Call him Omo Iya Aje, Abami Eda, Chief Priest or Black President among his other appellations, one thing we can all agree to is that Fela Anikulapo Kuti, who ditched his paternal name, Ransome, because he claimed it’s a name for slaves and adopted Anikulapo, was an enigma that created a rich body of musical work that defies time.
Born on the 15th of October more than 76 years ago in the ancient city of Abeokuta, Western Nigeria, he would go on to, like the Olumo Rock for which the city is known, become a music legend and a heritage of his people.
Many years after his death, Fela, renowned for the creation of Afro-beat, remains the heartbeat of African music and continues to with his music, made several decades ago, transcending cultures, countries, continents and generations.
Since Fela’s demise, African music has struggled to replicate such a revered, controversial and dominant brand in the global music scene the way the Afro-beat legend did. Contemporary African musicians have not been able to exert the sort of influence the maestro had on the African society. Each generation after him has sampled and referenced Afrobeat as a valuable addition to the music from Nigeria. As sounds across the continent continue to evolve, more artistes continue to look Fela’s way for inspiration and assistance. They will surely have more than enough to work with.
For instance, in 2019, Nigerian singer Tiwa Savage christened her first single after signing a recording deal with Universal Music Group, ‘49-99’. The inspiration came from overcrowded large Molue buses that used to be a common feature of transportation in Lagos. Four years earlier, Nigerian singer Niyola, featured on DJ Xclusive’s ‘Tonight,’ a song housed on the local disc jockey’s According to X album. On the party track, Niyola manages to include lyrics from Fela’s ‘Jeun Ko Ku (Chop and Quench),’ his first major musical success in 1971. Another singer, Niniola Apata, who is widely regarded as the Queen of Afro-house, went a different route. She featured Fela’s first son, Femi Kuti, who added Afrobeat-esque saxophone sounds in her 2020 single ‘Fantasy.’
Nigerian pop star, Wizkid, has gained popularity for his ability to draw on Fela’s texts, titles, imagery, symbolisms and much more. The singer has become so deft at it, that he regularly includes invocations of irony using Fela’s lyrics. Wizkid’s hit Joro, released in 2019, incorporated elements of Afrobeat in its production, though the essence of Fela’s message was not infused. Another Artiste, Naira Marley altered texts from Fela’s 1978 ‘Shuffering and Shmiling’ to fit into the polarizing 2019 single ‘Am I A Yahoo Boy’. For a song that is considered a subtle promotion of internet scams, using Fela’s lyrics came across somewhat as a negative.
Prior Wizkid and Naira Marley, veteran singer 2baba had already had his hands in Afrobeat. For him, Fela’s work offered opportunities sampling the messaging and sounds. His 2007 song ‘Pako’ sampled lyrics from Fela’s 1972 ‘Swegbe and Pako.’ Idibia’s 2014 ‘Jeje’ simulated certain Fela sounds and co-opting the call and response technique of Afrobeat. Oritsefemi’s ‘Double Wahala,’ off the 2013 album and Money Stop Nonsense also carry similar features.
Burna Boy’s successful career since 2018 has Fela’s DNA all over it. Although the pop singer has sampled Afrobeat throughout his career, he took this a notch higher in his 2018 single, ‘Gbona’. In the record, Burna Boy sang of citizens who have no money, yet, call on the police for justice. The artiste showed the reality of police unreliability and corruptibility in his country, a favourite theme of Fela’s work. Rather than criticise a police service that is stuck in its ways, Burna implores citizens to accept the make-up of their police. In addition, an extension of Fela’s ‘Shuffering and Shmiling’ is heard in the final verse of ‘Gbona’ where Burna refers to people sitting in a public bus, yet, regard themselves as bosses.
These persons took one two or more elements from Fela’s style of music. Just on the horizon too, a group has taken it top-notched or to the next level as we used to say. The group is a band known as the Lavolta Stars. Through their highly emotive records, infused with socio-cultural messaging and instrumentals, they are extending its life and relevance to a younger crowd. The Lavolta Stars is not like your typical musical group. They are an assemblage of seasoned and dynamic musicians/instrumentalists with the passion and drive for quality music that came together in 2017 to form a group to offer quality and conscious music.
Daniel Lombin Ogheneochuko, the group’s image coordinator, a multi-instrumentalist and a versatile vocalist who is comfortable with a wide range of genre in a recent interview revealed how the group began and why they have aligned their style of music to Fela’s.
“Lavolta Stars is a constellation of stars with a common interest to deliver good and top-notch music. We started out as band playing virtually all the music synonymous to South West of Nigeria from Juju, Highlife, Afrobeat, Afropop, to jazz etc. However, when we were deliberating on our first single last year, we decided to do Afrobeat because of our love for the arrangement in the genre and the works of one of the greatest artistes to have come out of Africa, our mentor and icon, the late Abami Eda, Fela Anikulapo Kuti. Following close to this is our love for Highlife music. We do Afrocentric conscious music with preference for Afrobeat, Highlife music and Afrojazz,” he said.
As a forward-thinking band, the group is dynamic in the sense that it flows with the times. An instance is at the critical period of the COVID-19 pandemic when lockdown was in full force.
“The stars including our management and record label decided we do something to bring relief, hope and succour to the world through music and the idea of our hit single, Wetin Dey Occur (Translated as What’s going on), was born. Our single is a fusion of Afrobeat and Highlife, delivered in a melodious vibe to help soothe the pains the world is going through due to the pandemic. Just like we echoed in our song, Edumare Press Reset O (Meaning the God should press reset button over the pandemic).
“The team believes so much in the message behind Wetin Dey Occur. Who won’t be? The message is unique, it cuts across the whole world, everybody is affected by the pandemic. People are pondering Wetin Dey Occur, wetin be all these wahala, social distancing, two meters apart, no gathering, nose mask etc. Edumare press reset o,” Daniel emphasized.
Like Fela’s band, the Lavolta Stars is a makeup of highly trained and professional musicians with years of experience. Among them is Kayode Awokoya who is the Band Leader and Lead guitarist, Sunday Okpo, better known in the band as Sunny is the Music Director for the band as well as seasoned Saxophonist; Femi Omisakin known by his sobriquet, Water Kenneri, a vocalist and multi-instrumentalist with a preference for the lead guitar and Tosin Adefeso, a seasoned trumpeter and flugelhorn player.
Others are Dare Faduji (fondly called Poso) a multi-percussionist with a preference for the talking drum and Gbadegun Samson Oluwaseyi, the first band leader of Lavolta Stars and Technical Coordinator of Lavolta Entertainment.
With the rise of Lavolta Stars, one can be sure that the spirit of Fela Anilulapo-Kuti may have finally find a host.