before I Jump like Monkey Give Me Banana (1976)
Again, Excuse O (1976)
Zombie (1976)
J.J.D. (1977)
Sorrow, Tears and Blood (1977)
Opposite People (1977)
Stalemate (1977)
Fear Not for Man (1977)
Why Black Man Dey Suffer (1977)
Observation No Crime (1977)
I Go Shout Plenty (1977)
No Agreement (1977)
Shuffering and Shimiling (1977)
Unknown Soldier (1979)
Authority Stealing (1980)
Music of Many Colors (1980)
Coffin for Head of State (1981)
Original Sufferhead (1981)
Parambulator (1983)
Live in Amsterdam – Music Is the Weapon (1984)
Army Arrangement (1985)
Teacher Don’t Teach Me Nonsense (1985)
Beasts of No Nation (1989)
Overtake Don Overtake Overtake (1989)
Confusion Break Bones (1990)
Just Like That (1990)
Underground System (1992)
The Underground Spiritual Game (Quannum Projects, 2004)
The Best Of The Black President (Knitting Factory Records, 2009)


Fela, the Life and Times of an African Musical Icon by Michael E. Veal. Temple University Press, 2000. ISBN: 1-56639-765-0.

Afrobeat! Fela and the Imagined Continent by Sola Olorunyomi. Africa World Press, 2002.

Fela: From West Africa to West Broadway by Trevor Schoonmaker. Palgrave Macmillan, 2003.

Arrest the Music!: Fela and His Rebel Art and Politics (African Expressive Cultures) by Tejumola Olaniyan. Indiana University Press, 2004. ISBN: 0253344611.

Fela: This Bitch of a Life by Carlos Moore. Lawrence Hill Books, 2009. ISBN: 1556528353

Fela: Kalakuta Notes by John Collins. KIT Publishers, May 2009.


Fela Kuti Live (Yazoo, 1995)
Fela In Concert (V.I.E.W. Video, 2001)
Fela Kuti – Music Is the Weapon (Universal, 2003)


An Afro-Roots Experiment That Worked

Afro-Haitian Experimental Orchestra (Glitterbeat, 2016)

Nigerian Afrobeat drummer Tony Allen recorded a set of jams rooted in Afro-rooted rhythms from Africa and Haiti that appear on the self-titled AHEO Afro-Haitian Experimental Orchestra.

The idea for this project was spearheaded by Corinne Micaelli, the director of the French Institute in Haiti. She brought Tony Allen, an Afrobeat pioneer and trendsetter to perform in Haiti with local musicians. Erol Josué, a singer, dancer, voodoo priest, and director of the Haitian National Bureau of Ethnology, helped to recruit local percussionists and singers. They chose musician’s from Haiti’s leading bands, including Racine Mapou de Azor, RAM, Erol’s own band, the Yizra’El Band and Lakou Mizik, the group of Sanba Zao, one of Haiti’s top percussionists and traditional singers.

The musicians were given 5 days to compose and rehearse the musical pieces that they’d play in the main square of Haiti’s capital, Port-au-Prince, and broadcast live throughout the country.

The band featured 10 leading Haitian percussionists, Tony Allen, Mark Mulholland on guitar, Olaf Hund on keyboards, and Jean-Philippe Dary on bass.

Due to technical problems the concert was not recorded but Mark Mulholland had the multi-track rehearsal tapes and that’s where the material on this album came from. The vocals by Erol Josué, Sanba Zao, and the other singers were re-recorded and the pieces were mixed. The final product is a captivating set of Afrobeat rhythms from Nigeria and traditional and modern beats and chants from Haiti interlaced with jazz and electronica.

The complete album lineup includes Tony Allen on drums; Jean-Philippe Dary on bass and keyboards; Olaf Hund on keyboards and electronics; Mark Mulholland on guitar and organ; Sanba Zao, Wolele, Zikiki, Beauvois Anilus, Edmond Gera and members of Rasin Mapou de Azor & RAM on percussion; Erol Josué, Sanba Zao, Marc-Harold Pierre, Zikiki and Mirla Samuel Pierre on lead vocals; Zikiki, Marc-Harold Pierre, Wolele and Mirla Samuel Pierre on backing vocals.


Afro-Haitian Experimental Orchestra is an instinctive, seductive and finely crafted celebration of African and Haitian music.

Buy Afro-Haitian Experimental Orchestra in the Americas

Buy Afro-Haitian Experimental Orchestra in Europe


Wake Up You! Vol. 1

Wake Up You! Vol. 1
Wake Up You! Vol. 1

In 1967, newly independent Nigeria descendant into a Civil War to stop a secession of Biafra known as at the Biafran War. Families were asked to choose sides. Friends were separated by ideological cleavages. The war lasted three years. A million Nigerians were killed. Right after this war a phenomenal music scene was created in search of a new society.

A newly released album and an accompanying book Wake Up You! Vol. 1  tells the story of this after Biafran War Nigerian music that sought to heal social ills and unite a very young Republic through explorations in Funk, Psychedelia, and Rock, that led all the way to Fela Kuti, by compiling songs of several bands that participated in the before-mentioned scene.Wake Up You! Vol. 1 is released by Now Again Records.


Nigeria’s King Sunny Ade to headline New York’s Great African Ball

King Sunny Ade

New York City, USA – Graviton African Arts Network and African Hypertext, by special arrangement with Yoruba juju icon King Sunny Ade & His African Beats – one of Africa’s most storied dance bands – have announced the return of New York’s Great African Ball on Friday, April 29 at Roseland Ballroom. Doors will open at 9 p.m., with the performance to run – in the style to which patrons of this unique New York event have become accustomed in the six previous editions of the Ball – from 10 p.m. to 4 a.m.The Great African Ball is a sister event – and a capstone – to the renowned New York African Film Festival, whose screenings will run from April 20 through April 28 this year, and whose year-round mission is to share the vision of African media-makers with audiences in the United States and throughout the world. For schedules and information, call 212-352-1720 or visit www.africanfilmny.org or www.filmlinc.com (The Film Society of Lincoln Center).

On the foundation of his personal sound and charismatic aura, King Sunny Ade remains a towering figure in his country and in the Nigerian diaspora. After decades of steady success in Africa, Europe and the Far East, his rootedness in the storytelling, moralizing and praise-singing of juju remains the bedrock of his artistic personality, and his long-awaited return to New York for his first appearance at The Great African Ball promises to be special. (King Sunny Ade’s
last New York performance had been scheduled for September 12, 2001, at S.O.B.’s nightclub in SoHo, a short walk from the World Trade Center towers, but obviously that appearance could not have taken place. So Ade has not played in New York since 1999.)

The first Great African Ball, conceived by Senegal’s Youssou N’Dour, was held at the Hammerstein Ballroom on April 17, 1999 to a packed house of 3,500 patrons drawn from the ranks of New York City’s ever-growing African immigrant communities, “world music” fans and A-list showbiz personalities. (Stevie Wonder made a surprise appearance in the crowd and insisted on joining N’Dour onstage. He was but one of many dignitaries in the audience.) The event was a six-hour celebration and a first. Not merely a “concert”, this was a full Senegalese “ball” – or “soirée dansante” – aimed to reflect the kind of unhinged performances N’Dour and his band give in their own club in Dakar, the Senegalese capital. (Needless to say, the performances that King Sunny Ade gives in Nigeria reflect a kindred spirit of enjoyment and wholesome abandon.) In the ensuing five years (four times at Hammerstein and once at Roseland), The Great African Ball has fulfilled the promise N’Dour made to his New York fans to make The Great African Ball an annual event.

With Youssou N’Dour passing the baton this year to his peer and good friend King Sunny Ade, once again an unmistakable “African feeling” promises to envelope the house for another marathon night of some serious social dancing.

King Sunny Ade will share the stage of this year’s Ball with his Igbo countryman, highlife luminary Prince Obi Osadebe, in a truly historic meeting of Yoruba and Igbo musical legends never before seen – not only in America but even in Nigeria.

The women, men, fashions, food, fragrances and verve of Lagos – and of Africa – will all be on offer, mingling with New York’s own homegrown African vibes in a genuinely special “Naija-style” evening, with the crowd as Ade’s co-star.

Tickets for The Great African Ball ($40 in advance, $50 on the day of the show) are available at all TicketMaster outlets (www.ticketmaster.com), at the Irving Plaza box office (17 Irving Place – 212-777-6800), and from selected merchants
in New York City’s several main African immigrant neighborhoods.

Roseland Ballroom is located at 239 West 52nd St., (West of Broadway, between Broadway & 8th Ave.) .