It’s hard to know where to start with Fela Kuti. Hailing from Lagos, the Nigerian artist transcended his role as a founding father of afrobeat with his dissident, highly-politicised music and thirty years on from his passing, Fela’s influence can still be felt in spades. The man once described by the BBC as “Africa’s Bob Marley” went toe-to-toe with the Nigerian authorities – notably mocking and criticising the military on the Africa 70 release, Zombie – calling for social justice and stating his desire to establish a united and democratic African republic.
Despite working with some of jazz music’s most exciting and inimitable talents (cast an eye over the Fela Kuti discography and you’ll see names like Roy Ayers and Ginger Baker) and cramming his bands with some of West Africa’s finest, Fela’s brilliance still shines through on pretty much everything he touched. Every year, a worldwide Felabration marks his birthday with a series of events and with what would have been his 77th birthday this month, musical talents across the globe are set to descend on the British Library for a celebration of all things Fela.
Topping the bill will be former Egypt 80 keyboard player Dele Sosimi’s Afrobeat Orchestra, while Damon Albarn collaborator and Fela’s drummer for twenty years, Tony Allen, also features. They’ll be tasked with bringing the afrobeat pioneer’s music to life and the vocal accompaniment is nothing to be sniffed at either. Among the names are Lagos superstar 2face Idibia, Brummie songstress Laura Mvula and the lovely Terri Walker (if you don’t know, check out the Boiler Room session with Lonnie Liston Smith and Swindle), all of whom will feature on an evening set to join the dots between Africa and the UK.
Late at the Library: Felabration! takes place on 16th October at the British Library. Grab tickets from their website.