Joey's Monday Musings: Is Fela Kuti still relevant in this digital age of Nigerian music?

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Posted by Joey on Monday, October 10th, 2016
Views: 528 Post Comment Joey's Monday Musings: Is Fela Kuti still relevant in this digital age of Nigerian music? Nigeria

When Fela Kuti discovered the power of African elements in his music in the US, while ‘squatting’ with Sandra Izsadore in the US, he was a frustrated young man who was failing at music, and needed to score a hit while playing at a club. He channeled this frustration of himself and his lover hostess into a song titled ‘My Lady Frustration’.

According to Tejumola Olaniyan in Arrest the Music! Fela and His Rebel Art and Politics, Fela once said of "My Lady Frustration" that it was "the first African tune" he had written, which is a strange claim for a Nigerian musician to make, but he was referring to the genesis of Afrobeat. Little did he know that it was to be the birth of Afrobeat, the one that we all celebrate and infuse into our music.

Fela, Sandra Izsadoreplay

Fela, Sandra Izsadore

(news nigeria )


The original release of "My Lady Frustration" runs to 8 minutes 6 seconds, and African or not, it was actually recorded for The '69 Los Angeles Sessions, while he was living in Hollywood. It might rightly be described as the template for the genré he created.

That single inspired him into creating the Afrobeat movement, one that indelibly put Nigeria and Africa on the global map of music, and catapulted him into iconic status. Today, he is still being celebrated worldwide, with numerous bands across the world having being founded on his sounds. Every year since 1998, an annual music festival conceived by his daughter Yeni Kuti, and titled ‘Felabration’, attracts bands, tourists, musical groups and many more to The New Afrika Shrine, Lagos Nigeria, where they play in his honor, and celebrate his achievement.

The 2016 edition starts today October 10, 2016, and would kickstart a week of musical performances distributed across the city of Lagos.

Felabration 2016 official

Felabration 2016 official logo.



Is Fela still relevant today in Nigeria?

According to Rikki Stein, Fela’s manager of 15 years until his death, this year marks 20 years since the death of Fela, and the great Abami Eda still keeps him busy.

“It’s because we put up his music worldwide, the catalogue of 50 albums, plus compilations, plus Vinyls. We have a series of Vinyl box sets that we put out, that we invite respected artistes to curate. The first was Questlove from The Roots, the second was Ginger Baker, and the third was Brian Eno, and we are just in the process of asking Erykah Badu to do box 4.”

Solidstar performing at Felabration

Solidstar performing at Felabration 2015.


All the ills of the Nigerian society that inspired Fela’s music are still present in today’s Nigeria. His music which was filled with protestations about poor governance, failing institutions and the subtle mental colonization and slavery of Africans still hold true. Every generation since Fela’s death has battled the same ills, as Fela’s music rings through the ages with wisdom and inspiration. How sad.

Fela Kuti still holds musical relevance in terms of sonic representation of the country. Afrobeat, his genre, is still the basis of many songs from the continent. Our collective sounds, which is generated from all of our traditional influences, and an amalgamation of Western and Caribbean elements, are passed through the Nigerian filter and termed ‘Afrobeats’, another distant ode to Fela’s work.

Majek Fashek at the Felabration 2015play

Majek Fashek at the Felabration 2015



Fela’s relevance in this age isn’t limited to branding of Afrocentric music. It traverses the very creative process of today’s musicians. Pure Afrobeat which was produced live with bands and a highly percussive influence, has been taken into the digital age, stripped and sampled consistently for benefit.

In 2015 and 2016, you can hear the probing horns and sonic arrangements of Fela in D’banj’s ‘Emergency’, Davido’s ‘Gbagbe Oshi’, Reekado Banks ‘Change’, Sammy Davids ‘Down’, Olamide’s ‘Konkobility’, Kiss Daniel’s ‘Good time’, Wizkid’s ‘Expensive shit’, Tekno’s ‘Pana’, Jidenna’s ‘A little bit more’,  and many more. Simply put, due to Fela’s tremendous work in protest music, any conscious effort from a mainstream Nigerian act starts out with Fela’s work at it’s base, before the inclusion of other elements to add new-age originality, while retaining the identity and source of the inspiration. But its major recurrences have found it stripped of its original social relevance, and mixed into the simple and mundane themes that pop music champions and thrives on.

Davido and Wizkid are regarded as local competition for each

Davido and Wizkid are regarded as local competition for each other.



Nigerian music today is now an integral part of the digital age, and Fela’s work is still as relevant as it was many years ago, feeding the creativity of generations, and defining the identity and basics of all our music is and ought to aspire to.

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