Fela Anikulapo Kuti (15 October, 1938 – 2 August, 1997), or simply Fela, was a Nigerian multi-instrumentalist musician and composer, pioneer of afrobeat music, human rights activist, and political maverick. HMV ranked him #46 on a list of the top-100 most influential musicians of the 20th century.
Fela was born Olufela Olusegun Oludotun Ransome-Kuti in Abeokuta, Ogun State, Nigeria, to a middle-class family. His mother, Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti, the first Nigerian female to drive a car, was a feminist activist in the anti-colonial movement and his father, Reverend Israel Oludotun Ransome-Kuti, a Protestant minister and school principal, was the first president of the Nigerian Union of Teachers. His brothers, Dr. Beko Ransome-Kuti and Olikoye Ransome-Kuti both medical doctors, are well known in Nigeria.
Fela was sent to London in 1958 to study medicine but decided to study music instead at the Trinity College of Music. While there he formed the band Koola Lobitos, playing a style of music that he would later call afrobeat. The style was a fusion of African jazz and funk with West African highlife. In 1961, Fela married his first wife, Remilekun (Remi) Taylor, with whom he would have three children (Femi, Yeni, and Sola). In 1963, Fela moved back to Nigeria, re-formed Koola Lobitos and trained as a radio producer for the Nigerian Broadcasting Corporation. In 1969, Fela took the band to the United States. While there, Fela discovered the Black Power movement through Sandra Smith (now Izsadore)—a partisan of the Black Panther Party—which would heavily influence his music and political views and renamed the band Nigeria ’70. Soon, the Immigration and Naturalization Service was tipped off by a promoter that Fela and his band were in the US without work permits. The band then performed a quick recording session in Los Angeles that would later be released as The ’69 Los Angeles Sessions.