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No Nonsense

Afrobeat Warrior: Fela Anikulapo-Kuti.

Afrobeat great Fela Anikulapo-Kuti left a legacy of riveting beats and relentless struggle

By Nicky Baxter

Nigerian pop superstar Fela Anikulapo-Kuti died Aug. 2 of heart failure caused by AIDS. He was 58 years old. One can't help wonder if the many years he endured being harassed by the Nigerian government for his political beliefs didn't wear down the outspoken musician and activist, making him more susceptible to the deadly disease.

Over the years, Kuti had been jailed countless times, beaten and tortured. Earlier this year, Fela was in lock-down for marijuana possession; the year prior, his home was attacked by gunmen. No small wonder then, that Fela was considered by many to be the Bob Marley of Africa.

His music, no less than his life, was the very model of Pan-Africanism. By harnessing the intricate polyrhythms of the continent, the sweaty blue-black funk of prime-time James Brown and the rough-and-tumble jazz of the likes of Count Basie, he brought to life a new music: Afrobeat.

On top of that, the singer and saxophonist penned scathing lyrics lashed out at all forms of oppression with a relentlessness that bordered on the obsessive. A riveting performer, Kuti would prowl barefooted and scowling from one end of the stage to the other, attacking ITT one moment, laughing uproariously at his own shortcomings the next.

Though recordings never quite captured the feverishness of a Kuti performance, Beasts of No Nation, Teacher Don't Teach Me No Nonsense and Coffin for the Head of State nevertheless convey some of the raw power of Kuti's music. Even on disc, you get quite a whiff of Kuti's toxic mixture of untutored tenor-sax outbursts and outraged vocal roar. Tragically, for the world's "sufferheads," the lion roars no more.

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Web exclusive to the Aug. 27-Sept. 3, 1997 issue of Metro.

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