Late Nigerian musician and social activist Fela Kuti pioneered the Afro-beat music genre and used his performances as a platform to decry corruption and inequality in Nigeria. His searing commentary against corrupt politicians and military leaders made him a hero to the Nigerian people, but a prime target for government retribution. In 1977, Nigerian soldiers stormed Kuti’s commune, the self-proclaimed Kalakuta Republic, and burned down his performance venue, the Shrine. The raid also resulted in the death of Kuti’s mother, spurring him to redouble his efforts to highlight corruption and abuse of power in his country. Despite continued run-ins with government officials in the ensuing years, several of which resulted in prison stints, Fela maintained a cult-like following and a successful music career. Ultimately, the eccentric musician succumbed not to political pressure, but to AIDS in 1997.
Today, Fela’s spirit lives on at the New Afrika Shrine in the Ikeja suburb of Lagos. Built on the same ground where Fela’s original Shrine once stood, the new venue is a cross between concert hall, house of worship and memorial. Fela’s son, Femi, an accomplished Afro-beat musician in his own right, has followed in his father’s steps and regularly performs concerts at the New Afrika Shrine. I had a chance to attend a show at the Shrine when Femi was in town, and came away with a new respect for the Afro-beat genre and the musical legacy that Fela inspired. The political and social messages found in today’s Afro-beat music resonate as much as they ever did in Fela’s era, and continue to have a profound impact on the Nigerian people today.
Check out all the high-resolution shots from my trip to Nigeria in my album on Flickr.