The king of Afro-beat, the guru of strategic irreverence and pan Africanism, the master exponent of "Shakara" and the enchanting saxophonic rhythms and synthesizers which waft through his classic song "Lady" has joined his ancestors but his views on everyday, existential matters are relevent today across Africa. Fela, the king of socio-musical commentary is no more; one of the best jazzologists and creators of the most compelling and inimitable ethno-orchestra sessions of the 20th century is dead but his call that Africans get beyond "colonial mentality"and anit-corruption songs "Yellow Fever" are entirely valid.

By Chido Nwangwu

The African continent's most creative Afrobeat superstar, anti-military dictatorship activist, social maverick and pan-Africanist Fela Anikulapo-Kuti has died of AIDS-related reasons and heart failure. Fela's 58 years old, odd but very courageous engagement with life was as controversial, irreverent, creative as he was sometimes confusing to even his most ardent admirers. His social promiscuity and hyper-sexual relationships with women, mainly his retinue of dancers were, at once, revolting to many, as he was also an object of curiosity for all manner of people, Americans and Europeans, Africans and Arabs, men and women. He was a genius, albeit, for lack of a better word, a usefully mad genius, a creative iconoclast. Fela's genius as a musician had an unmatched stellar power, may be an acute acoustic verve and caustic provocations to the powers that be. The military in Nigeria feared only one man in Nigeria: Fela.

The African continent's most creative Afrobeat superstar, anti-military dictatorship activist, social maverick and pan-Africanist Fela Anikulapo-Kuti has died of AIDS-related reasons and heart failure. "The immediate cause of death of Fela was heart failure but there were many complications arising from the Acquired Immuno-Deficiency Syndrome,'' Olikoye Ransome-Kuti, a medical doctor and Fela's older brother told a news conference in Lagos on Sunday August 3, 1997 announcing the death of a musical giant, social commentator and maestro.

Fela's 58 years old, odd but very courageous engagement with life was as controversial, irreverent, creative as he was sometimes confusing to even his most ardent admirers. His social promiscuity and hyper-sexual relationships with women, mainly his retinue of dancers were, at once, revolting to many, as he was also an object of curiosity for all manner of people, Americans and Europeans, Africans and Arabs, men and women. He was a genius, albeit, for lack of a better word, a usefully mad genius, a creative iconoclast. In my opinion, there was just one Fela; there has never been any like him in his country; there will really never be another like him. Fela's imprints on the sand of our social time are permanent. Although Fela's (ab)use of drugs (hemp) did not help his health and focus on the other things that were important. He could have been better. But to some, it was all part of his eccentricities, a part of his mystique as Fela Anikulapo Kuti! No.

The king of Afro-beat, the guru of strategic irreverence and pan Africanism, the master exponent of "Shakara" and the enchanting saxophonic rhythms and synthesizers which waft through his classic song "Lady" has joined his ancestors but his views on everyday, existential matters are relevent today across Africa. Fela, the king of socio-musical commentary is no more; one of the best jazzologists and creators of the most compelling and inimitable ethno-orchestra sessions of the 20th century is dead but his call that Africans get beyond "colonial mentality"and anit-corruption songs "Yellow Fever" are entirely valid.

Coincidentally, a few hours after his death, I had the privileged of being the guest (with my wife) of creative events photographer Richard Dabon's at the Omni Hotel this August 3 weekend for the 1997 Houston Mayor's Jazz Brunch. Tunes reminiscent of Fela's saxophonic vitality and energies were played occasionally at the event. May be only a few persons at the Omni would have known the giant had passed. It all seemed like an unscheduled, unmentioned tribute to Fela-- with the likes of the very remarkable South African Jonathan Butler doing an incredible, elevating live jam session with the Houston Jazz Education All Stars. Fela would have been proud.

But is he proud of the country (Nigeria) he left, dying of AIDS-related complications? Does anyone really know what the statistic and measures to make Nigereians and other Africans safe from the AIDS virus? What will happen to the hundreds, yes, hundreds of women who made a different kind of (bed) sheet music" with Fela? Is jazz, especially Afro-jazz, today in the African continent, in Black America and the rest of the world better than when his likes put the genre on the globe?

Is his country, Nigeria, moving towards what he hoped for in his music and views? In fact, it must be asked did he contribute to the decay of the country's morals and direction by his multiple sexual devotions? Fela was no angel or saint, to be sure. But Fela's genius as a musician had an unmatched stellar power, may be an acute acoustic verve and caustic provocations to the powers that be.

His courage to speak his truth, his strong, unvarnished views to the face of power and "all dem oppressors" will be missed by millions of other Africans and people of the world. He remained a tower of guts, even while his pants were barely on!

According to USAfrica The Newspaper's correspondents in Lagos , the death of Fela has left a mournful pall over the country while soaring sales for his records/compact discs. A Lagosian, Adetiba Omowale told one of our reporters "this is the death of an original, an African original. Fela was unequalled." Ikenna Ibeneme said "he was the best. He had style and guts."

He died on Saturday August 2, 1997 after several weeks of illness at the age of 58. Fela resided in Ikeja, operated and played at a famous joint called "The Shrine." He has toured the U.S (including our city, Houston) and dozens of European cities.

Before his death, Fela refused treatment for his deteriorating health. He rejected both Western and traditional Nigerian medical services insisting it was on grounds of "principle." The Nigerian Drug Law Enforcement Agency led by Gen. Bamayi tried without success to stop him from using marijuana with threats of legal incarceration. After their efforts failed the NDLEA agents released (see USAfrica The Newspaper April 25 1997 edition).

Remarkably, and unusually too, Fela has not made major, if any, effort to challenge or criticize Nigeria's current military ruler Gen. Sani Abacha, despite the fact one of his brothers, Beko Ransome-Kuti, a democracy activist, is serving a prison sentence for involvement in an alleged "coup plot." Beko Ransome-Kuti turned his 57 the same Saturday Fela died. He is reportedly removed from news and radio access. He has also been actively opposed to military dictatorships in Nigeria.

Fela's social and political activism led to his forming a political party called Movement of the People (MOP) during Nigeria's militarily aborted attempt by civilians in 1978/79 and the early 1980s to establish a democratic government. Fela never shied away, until few years before his death, from stating his opposition to military men and ordinary soldiers whom he referred to, pejoratively, as "zombies". He paid for his vocal, and critical stance. Even his mother, a noted nationalist was a victim of military-police brutality.

Jailed presidential claimant Moshood K.O Abiola did not escape the lethal, no-holds-barred and bazooka-like biting attacks on Nigeria's ruling class from Fela. In fact he called Abiola "a Thief" while categorizing the ITT for which Abiola served its interests in Nigeria and the Middle East as nothing more than "International Thief, Thief." That was simply a tip of Fela's acerbic directness. His kinsman and now detained former head of state of Nigeria Olusegun Obasanjo did not escape his peppery barb.

Fela is dead, alright; but his music lives on. Long live Fela, Long Live the King of Afro-beat.

Chido Nwangwu is the founder and publisher of USAfrica The Newspaper.