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Fela Kuti

February 16, 2010

Fela Kuti (1938-1997) was a musician, composer, and political outlaw whose music and lifestyle were a form of resistance. Fela was born into a middle-class, Nigerian family. His mother was a feminist and anti-colonial activist. His father was a Protestant minister and school principal. Though his parents sent him to London in 1958 to study medicine, he studied music instead. Fela and his band, Koola Lobitos, invented what he would later call afrobeat. For Fela, afrobeat was more than a fusion of jazz, funk, psychedelic rock, and traditional West African rhythms and chants; it was also a critique of African musicians’ abandonment of their musical roots and their conformity to American pop music trends. Throughout his career, Fela challenged pop musical norms. Many of his songs were 20-30 minutes long—sometimes 45 minutes at live shows. Known for his showmanship, his concerts were called the “Underground Spiritual Game.” Fela also refused to perform a song after recording it.

Fela’s political beliefs began taking shape in London, but they solidified in the U.S. in 1969 when he discovered the Black Power Movement. Though his political beliefs in socialism and African nationalism were vague, he lived as an activist and revolutionary. Fela never gave into the demands of Western record companies to make millions. In 1970, he established a massive commune and recording studio, the Kalakata Republic, in one of the poorest parts of Lagos, Nigeria. He declared independence from the Nigerian state.

In addition to his lifestyle, Fela’s music attacked the Nigerian military regime. In 1977, Fela and the Afrika ’70 released the album Zombie, comparing Nigerian soldiers to zombies. Yet, Fela’s protest had a price. One thousand soldiers invaded the commune. They severely beat Fela, killed his mother, burned his studio, and destroyed his instruments and master tapes. In response, Fela wrote two songs: “Coffin for Head of State” and “Unknown Soldier.”

Despite the attack, Fela refused to conform. In 1978, he married 27 women and created a rotation of keeping 12 at a time. He formed a political party, Movement of the People. Though he tried to run for President several times, his candidacy was refused. In 1984, he was attacked once again by the military. He also performed at an Amnesty International concert and released an anti-apartheid album called Beasts of No Nation. Fela died as a result of AIDS complications

Though Fela lived a life of resistance, the ambiguity and simplicity of his beliefs are controversial. In a Mother Jones article, Sam Baldwin notes the “entirely uncritical embrace of traditional African values.” His pride was indiscriminate and he didn’t confront the complexities of certain African cultural practices. He also maintained a low opinion of women. Though his wives said they were satisfied living with him, several did report being slapped.

Fela’s activism was not well formulated and it was sexist. Though his values and lifestyle require a critical eye, at least Fela succeeded in living his beliefs. He destabilized oppressive systems by creating his own system.

Amanda Shirazi



February 4, 2010

Chris Matthews’ statement regarding Barack Obama’s State of the Union address has garnered much attention.

More specifically, people have been preoccupied with the remark: “I forgot he was black tonight for an hour.”

This controversy ties well into our class discussion on color-blind racism on Tuesday, Februrary 2nd. As, Collins notes in Another Kind of Public Education, the irony of color blind racism is that: “One must see color to erase it and become blind to it…color blindness requires people who are visibly of color to be seen to provide evidence for the claim that color no longer matters” (70).  How might you make sense of Matthews’ remarks in light of this irony? Why do you think people have been so reactive to Matthews’ comments?

NPR journalist, Michel Martin was concerned with the implications of Matthews’ statement. She argues that the idea that blackness is something that we need to forget about or move beyond suggests that there is something wrong with being black.  Martin adds, “I actually think I’m a very nice toasty brown and I don’t see anything wrong with it…I don’t see why it’s something we have to constantly apologize for and look beyond.” I would agree with Martin because (well, I too am a nice toasty brown) I believe that if people saw blackness as something free of stigma, there would not be a push to move beyond it.

Finally, I encourage you all to be conscious of your use of the terms “race” and “post-racial.” It seems that people tend to use the phrase post-racial uncritically. In other words, what they really mean, when using Obama as a reference point, at least, is post-black. Race does not simply refer to racial minorities given that white people are raced too. Why do you think people might associate the word “race” with non-white populations? In whose interest is it to establish or even claim a post-racial society?

-Kathryn Buford


November 29, 2009

Welcome to your course blog.

Here you will find resources pertaining to many of the topics and readings we discuss in class. We’ll develop it throughout the semester and please let us know how you would like to see it grow.


Professor, Patricia Hill Collins

Co-Instructor, Kathryn Buford