Nigeria’s most acclaimed musician, Olufela Olusegun Oludotun Ransome-Kuti , popularly known as Fela died on the birthday of his also late, beloved brother, Bekololari Ransome-Kuti, writes BIODUN KUPOLUYI.
While Fela passed on at 58, Beko died at 65. If alive, Fela would have been 79 years old, looking forward to his 80th birthday next year.
It is exactly 20 years after his demise and his soul, music and legacy are still living with listeners of his genre of music, Afrobeat.
Fela’s death in 1977 blighted Beko’s birthday, August 2, 1942, as the whole world was thrown into shock and mourning the departed vocal African leading musician, human rights fighter and activist. Both shared similar political views and activism.
Though Beko was a medical doctor, he lent his voice to issues of politics, government and social life. He vehemently raised his voice against spendings at funerals and weddings.
Fela and Beko were like a Siamese twins, inseparable. Unknown to many, Beko was running a clinic inside the original Kalakuta Republic in Mushin, he also had a dry cleaning service outfit, Snow White located in the commune.
Fela and Beko took a natural streak of radicalism from their mother, late Mrs. Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti who rose against the taxation of women by the British Colonial Government. She was reputed as the first Nigerian woman to drive a car. Their father was the late Anglican cleric, Oladotun Ransome Kuti, who also founded the Nigerian Union of Teachers (NUT).
Also in the family was renowned medical doctor, Dr. Olikoye Ransome-Kuti, the first born of the family. Olikoye was a respected pediatrician and a leading campaigner of the Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS). He also served Nigeria as Minister of Health before his appointment as the Deputy Director of World Health Organization (WHO).
The Kuti’s are cousins to Nobel Laureate, Prof. Wole Soyinka, the first African to win the Nobel Prize for Literature.
The only female among the Kuti’s was Dolu Ransome-Kuti, fondly called Auntie Dolu. She was a UK-trained Nurse. She later worked at the Lagos State Ministry of Health before she was transferred to the famous Island Maternity where she worked for several years before she retired.
Nobel Laureate, Prof. Wole Soyinka, the first African to win the Nobel Prize for Literature was a first cousin of the Kuti’s.
Fela attended Abeokuta Grammar School in Abeokuta before he was sent to London in 1958 to study Medicine but decided to study Music at the Trinity College of Music, the same school attended by one of his children, Seun, also a successful Afrobeat musician. Femi has been nominated for the prestigious Grammy Awards four times and his albums have been critically reviewed in major musical journals.
While in Trinity, Fela formed the band, Koola Lobitos, playing a fusion of jazz and high life.
In 1960, as a student in London, Fela married his first wife, Remi Taylor, with whom he had three children -Yeni, Femi and Sola, now late), before his historic wedding to his beauty queens in Lagos.
In 1963, Fela moved back to Nigeria, re-formed his first musical group, Koola Lobitos and was trained as a radio producer for the Nigerian Broadcasting Corporation (NBC). He played for some time with the legendary Victor Olaiya and his All Stars Band, before he traveled to Ghana where his music took a new direction and subsequently became a global phenomenon.
Among his numerous songs are Shakara, Water No Get Enemy, Army Arrangement, ITT, etc
Two of his children-Femi and Seun, currently on tour, ride the global music circuit with Afrobeat, preaching to generations yet unborn a great musicaal legacy from Africa to the world to listen and dance. The memory of Fela’s burial in Lagos is refreshing just as it historical. Not less than a miilion people trooped out to catch a glimpse of the man beleived to have death in his pouch as his name, Anikulapo suggests. Fans, mourners from all parts of the world trekked from the Tafawa Balewa Square, Obalende to his final resting place. the Kalakuta Republic, Ikeja, Lagos.
Fela’s profile went a notch higher with the production of FELA! a B Broadway musical with a book by Bill T. Jones and Jim Lewis, based on music and lyrics by the late Nigerian singer Fela Kuti. From America to Europe, London and Africa at the Afrika Shrine, Lagos and the EKO Convention, the underground spiritual rhythm of Fela Anikulapo-Kuti for the past seven years have continued to echo in our ears.
It is gratifying to note that the efforts of the Lagos State Government to preserve the legacy of the Great Fela is unrivaled and commendable from the face lift given his house at Gbemisola Street in the heart of Ikeja,now KALAKUTA MUSEUM, a tourists destination, his effigy at Ikeja Roundabout, known as the Liberation Statue and the commitment of Governor Akinwunmi Ambode towards a succesful hosting of FELABRATION 2017 with the theme: THE PROPHESY keeps the memory of the iconoclastic musician’s life and times in the State’s capital asa famous Preacher and Fighter of the Poor.
This gesture throws a big challenge at the Government of his home state, Ogun State and Governor Ibikunle Amosun to turn the ancestral home of Fela, Beko and Olikoye and their late parents, Oladotun and Funmilayo Ransome- Kuti from the current state of squalor to an enviable tourist’s site.
Happy Birthday, Beko, Fela Lives Forever!