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Legendary Singer Fela Remembered - 2001-08-06

This year marks the fourth anniversary of the death of legendary Nigerian singer Fela Anikulapo-Kuti. He died of complications from HIV-AIDS. Fela is still a force to be reckoned with in Nigeria - his fans say his social messages of his music are as relevant as ever. Meanwhile, his family wants the human rights commission - the Oputa Panel - to re-open an investigation into the burning of his house in 1977. The attack came under the administration of then military ruler Olusegun Obasanjo - who is now Nigeria's elected head of state.

Fela created and promoted Afro-beat music. It's drawn from highlife - and blends African instruments with western jazz. Two of Fela's children, Femi and Seun continue to play his music. Outside the family, other artists singing Afro beat songs have been influenced by him. Fela was controversial. He preached pan-Africanism - and condemned military rule. He sang against injustice and clashed several times with different governments. He formed a party, the Movement of the People, MOP, but could not contest elections because the electoral body would not register it. Fela separated from his first wife and later married 27 others at the same ceremony. Segun Sango, a Lagos lawyer is an admirer. He says Fela is cherished as a first class musician whose music cut across generations - old and young. "Very original, very African yet combined the best in international music. He sustained himself without praise singing which is common here. Fela was not just seen as a musician but a social crusader. It is common for people to say Fela sang about this and that," he says. "Complain of no water, they say Fela sang about it. Complain of stealing, treasury looting, fela has talked about it. It was no accident that when Fela died, hundreds of thousands of people came from Nigeria, Europe and America to pay tribute. Yet no food or drink was served, as it is common on occasions like that here. That sums up what Fela meant to the masses."

Fela's younger brother Dr. Beko Ransome-Kuti agrees that the late musician remains a folk hero four years after. "He still looks very well liked by people generally and they tend to see that he had vision at that time that most of the things he sang about are the things that we are now embattled with. So by and large, he hasn't done too badly," says Dr. Kuti. But the family is still pained by the raid on Fela's house in 1977. His home, called Kalakuta Republic, was burnt down in 1977 shortly after his record - Zombie - depicted soldiers as robots obeying any order. A government panel later said unknown soldiers burned the house.

Many valuables were lost in the fire including the tapes of Fela's film - the Black President. Fela's mother, Olufunmilayo Ransome-Kuti - herself a political activist - died from injuries sustained in the raid. Fela's family is therefore asking the human rights investigation commission - The Oputa Panel -- to examine the case once more. It wants it to question President Olusegun Obasanjo who was then military head of state. And also General Theophilus Danjuma, army chief at that time. Dr. Kuti however says the handling of the matter by the panel has not been satisfactory. He says the chairman, justice Chukudifu Oputa, has said that Obasanjo himself was not responsible though it happened under his regime. "But since then, one major Jokolo, who was an aide-de-campe (assistant) to one of them at Dodan barracks - the seat of government at the time - had done an Advertisement in 1992, to pin point what happened at the Dodan barracks at that time," he says. "That it was Danjuma who ordered the place to be. well… that they should bring Fela alive or dead. Then he also mentioned that one lieutenant Garba was the one who led the team that went to set Kalakuta in flames. So I think with Obasanjo, they were doing a security council meeting, even if he did not stop what was going on I think he deserves some blame and now that somebody has pointed to Danjuma, I think those responsible can now come out and explain themselves." For Fela's son, Seun Anikulapo-Kuti, it is also important to keep fela's music alive. Seun, who now leads Fela's Egypt 80 band, hopes the group will continue to enjoy public support. "Well, we are trying," he says. "We can only play music and hope that people listen and appreciate it. So apart from that there is not much we can do apart from keep the flag flying and the message ringing."

Analysts believe Fela's legacy will endure for years to come. But they say the best way to immortalize him is for his admirers to help transform Nigerian society for the better - free from all the ills he sang about.