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Fela Kuti MFM Zoom Roundtable Discussion Set For April 19, 2024

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Music is the weapon of the future.
—Fela Kuti
MFM Presents “Music Is Essential," a Zoom Roundtable Discussion on the Legacy and Impact of Fela Kuti’s Music and Activism on the African Continent, with Special guests who knew or worked with the godfather of Afrobeat.

Date: Friday, April 19, 2024—Time: 4:00-5:30 p.m. ET
Venue: ZOOM—Ticket: $5 (up to 100 for sale. Save your seat TODAY!)

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Zoom host and PR Campaign manager: Adam Reifsteck

This event is produced by Sohrab Saadat Ladjevardi aka SoSaLa (MFM President and musician) and led by Banning Eyre (Senior Producer for the Peabody Award-winning public radio series Afropop Worldwide, musician and MFM AC.)

It’s the first time that a Zoom event brings so many key players in Fela Kuti’s extraordinary life and career:

The Panelists

Rikki Stein (Fela’s friend and manager for some fifteen years until his sad demise. Oversees the release of Fela’s 50 album catalog. Located in London.)

All About Jazz's Chris May (First journalist to interview Fela in Lagos in the aftermath of the Nigerian army’s 1977 sack of Kalakuta Republic. May’s Google Arts & Culture’s interactive state-of-the-art Fela website is expected to go online later in 2024. In 2017, Seun Kuti appointed him Guardian of Afrobeat. Located in London.)

Sandra Izsadore (Singer-songwriter, composer/author/activist who met Fela in LA.in 1969, and engaged him in the international struggle for Black civil rights. Izsadore’s revolutionizing relationship with Fela is dramatized in the Tony Award-winning Broadway Musical Fela! Located in L.A..)

Michael Veal (Professor of Music at Yale University. He is the author of Fela: The Life and Times of an African Musical Icon (2000), a guest saxophonist playing in Fela’s band, Egypt 80, and the bassist in his band Michael Veal & Aqua Ife. Located in NY.)

Duke Amayo (Nigerian musician, singer, and composer who grew up in Fela’s Lagos neighborhood and former frontman of the Brooklyn Afrobeat band Antibalas for 23 years. He composed and performed on the GRAMMY-nominated “Antibalas Fu Chronicles” album for “Best Global Music Album of the Year” 2021. Located in Atlanta.)

Leon “Kaleta” Ligan-Majekodunmi (From Benin. Guitarist in Fela’s Egypt 80 band through the 1980s and into the ‘90s. Played on two Fela albums: O.D.O.O. (1989) and Underground System (1992). Leader of Super Yamba Band, Keleta has collaborated with Lauren Hill, Angelique Kidjo, Shina Peters, and both of Fela’s bandleading sons. Located in N.Y..)

Joseph Kuo (From Cameroon. Played drums for seven years in Fela’s Egypt 80 band and on the track “International Thief Thief (I.T.T.).” He moved to NY in 1994 and played drums for Harry Belafonte, Richard Bona, and Antibalas. Located in N.Y..)

Stuart Leigh (Produced Folkways album Music of Sierra Leone: Kono-Mende Farmers’ Songs. Covered the Organization of African Unity Summit in Sierra Leone in 1980, and interviewed palm wine guitar legend Koo Nimo in Ghana. He continued to Lagos where he interviewed Fela about pan-Africanism and attended Fela’s rehearsal at the Shrine. Produced an NPR profile when Fela toured the U.S. in 1986. Located in NY State.)

Noel Smith (Musician and audio engineer. He spent 1971-2 working in Lagos, Nigeria, assembling and running a multitrack studio owned by Cream drummer Ginger Baker. Smith worked with top musicians, mostly Fela Kuti and his Africa 70 band; and recorded some iconic songs in that era, including “Lady” and “Shakara (Oloje).” Located in NY State.)

Ghariokwu Lemi (Nigerian painter, illustrator, and designer who is most renowned for providing many of the original cover images for the recordings of Nigerian musician Fela Kuti.

Dr. Tee Mac Omatshola Iseli (MFR) (Nigerian flutist, band leader, composer, educator; club owner, investor: and co-founder of the Classical Music Society of Nigeria and the Performing Musician Association of Nigeria 1984 (PMAN). Toured the world extensively with his Pop band Silver Convention and his Afro Pop Tee Mac Collection. Reformed in the year 2000 his latest band Tee Mac's Gold Convention. Since 1970 till Fela’s death Tee Mac has jammed with Fela’s band countless times with his flute. Tee Mac and Fela’s band shared the same stage many times during concerts and Festivals, especially at the Lekky Sun Splash every Easter and Christmas; Tee Mac was Fela’s co-adviser on six of his albums, especially during the mixing stage. He was also a good friend of Fela’s family, especially with Fela’s son Seun whom he adopted from age 13 to 18, and joins them for birthdays, Felabration, and special shows at the Shrine.

“I was not a politician, I was a revolutionary musician.”—Fela

Why talk about Fela?

Twenty-seven years after his death, Fela Anikulapo Kuti, the creator of Afrobeat music, still gets a million or more YouTube plays each month, and from all corners of the world. His enormous catalogue of recordings is being reissued for the third time, in deluxe vinyl box set editions. He has been the subject of books, films, seminars, podcasts, and a Broadway musical.

Bands playing Afrobeat music, extending and honoring Fela’s work, exist in towns and cities around the globe. And a new generation of contemporary African musicians are eagerly sampling his tracks. What is it about Fela’s sound and message that makes them so enduring?

This discussion will zero in on the unique political circumstances and diasporic influences that led to the crystallization of Fela’s Afrobeat in the 1970s. His merger of Yoruba rhythms, highlife, jazz improvisation, and funk was a product of his rigorous intellectual upbringing, his schooling in music in London, and his radicalization during a stay in Los Angeles in 1969-70. All these factors and more went into the large, orchestral sound and elaborate, lengthy arrangements that Fela, by the end of his career, called “African classical music.”

As important as Fela’s innovative sound is his message. No African musician, and few musicians of any time or place, have shown such courage and risked so much to call out official wrongdoing, sadly a rich topic in Nigerian political and economic history. One reason that young Nigerians today continue to revere this artist decades after his death is because so many of Fela’s memorable lyrics still ring true today.

Speaking of young musicians, the past 20 years have seen the rise of the most internationally successful African music ever, and as fate would have it—thanks to a Ghanaian DJ in the UK, DJ Abrantee—this new music has become known as Afrobeats-with an “s.” Aside from the inevitable confusion this genre name has created, there is also a lively debate as to whether this generation of artists—Wizkid, Burna Boy, Tiwa Savage, Yemi Alade, Rema, Davido, Ayra Starr, and others—have any business linking their work to that of the monumental figure that is Fela Kuti.

Is their music as innovative? Are their messages as strong and timeless? Are they corrupted by the fact that many come from money resulting from the very corruption Fela condemned, and many benefit from corporate sponsorship giving them little incentive to take risks as Fela did. And yet, Afrobeats is a fact on the ground. It is the music of the moment across the African continent and far beyond.

The panel will consider the legacy of Fela in the era of Afrobeats concluding what is sure to be a probing, fascinating, and timely conversation about the status of popular musicians in the 21st century.

Fela was a complex person who was always searching. At times his actions and words stirred controversy beyond, even among those close to him. This discussion seeks to illuminate the man, not to resolve his contradictions.

“The more the people are organized, the better”—Fela

MFM strongly believes that the time has come for African stars to advocate social justice for the African continent on and off stage, as Fela did. Africa needs more musician activists to continue the mission to achieve political and social change in Africa.

About MFM

MFM seeks to bring together musicians from all disciplines, styles, traditions, and localities in the cause of their mutual self-betterment. Whether through education, networking, or political action, MFM's ultimate goal is to elevate the work of all musicians to the level of a true profession.

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