Fela Anikulapo Kuti (15 October 1938 — 2 August 1997), or simply Fela ([feˈlæ]), was a Nigerian multi-instrumentalist musician and composer, pioneer of Afrobeat music, human rights activist, and political maverick.
Filmed in 1982, the 53-minute documentary captures the late Nigerian musician/activist at his peak. (There are slight differences between the English and French versions, so it’s best to watch both.) For the uninitiated, it’s hard to explain–in mere words–how one man could so successfully mate the sexuality of James Brown with the righteous politics of Bob Marley and sinuous sounds of Miles Davis. Fela drew as much inspiration for his “Afro-beat” from Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X as funk, reggae, and jazz. Music Is the Weapon features interviews with Fela and a few of his many wives, along with performances of “ITT,” “Army Arrangement,” and other anthems. A controversial figure throughout his life, Fela is described as both “superstar” and “man of the people.” This short, but potent document ably explores that dichotomy. –Kathleen C. Fennessy
As a supporter of traditional religions and lifestyles, Kuti thought that the most important thing for Africans to fight is European cultural imperialism. The American Black Power movement also influenced Fela's political views; he was a supporter of Pan-Africanism and socialism, and called for a united, democratic African republic. He was a candid supporter of human rights, and many of his songs are direct attacks against dictatorships, specifically the militaristic governments of Nigeria in the 1970s and 1980s. He was also a social commentator, and he criticized his fellow Africans (especially the upper class) for betraying traditional African culture. The African culture he believed in also included having many wives (polygyny) and the Kalakuta Republic was formed in part as a polygamist colony. He defended his stance on polygyny with the words: "A man goes for many women in the first place. Like in Europe, when a man is married, when the wife is sleeping, he goes out and fucks around. He should bring the women in the house, man, to live with him, and stop running around the streets!". His views towards women are characterized by some as misogynist, with songs like "Mattress" typically cited as evidence. In a more complex example, he mocks the aspiration of African women to European standards of ladyhood while extolling the values of the market woman in his song "Lady".
Bypassing editorial censorship in Nigeria's predominantly state controlled media, Kuti began in the 1970s buying advertising space in daily and weekly newspapers such as The Daily Times and The Punch in order to run outspoken political columns. Published throughout the 1970s and early 1980s under the title Chief Priest Say, these columns were essentially extensions of Kuti's famous Yabi Sessions—consciousness-raising word-sound rituals, with himself as chief priest, conducted at his Lagos nightclub. Organized around a militantly Afrocentric rendering of history and the essence of black beauty, Chief Priest Say focused on the role of cultural hegemony in the continuing subjugation of Africans. Kuti addressed a number of topics, from explosive denunciations of the Nigerian Government's criminal behavior; Islam and Christianity's exploitative nature, and evil multinational corporations; to deconstructions of Western medicine, Black Muslims, sex, pollution, and poverty. Chief Priest Say was cancelled, first by Daily Times then by Punch, ostensibly due to non-payment, but many commentators have speculated that the paper's respective editors were placed under increasingly violent pressure to stop publication.
Watching Fela in non-performance situations is interesting as you get a much better idea of who he was as a person behind the mythology from the community and his own posturing for the purposes of promotion. Here in this video below he comes across as a very humble figure. The press conference with the newspaper is conducted as a discussion around a table, with Fela just another person sitting there in a group.