Lagos government supports Fela Museum with N40m

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The spirit of Fela Kuti haunts his old house — the musician’s colourful clothes in the bedroom, his shoes on a rack — but the marijuana smoke, his many wives and his beguiling sax playing are long gone.

Thursday marks 15 years since the death of Kuti, the Nigerian Afrobeat musician who became a global icon thanks to his unique sound, his wild lifestyle and his harsh criticism of his country’s corrupt military regimes.

He is far from forgotten, both here and in many places abroad, and his family has been working to further preserve Kuti’s legacy, including efforts to turn his last house into a museum — the reason his bedroom was left as is.

“It’s gone beyond a Nigerian story,” his son Femi Kuti, also a musician, said recently before taking the stage at the family’s New Afrika Shrine club in Lagos. “It’s gone beyond an African story. It’s like jazz.”

Kuti’s legend has in some ways only grown since his death aged 58 in 1997 from an HIV-related illness, especially following a recent Broadway musical about his life that drew rave reviews.

His outsized personality and social activism made him a hero to many while he was still alive, and his funeral in the giant economic capital of Lagos drew massive crowds into the streets.

The saxophone player was a harsh critic of Nigeria’s corrupt elite, lashing out in songs like “Coffin for Head of State” or “International Thief Thief”, but with irresistible grooves that combined jazz, traditional music and other sounds.

His songs repeatedly landed him in trouble with the authorities, including arrests and the burning, allegedly by soldiers, of his compound, which he had christened the Kalakuta Republic and declared independent.

His original Shrine club where he regularly performed was shut after his death, but his family later opened the New Afrika Shrine at another location.

He was also known for marrying 27 women on the same day, most of them his dancers, and his love of marijuana was well-documented.

To some, echoes of his campaign for justice can still be heard in Lagos.

His name was invoked repeatedly during a national strike and mass protests in January over the removal of fuel subsidies, which caused petrol prices to double.

President Goodluck Jonathan was eventually forced to partially reinstate the subsidies.

Seun Kuti, another of Kuti’s sons, played politically charged concerts before thousands at the main protest site in Lagos. Femi and his sister Yeni Kuti also helped lead rallies there.

For Kunle Tejuoso, who runs a record label as well as a bookstore and music shop that caters to Lagos intellectuals, Fela Kuti was “bold enough to shout out and use music as a weapon against a very, very vicious system.”

Kuti was raised in a middle-class family and studied music in England, but was able to connect with ordinary people even after his fame grew, Tejuoso said.

“He stuck to the basics, he stayed with the people, and I think he was immersed in his music,” he said at his store, which sells framed photos of Kuti.

— ‘Be with the people’ —

“And to get to that music, you have to be with the people. In order to get the message across, you have to understand what they’re saying.”

Asked whether his father’s legacy had more to do with music or social activism, Femi Kuti said they were equally important.

“You cannot forget the fight for social justice, making, especially, Nigerians aware of their predicament,” he said.

Nigeria is Africa’s most populous nation and largest oil producer, and is often ranked as one of the world’s most corrupt countries. It was ruled by successive military regimes before a return to civilian government in 1999.

But it was not only Nigeria’s leaders that concerned Kuti. Femi points out that he was also intent on speaking out against the injustices of colonialism. Nigeria, a former British colony, gained independence in 1960.

After the first Kalakuta Republic was destroyed, Kuti moved to the three-storey building his family is now seeking to turn into a museum in Lagos, with renovation work underway.

His pyramid-shaped tomb sits out front, the building situated on a narrow road in a crowded neighbourhood.

“It is very important to me, and this is why we buried him here in the first place — because we wanted to turn this place into a museum after he passed away,” said Yeni Kuti as she stood on the building’s rooftop terrace.

The Lagos state government has provided the family with 40 million naira (200,000 euros, $250,000) for the museum, according to Yeni, who estimates they will have to raise around 25 million naira more to complete the job.

The aim is to open the museum in October during “Felebration”, an annual series of events honouring Kuti around his birthday.

They plan to install glass around his bedroom so fans can see inside, with exhibits in other rooms in the house and a small hotel.

“It’s a global issue of mankind oppressing one another for wealth, for corruption, greed,” Femi Kuti said. “And my father is just part of this big story.”

Story by M.J. Smith, AFP Lagos Bureau


  1. Olusola

    Don’t mind dt yeye pastor paul though I doubt if ie is a true pastor or probably his faculty is unstable dts y he had d effrontery to ridicule d legendarys of d Abami Eda.we knew wat great fela and d Kuti family stood for simply against oppression even at d expense of d lives.Baba70 has died but his gospel and works are for life even to d 500th generation to come but u pastor wat influence av iu wield among d youths u claimed to advocate for or where were u during Military era wen we were facing d soldiers on d street.May God punish u

  2. Nicola

    @pastor if u say fela misled many people then how many have you rehabilitated ?information is power the information fella give tonigeria without payment cant be achive anywere with block money so leave fela alone

  3. document upon

    good work will always speaks

  4. document upon

    @ naubiko :just thank God that they honoured him now

  5. sunday 4rm d polytechnic ibadan

    Dis is what we av been waiting 4,fela anikulapo deserves it, even more dan our expectation.naija let stand up 4 the legend.

  6. Edo

    Unh!. The “Abami” himself. There can never be two of his kind in a life time. Give honour to those honour is due. Fela is one of them. Whatever that is done to immortalise this great African son would be great. But one thing is for sure, the world is a stage, he has played his own part so well and gone. What about you?

  7. naubiko

    @Pastor Paul I agree he did not change the govt but our awareness has been raised to his concerns. But mention anybody from the cleric in Nigeria who has raised our awareness to the shortcomings of our govt.
    People like Fela comes to any country/ generationonce in a life time. Too bad we did to heed to most of his warnings

  8. Pastor Paul

    Thanks 4 ur observations nd i feel ur provocations sorry 4 offending u,bt one thing u seem nt to know is,all those fela’s confrontations with d succesive military juntas was propelled nd anchored on self ego boosting,image flexing nd income generating only 4 d kalakuta dynasty.did his musick change d norm of those govts?he played good musick no doubt but he misled his teeming youth fans into drugs, immorality,,taxpayers money sldnt be wasted idolising d true symbol of whoredom.thank u.

  9. naubiko

    @pastor thanks very much for your update at least your fellow celebrity pastors in Nigeria are far away from the truth and believe everything is well in their affluence and they see the truth but refuse to tell.
    Fela despite his shortcoming is more of a prophet compared to all the pastors in Nigeria. Didn’t the same good say you should remove the speck from your eye…
    I beg make we hear word.

  10. Prince T

    Wat did fela do for the masses. Marijuana, 27 wives just to mention a few. I never heard of him donate money to any project. He will rather charge u through d nose to play for.

    1. Mansolo

      Prince T Fela is one of the moat fearless people in Nigeria who confronted informed educated the masses
      He fought against rich class oppression of the masses, social injustices, and forments unity of black Africa.

      Most of the middle age people in the Lagos State government can relate to Fela. he lived what he preached and preached what he lived. Most of his songs of over 20 years ago is true of what is going on in the country. He promoted “broken English” as Nigeria’s defacto lingua franca.

      So Prince T, listed above are some of things that FELA did.

  11. Pastor Paul

    Waste of money,Fela was an adulterer,smoker who misled thousands of youths across d black continent into immorality that caused most of them their early death via HIV/Aids in their prime age.His teeming fans mostly sold to indian hemp smoking with lot of them ended up as lunatics.Dat money is enough 2 pay 50 graduates in 1 yr,most of whom ar roaming Lagos streets & as area boys constituting social menace which is great security threat.Thanks to late DR Olikoye Kuti who told d world Fela Anikulapo had AIDS.

    1. comrade

      Thanks very much pastor paul or whatever you call yourself.
      How have you impacted the community where you live?.

    2. Naija in New York

      na wa for you o mr pastor, why u dey disgrace yourself na? Fela na legend, international star who has bring pride to the Nigeria nation. If you don’t have anything important to say, don’t let nobody hear you.

      New York City

  12. Femi

    Lagos with their idea and cheap political advatage to remain leading political party n retain LAGO STATE. has donated the money for a reason best known to ACN and LAGOS STATE GOVERNMENT.

  13. Tayo

    Fela deserved that honour from the Government bcuz he Advocate injustics and there misapropration of the military people

  14. Ayour Pee

    @ Naubiko … good talk but even if government wanted to honour him when he was alive, Fela himself would have termed it a ‘waste’. Methink we should commend the government for taking this step so that Fela’s legacy will never die.

    As for practicing what Fela stood for … if any government wants to practice what he stood for, the government will end up being GOOD, BAD AND UGLY!

  15. naubiko

    govt never honoured him while alive and now he’s dead they want to waste money. Anyone of them in govt ever thought about what the man stood for. The same applies to Awolowo.

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