Life, times of eccentric Nigerian activist Kuti

01 July 2019 - 13:24
By Patience Bambalele
 The Fela and The Kalakuta Queens Musical.
Image: Supplied. The Fela and The Kalakuta Queens Musical.

Afro-beat star Fela Kuti was tortured and arrested every time he released an album in his country of birth Nigeria because of his activism.

The arrests were so regular that Kuti knew when soldiers and police would be coming for him.

This came up in one of his documentaries Finding Fela that was flighted yesterday at the National Arts Festival in Makhanda (previously Grahamstown), Eastern Cape. The documentary came out in 2014.

The documentary is about the Nigerian superstar and his unique lifestyle. It features interviews with his children, friends, promoters and former girlfriend Sandra Smith.

Smith explained she influenced Kuti's writing style.

"When I met him I told him his music did not have substance. I told him to use the platform to raise issues. I even gave him Dr Martin Luther King's book."

The doccie also looks at the making of the musical that celebrated Kuti, and how he married 27 women at the same time. His harassment by the Nigerian government, who ended up burning his house down, forms part of the two-hour film.

"I have been arrested more than 200 times but I still stand. I keep fighting."

After experiencing a lot of harassment, Kuti began to compose music that speaks about injustice and corruption. This led to him to being dubbed "Nigeria's enemy number one" every time he released an album.

Kuti was a talented man who could sing about anything from his favourite soup to politics.

One of the producers of the documentary said one of the challenges of making his musical was that Kuti's songs were the longest, with each song lasting for 22 minutes.

Kuti's performances comprised singing, dancing, drumming and weed-smoking

Kuti loved women. Smith, who dated the star, said: "At some point there were 10 women around him. He made it clear that it's either I join the entourage or leave. I decided to leave."

His famous performance space The Shrine in Nigeria became the place to be, attracting international stars.

Kuti died in Nigeria in 1997 after health complications.