The Lagos State Government in collaboration with the family of the late Afrobeat icon, Fela Kuti, has converted his last home at 8, Gbemisola Street, Allen Avenue, Ikeja, into a museum, the Kalakuta Republic Museum.
Capital FM reports that the museum is not yet complete but it was inaugurated on October 15 to mark the anniversary of Fela's "74th birthday."
His family also organized events as part of "Felabration" marking the anniversary.
Fela's son, Femi, told a crowd of supporters at the opening ceremony that although the museum was not finished, the opening ceremony was done on October 15, Fela's birthday, to raise awareness about "Felabration" week.
Fela's showbiz paraphernalia and related memorabilia, including costumes, clothing, other personal effects, covers of his albums will be preserved and displayed at the museum.
According to The Punch, the state Commissioner for Tourism and Inter-Government Relations, Mr. Disun Holloway, said that the Kalakuta Republic Museum is part of the efforts to preserve the culture of Lagos. The Punch reports he said: “It is only appropriate to have chosen a day as this to declare this monument open... to mark the 74th posthumous birthday of the legendary musician. It is also the beginning of Felabration – a week-long series of festivities to celebrate a Nigerian multi-instrumentalist musician, human activist, tourism stakeholder and political maverick.
“This is a deliberate attempt at bringing the old social life back to Lagos through the creation of places of relaxation within safe and secure environment. As demonstrated by the involvement of the state government in this museum, it is pertinent to reiterate our commitment towards boosting tourism.”
Femi, son of the late Fela Kuti, spoke on behalf of the Kuti family. He expressed support for the decision but emphasized that the museum would serve its purpose only if government promotes the ideals that his father lived and died for. He urged government to fight the scourge of poverty in Nigeria and promote equality. He said: “We say a big ‘Thank You’ to the Lagos State government. We are not one that supports any government but ensure that all is well for the citizens. I sincerely commend Governor Fashola who has stood out to be recognized with this.
“This would serve as a step forward if the cause my father fought for is achieved. The issues of poverty, electricity, education and many other vital ones aimed at making the nation a pillar for envy. Our children should be able to see the vision of pan-africanism through the struggle of my father. When we eradicate poverty and our value increases, then we can say we have value and reason to celebrate our coming generations.”
Chief Rasheed Gbadamosi, former Minister of Planning, and a personal friend of Fela, said the museum was "a memory brought alive." He described the late icon as a "true definition of democracy." He said: "This brings a lot of memory. It replaces the bad moment when we lost Fela. It clearly shows that while we lost Fela, his remains should always give us hope that goodness will return.”
The Curator of the museum, Mr Lemi Gharioku, said: “More can be done to celebrate the hero who demonstrated persistence despite all odds and threats. Fela has been recognized internationally, and is worth to be celebrated in his state and country where he fought for liberation, transparency and equality of all people.”
Fela's children, including Yeni and Seun, were present at the event.
Fela's musical career and struggle against military autocracy
Fela (15 October 1938 - 2 August 1997) was relentless a gadfly and vociferous opponent of the Nigerian military state. He was in constant conflict with the succession of Nigeria's despotic military governments and composed several songs in his unique blend of American Jazz, Funk, Pop, Salsa, Calypso, West African Highlife Music, with an infusion of native percussion.
In his lifetime, Fela's Kalakuta Republic was a musical commune located at 14 Agege Motor Road, Idi-Oro, Mushin. Fela declared Kalakuta Republic independent from the Nigerian state. He set up a nightclub called the Afrika Shrine where he staged regular weekend performances. He also changed his surname from "Ransome" to "Anikulapo" ("one who carries death, subdued, in a pouch"), declaring that the name "Ransome" was an undignified slave name.
Fela.net comments on his rise to prominence as a musician-activist in the 1970s:
"Fela’s rise in the early 1970s paralleled the downfall of the hopes Africans pinned on their newly won Independence. As a whole, Africans were again living in incarcerated societies; Nigeria, he said, was a 'prison of peoples'... As many of these new countries turned into terror-drenched, neo-colonial states, Fela... prescribed forsaking the corrupting ways of Western society, its capitalist greed, its Communist despotism, the straitjacket moral conventions of Judeo-Christianity and Islam. He saw imperialism, colonialism and racism as scourges to be universally eradicated, and the structures that sustain them dismantled, before humankind could advance."
Fela's epic battle with the forces of evil in the form of military despotism began in 1977 when his "Fela and the Afrika '70" group released the smash hit "Zombie," in which he poured scorn and ridicule on the Nigerian military, saying that soldiers are unfit to rule because they are lacking in initiative and originality by virtue of their training, which is to take orders. In his song, he described solders as "zombie wey e na one way," that is, "Zombies (soldiers) are intellectually inflexible." In performances, he would spoof the rigid patterns of military parades and discipline, imitating a commander shouting orders at his "zombies": "Stand at ease! Attention! Go left! Go right! Go centre! Stand at ease! Go kill! Go die!" He sings: "Zombie no go wok unless u tell am to wok" (i.e "zombies stand till until they are told to move").
The song provoked a vicious retaliation from the Nigerian military under General Olusegun Obasanjo's junta. The Kalakuta Republic was stormed by one thousand armed soldiers. Under the pretext that the commune was harboring "criminal elements," the soldiers razed it and dispersed its members. The studio, equipment and master tapes destroyed. And most tragic of all, his elderly mother, Funmilayo, a notable Nigerian women's right activist, was tossed out of a window and killed. According to Fela, the intervention of a superior officer prevented soldiers from beating him to death.
But Fela was not one to be cowed by state sponsored violence. After he survived the ordeal, he relocated his commune, and organized a protest march in which he carried his "mother's coffin" to Dodan Barracks, the official residence of the military head of state, General Olusegun Obasanjo. He composed two of his best known songs: "Coffin for Head of State" and "Unknown Soldier," in which he denounced the official inquiry that claimed that his mother was killed by an "unknown soldier."
His struggle with military autocracy continued after he formed his Movement of the People and attempted to have it registered as a political party. He announced his intention to run for president but his application to the electoral authorities was rejected.
He transformed his "Africa '70s" band to "Egypt '80." In another smash hit album ITT ("International Thief Thief"), he attacked ITT Corporation's Nigerian vice-president Multi-millionaire Chief Moshood Abiola and General Olusegun Obasanjo, accusing them of crony capitalism and corruption. He did not get away with actually mentioning their names and calling them "International Thief Thief." In 1984, the government of General Mohammadu Buhari jailed him on a charge of currency smuggling. Amnesty International took up his case and denounced the Nigerian state, saying that Fela's arrest and trial were politically motivated.
He was released from prison by the military government of General Ibrahim Badamosi Babangida after he had spent 20 months in jail.
The 1990s following his release from prison were relatively quiet. The formerly youthfully exuberant Fela was growing old and years of violent confrontation with brutal military regimes was taking its toll.
Yet two of his most memorable albums come from the period after his release from jail: "Tisha (teacher) Don't Tish (teach) Me Nonsense" in which he attacked the West for its insincere condescending patronage of what he called African "demo-crazy." He sings: "Tisha don tish me, person una tish finish yesterday e don die today O." ("Teacher don't lecture me, you last student just died.")
In his "Beast of No Nations," he criticized the West for what he perceived as their collaboration with the apartheid regime in South Africa.
On 3 August 1997, his elder brother, Dr. Olikoye Ransome-Kuti, former Minister of Health, announced that Fela had died of health complications related to HIV-infection. Although rumors of ill-health and deteriorating condition had been spreading, millions of his fans in Nigeria and abroad were shocked at the news of his death.
Fela died prematurely at 58.