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Afrobeat Diaries

Part 2 - Fela Anikulapo Kuti and the sack of Kalakuta Republic

By Published: September 4, 2009
On 18 February, 1977, around 1,000 soldiers, most of them armed, swooped on Kalakuta. They cordoned off the surrounding area, broke down the wire fence around the community's buildings, and kicked their way into the central structure. Occupants were stripped and barbarously abused: particularly unfortunate men had their testicles beaten with rifle butts; particularly unfortunate women were raped (one also had her nipples crushed with stones). Kuti himself was beaten close to death, sustaining a fractured skull and several broken bones. His mother, then aged 77, was thrown from an upstairs window, fracturing a leg and suffering deep trauma. The army then set fire to the compound and prevented the fire brigade reaching the area. The ensuing blaze gutted the premises, destroying six Afrika 70 vehicles, all Kuti's master tapes and band equipment, a four-track recording studio, all the community members' belongings and, for good measure, the free medical clinic run by Kuti's brother, Dr Beko Kuti (also severely beaten in the attack). The first journalists to arrive on the scene were assaulted by soldiers. Inquisitive passers-by were similarly set upon. The army didn't want any witnesses. (They were unsuccessful at least in that: Kuti sent several dozen photos of the immediate aftermath of the attack to Black Music magazine in London, which published them along with the testimonies of Kalakuta residents).

Although Kuti won the war of words which followed, he sensibly decided to leave Nigeria for a while, and in October went into voluntary exile in neighbouring Ghana. But his political stance didn't endear itself to the Ghanaian authorities either—particularly when protesting students starting shouting "Zombie!" at police and soldiers in the streets—and Kuti was deported back to Nigeria after a few turbulent months.

In February 1978, to mark the anniversary of the previous year's pillage, and to affirm his embrace of African culture, Kuti married 27 women simultaneously in a traditional ceremony. After his mother died a few months later, Kuti and Afrika 70 recorded Coffin For Head Of State (Kalakuta Records), which explicitly blamed the Nigerian head of state, General Olusegun Obasanjo, for her death. The day before Obasanjo retired from office for the first time, on 1 October, 1979, Kuti and his friends and family marked the occasion by depositing his mother's coffin at the gate of Obasanjo's residence in Dodan barracks. If the military thought they could silence Kuti, short of killing him, they were very wrong, as demonstrated by Coffin and other courageous albums including Unknown Soldier (Phonodisk), Sorrow Tears And Blood, Vagabonds In Power and Authority Stealing (all Kalakuta Records).

Wrasse Records' reissue of Zombie includes two valuable, previously unreleased tracks, "Observation Is No Crime" and "Mistake." The second of these, a medium-paced, conga-rich, 15 minute tour de force by Afrika 70, with excellent solos by trumpeter Tunde Williams and Kuti, on saxophone, was recorded live at the Berlin Jazz Festival in 1978. Incredibly, it is accompanied throughout by booing and cat-calls from the audience, a large number of whom appear to have gone along only to attack Kuti for his perceived attitude to women. But Kuti and Afrika 70 had faced much worse than this the previous year, and continue cooking up a storm, unfazed.

Tracks and Personnel

Kalakuta Show

Tracks: Kalakuta Show; Don't Make Garan Garan.

Personnel: Personnel: Fela Ransome Kuti: tenor and alto saxophone, keyboards, vocals; Tony Allen: drums, leader; Lekan Animashaun: baritone saxophone; Christopher Uwaifor: tenor saxophone; Tunde Williams: trumpet; Ukem Stephen: second trumpet; Ogene Kologbo: tenor guitar; Leke Benson: rhythm guitar; Franco Aboddy: bass guitar; Henry Kofi: first conga; Nicholas Addo: second conga; Isaac Olaleye: maracas; James Abayomi: sticks; Tejumade Adebyi, Bernadette Oghomienor, Regina Ousfor, Felicia Idomi, Suru, Shade Komolafe: vocal chorus.

Ikoyi Blindness

Tracks: Ikoyi Blindness; Gba Mi Leti N'Dolowo.

Personnel: Fela Anikulapo Kuti: tenor and alto saxophone, keyboards, vocals; Tony Allen: drums, leader; Lekan Animashaun: baritone saxophone; Tunde Williams: trumpet; Ukem Stephen: second trumpet; Clifford Itoje: rhythm guitar; Leke Benson: tenor guitar; Franco Aboddy: bass guitar; Henry Kofi: first conga; Nicholas Addo: second conga; Sina Abiodun: third conga; Isaac Olaleye: maracas; James Abayomi: sticks; Tejumade Adebyi, Bernadette Oghomienor, Regina Ousfor, Folake Oladjo, Folake Olatunde, Bola Balogun, Rita Eweka, Shade Komolafe: vocal chorus.

Zombie

Tracks: Zombie; Mister Follow Follow; Observation No Crime (previously unreleased); Mistake (previously unreleased).


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