‘…as the initial manager of the Fela Ransome Kuti Quintet from 1963 through to the Koola Lobitos in 1965 and up till the early ’70s of the Africa’70 years, I saw everything… as manager, I was intimately involved. I lived everything. I grappled with every activity. A large percentage of this biography is therefore chronicled from first-hand knowledge as ‘legends untold’
A REVISED edition of his book, “DIS FELA SEF…” — incorporating new chapters e.g Fela Kuti’s years in London, his courtship/relationship with his wife, Remi Taylor, as well as other new and fresh revelations about the legendary musician-activist — was formally launched June 13, 2022 on online platforms – www.amazon.com, and Okada Books.
Why I wrote the book…
THERE already exist several biographies of Fela Anikulapo Kuti as well as his autobiography by foreign and Nigerian writers. I find all of them interesting and useful; and strongly recommend them to any one seriously interested in Fela’s life, music and times. Why then am I writing yet another Fela biography?
One answer is that there is still more to be known and a number of misunderstandings to be corrected — especially on the formative years of his career.
As an art columnist of The Guardian newspaper for almost 20 years, I have written more about Fela than any journalist in Nigeria and indeed the entire world. My original intention was to assemble these stories and publish them in book form, but some well-meaning people kept urging me to write a book from the participant-observer perspective since, as the initial manager of the Fela Ransome Kuti Quintet from 1963 through to the Koola Lobitos in 1965 and up till the early ’70s of the Africa’70 years, I saw everything.
The fact of the matter is that as manager, I was intimately involved. I lived everything. I grappled with every activity. A large percentage of this biography is therefore chronicled from first-hand knowledge as ‘legends untold’.
At first, I was going to limit myself exlusively to the early part of Fela’s life — instead of a full-length biography. But I discovered that I also had something new to say about his latter years that have not been revealed. I finally settled for a hybrid of the two approaches.
A second answer to why another biography on Fela is that mine is not a biography in the contemporary sense and it does not attempt to track down every event or person in Fela’s life. Nor is it strictly a musical study, especially because not all his music is discussed. We all know that in biographical writing, you cannot resist the urge to fill in the blanks, thicken the story line, provide missing motivation as a result of extensive research, and heat up the significance. But this biography is about the essential elements, new perspectives, the story behind the story and the yet-to-be told story.
These are some of my reasons but for certain, mine is not going to be the last word; and I would be surprised, even distressed, if what I have done or not done doesn’t spark yet another Fela biography. After all, it is now16 years since his death and Fela seems omnipresent. We speak of him in the present tense; his first name is used not so much to demonstrate personal familiarity as it is to acknowledge the pervasiveness of his influence.
Today, his music is the inspirer of modern hip hop in Nigeria and West Africa. Afro Beat bands have been formed across Europe and America that are drawing from his overwhelming influence. Musicians and fans lapse into his vocal rasp to make a point. Fela has been celebrated on ‘Broadway.’ The annual Festival tagged ‘Felabration’ continues to wax stronger and bigger in dimension and activity with every edition – even as they celebrate him with excessive veneration.
The former Kalakuta commune has been recreated and transformed into a museum for his immortalization. Dis Fela Sef!
(Excerpts from the book, Dis Fela Sef: The Legend(s) Untold (Festac Books, 2016; revised as e-books; 2022)