Part 1 of the Afrobeat Diaries looked at the circumstances surrounding Fela Kuti's 1974 album Alagbon Close (Jofabro), the first of Kuti's discs so explicitly to expose the brutality and injustice then, as now, rampant among the Nigerian police and judiciary.
Part 2 first relates the consequences of that brave album, which began with a police attack on Kuti's self-declared "Kalakuta Republic"the live/work compound he'd established for himself and Africa 70on 23 November, 1974. The attack was chronicled on the album Kalakuta Show (EMI Nigeria).
Following the release of Zombie (Phonogram Nigeria), an incendiary lampoon of the military, the Nigerian army staged an even bigger and more savage assault on 18 February 1977, during which Kalakuta was burnt to the ground and its occupants beaten, or raped, or both.
Fela Ransome Kuti & Africa 70 / Fela Anikulapo Kuti & Afrika 70
Although the police attack on Kalakuta in November 1974 was on a smaller scale than the army's attack in February 1977, it was a gruesome affair. On the pretext of searching for a young woman who it was alleged Kuti had abducted, the police staged a surprise assault on Kalakuta.
After breaking down the fence which surrounded the compound and throwing teargas canisters into its buildings, they set about anyone they could lay their hands on. Kuti was so badly beaten that he spent the next three days under police guard in hospital, no visitors, and especially no photographers, allowed, before his lawyer succeeded in getting him released on bail. Following a menacing introduction by the Africa 70 horns, a tough tenor saxophone solo from Kuti, and underpinned throughout by insistent drums and shekere, the title track on Kalakuta Show relates the story.
Wrasse Records' reissue of Kalakuta Show includes another top drawer album, Ikoyi Blindness (African Music International), released a few months later. On Ikoyi, Kuti celebrated his change of middle name from Ransome, which he now considered a slave name, to Anikulapo, and Africa 70's rebirth as Afrika 70. The cover showed Ransome crossed out, with Anikulapo added in above it (see next page).
Kuti's full name now meant "He Who Emanates Greatness" (Fela), "Having Control Over Death" (Anikulapo), "Death Cannot Be Caused By Human Entity" (Kuti).
It was a name-of-power, and Kuti was going to need all of it on 18 February, 1977.
The fury stirred up among the Nigerian authorities by Alagbon Close, and then by Kalakuta Show, was as nothing compared to the reprisals conducted against Kuti and his band following the 1976 album, Zombie.
On the title track, over urgent, quick-march accompaniment from Afrika 70, Kuti and his backup singers ridicule the mindset of the Nigerian army. "Attention! Quick march! Slow march! Salute!" Kuti sang, "Fall in! Fall out! Fall down! Go and kill! Go and die! Go and quench!" Each phrase is followed by the women singers' taunting response, "Zombie!"
For the army, Kuti's lyrics were the final insult, a direct attack on its pride and standing, made more wounding by the fact that the collective alpha males were being made to look foolish, in part, by women. The army's response was terrible...