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Music Is The Weapon: The Life of Fela Kuti

Based on “Fela: The Life and Times of an African Musical Icon” by Michael Veal

Development: Focus Features

Fela Kuti -Human activist, sexual revolutionary, and political maverick. One of the most controversial musicians of the 20th century, Fela Kuti was the king of Afro-beat, a fusion of jazz, funk, psychedelic rock, and Yoruba chants and rhythms. Taking on Nigeria's rapidly changing and often corrupt country in the '70's, Fela's legacy as a charismatic visionary continues to inspire the contemporary hip-hop world, and generations of artists who believe in the power of music as a weapon.

Born into an affluent Nigerian family to an authoritarian Reverend father and radical, activist mother, Fela Kuti is a rascal, lover and natural musician with a rebellious streak a mile wide. Opting out of medical school in London, Fela chooses music — the only thing he could do. The London scene exposes him to Jazz, a sharp contrast to the Christian and Yoruba hymns of his youth.

A return to Lagos with a wife and children leaves him restless. Fela goes to America in search of success, opportunity, life. The road is a hard one, and his highlife band Koola Lobitos does not catch fire in the U.S. But influences both cultural and political — The Black Panthers, James Brown, Malcolm X, rock-and-roll — color his understanding. Fela is unprepared for the political awakening that accompanies his musical growth. Afrobeat is born.

Fela takes his political and sexual mix of Jazz, soul, funk and traditional African music back home and becomes the voice of his people — in opposition to the corrupt Nigerian government. Fela becomes Pulbic Menace No. 1. He is beaten, tortured, arrested, but the music cannot be stopped. Even after a brutal assault on his compound, the Kalakuta Reublic, Fela refuses to bow down to any power higher than truth. He renames himself Fela Anikulapo Kuti: he who holds death in his pouch, and marries 27 of his background dancers — his Queens.

Fela's legacy as a charismatic visionary, is one that synthesized a unique musical language while also clearing a space for popular political dissent and a type of counter-cultural expression rarely voiced through such artistic genius.

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