In 1977, The New York Times wrote an interesting article that delves into the controversy surrounding Fela Anikulapo-Kuti, a Nigerian musician who was considered a raucous, insolent, flamboyant superstar and the inventor of Afro-beat music.
He lived behind barbed wire in a Western-style commune, smoked marijuana religiously, called himself “the chief priest,” and was idolized by thousands of young Nigerians as a sort of African Bob Dylan. However, his wild lifestyle and his songs that were critical of the authoritarian military government, official corruption, and the breakdown of basic necessities like electricity, telephones, and transportation rankled the ruling officers for years.
In February 1977, Nigerian army soldiers attacked Fela’s house, a two-story yellow building in the sprawling slum of Surulere called “the KalaKuta Republic.” Ostensibly, the soldiers were there to arrest some of Fela’s “boys” who had burned an army motorcycle after a fight with a lance corporal over a traffic violation. However, the soldiers had come for deeper vengeance, goaded beyond endurance by the singer’s arrogance: his increasing gibes at the military, his mocking lyrics, his harem of beautiful women, and the sea of clenched-fist, black-power salutes that surrounded him.
The soldiers’ attack on Fela’s house was a violent one. By the time the siege was over, the KalaKuta Republic was burned to the ground, and most of its 60 occupants were in the hospital. A number of innocent bystanders who ran past the flames with their arms held straight in the air, a gesture of surrender, were clubbed anyway by drunken, red-eyed soldiers. Fela was beaten and jailed, and the case became a cause célèbre in Nigeria.
Despite being forbidden to perform, Fela became Nigeria’s foremost dissident. His treatment in what became known as “The Fela Affair” raised worrisome questions among Nigerians about civil liberties and the large, undisciplined army that now ran the country, the richest and biggest nation in black Africa, as it prepared to shed ten years of military control for the uncertain future of civilian rule.
The article provides a glimpse into the life of Fela Anikulapo-Kuti and the controversy that surrounded him. It highlights the violence that erupted when soldiers attacked his house and how it raised concerns about civil liberties and the undisciplined army that ruled Nigeria.
The article also sheds light on how Fela became Nigeria’s foremost dissident, despite being forbidden to perform, and how he continued to criticize the government through his music.
You should read the full article for yourself. Here’s the link: https://www.nytimes.com/1977/07/24/archives/nigerias-dissident-superstar-fela.html?fbclid=IwAR1us3SX7g4P4SxGAPgu6u_lrFwvdJ6iSlRKO-5R_UfcVHfwnOX1ESY1R90