Happy Birthday, Fela Kuti!

Fela Kuti’s irrepressible beat was matched by his relentless fight against dictatorial corruption in his home country of Nigeria and Western imperialism as a whole. This performance of Power Show illustrates the man’s ability to combine political messages with an all-consuming groove...


Outspoken and a man of action, Fela’s voice was silenced on August 2, 1997 when he passed away from Kaposi sarcoma brought about by AIDS. Today, October 15, 2013, would have seen him celebrate his 75th birthday.

To mark the occasion and to promote the Red Hot + Fela compilation – an all-star collection featuring Angelique Kidjo, ?uestlove (The Roots), M1 (Dead Prez), Spoek Mathambo, tUnE-yArDs, Nneka, Kronos Quartet, Tony Allen, Baloji, Chance The Rapper and My Morning Jacket, where the proceeds go towards HIV/AIDS education – the likes of Brian Eno, George Clinton and Paul McCartney pay their respects to the man.

In this film, McCartney recalls travelling to Lagos to record Wings’ Band On The Run and being accused of “stealing the black man’s music” by Fela himself. Inviting Kuti to hear what he was recording, McCartney befriended the Nigerian and was invited to a memorable soirée at the latter’s infamous club, The Shrine. There, McCartney recalls being reduced to tears by the sheer intensity of the performance.


Another British musician who travelled to Nigeria to visit Kuti was drummer Ginger Baker, who documented the experience in 1973’s Ginger Baker In Africa documentary. Here’s a scene from that where the pair meet, Fela greeting the ex-Cream man in a fetching pair of yellow underpants, before delivering an overwhelming performance in the pouring rain.


At MOJO, we say Happy Birthday, Fela! And we have no problem reminding you that the final part of the man’s back catalogue is released today by Knitting Factory Records, and consists of Teacher Don’t Teach Me Nonsense (1986), Original Suffer Head / ITT (1981 and 1980 respectively), Live In Amsterdam (1983), Army Arrangement (1985), Beasts Of No Nation / ODOO (both 1989) and U.S. (Underground System) (1992).