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In today’s world, it’s very common to see living, breathing contradictions. There are people who use culture appropriation to make or sell records and create music videos, those who slut-shame other women yet call themselves feminist, and there are too many tweeting about the problems in the world instead of going out and fighting against them. While there’s nothing wrong with speaking about the issues, just talking about it only does so much. If you are looking for inspiration from a true artist and activist, then you might have to look beyond the artists you listen to today. You might have to go back to the 60s and 70s and look for an artist who’s not from America. For those who are unaware, allow me to introduce you to Fela Kuti, a musician and activist who has helped inspire change and created a different avenue for politics through art. A lot can be said about Fela… he wasn’t a perfect man by any means. In this article, I choose to focus on the positive aspects of his life, the musical legacy of activism that he left behind.
Kuti was born in Nigeria in 1938. His mother was a feminist, and his father was not only a minister and school principal but the first president of the Nigeria Union of Teachers. While Kuty was attending school in London, he decided to study music instead of medicine, and he started a band. He briefly trained as a radio producer and continued his music career. Then after a trip to Ghana, he gained musical inspiration and developed a style he called it “afrobeat.” Soon after, Kuti and his band spent 10 months in Los Angeles where they discovered the the Black Power Movement and Black Panther Party. This would heavily influence his music and political views.
Soon after, Kuti and his band went from singing about love to social justice. He believed that the best way to fight European imperialism was to support African religions and lifestyles. In addition to singing about it in his music, Kuti took the opportunity to publish political columns. These were part of his famous “Yabi” sessions, consciousness-raising word-sound rituals. His political stance kicked into high-gear when his mother was thrown from a third-floor window by the police as political retribution and died after two months in a coma from complications due to injuries from the fall.
Fela Kuti died in August of 1997, but his legacy continues to this day through the artists he has influenced. Kuti was one of the first artists to take his political views beyond music. He was very active politically, and his work with social justice is as well known as his music. Kuti’s influence has traveled across generations and inspired artists such as Public Enemy, N.W.A, David Banner, Common, Shakira, Sarah McLachlan, Wyclef Jean, and countless others who have used their music and public image to help others and bring awareness, instead of just tweeting about issues.
So, the next time you witness celebrity slacktivism and you wanna give up on society as a whole, just remember there is hope. There are people that still care and are willing to fight to get our voices heard, celebrity or not. It’s not wrong to expect more from entertainers than just a catchy tune. Even though Fela is long gone, he is still an excellent example of the power of activism through music.