Fela’s brief but eventful life and musical legacy are well documented in books, documentary films and exhibitions; indeed, Afrobeat rébellion, an ongoing nine-month-long celebration of his legacy at the Philharmonie de Paris includes concerts, shows, exhibition and workshops.
He is often remembered as a thorn in the flesh of the military ruling class from the early to mid-70s onwards when he forged Afrobeat, a distinctively unique sound that was practically more than the sum of its elements, to lampoon their rampant anti-populist policies, massive corruption, and lavish lifestyle.
However, his early work is often dismissed even by Fela in his larger-than-life narrative of himself.
Just another musician
Hear Fela in Carlos Moore’s biography, Fela: This Bitch of a Life, “I was just another musician, playing with Koola Lobitos and singing love songs, songs about rain, about people…What did I know?”
Fela’s portrayal of his younger self as a highlife musician may have been dismissive but historians and scholars have approached his formative years with a similar attitude.
Hardly would you find any book-length narrative that has dedicated more than a chapter in characterising what was the earliest and possibly most energetic phase of Fela’s career.
The most comprehensive narrative of this era is by his former manager, friend, veteran journalist, and broadcaster Benson Idonije in his memoir, Dis Fela Sef! where he characterises Fela’s five-year-long development as a musician after he left Victor Olaiya’s The Cool Cats in 1958 for further studies in Britain.
Five years after leaving for Britain, Fela returned to Nigeria in 1963 a married man, a father of three children and a trumpeter obsessed…