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Interchange – Becoming African in America: The Radical Politics of Fela Kuti


This is a special 90-minute show, live from The Atlas Bar, featuring the music and protest politics of Fela Kuti, the Nigerian multi-instrumentalist, musician, composer, pioneer of the Afrobeat music genre, and human rights activist.

Fela Kuti died of complications from AIDS in 1997 at the age of 58 but his music has seen a resurgence even inspiring the perhaps dubious honor of a Broadway Musical based on a recent biography.

This is another episode in our continuing series with Rasul Mowatt: The Sounds of Resistance.

First, let’s acknowledge that all of life offers contradictions and Fela Kuti is no exception. This show highlights his critique primarily of corruption in government at all levels, from his birthplace, Abeokuta, to the Nigerian state and its military rulers, to the IMF, or International Monetary Fund. But of necessity we will be silent on other aspects of his work that many listeners might find objectionable.

Now, I’ve probably already started out on the wrong foot by calling the show “Becoming African in America”–but it struck me that Fela Kuti says something to this effect as reported in the biography Fela: This Bitch of a Life (the book I referenced above). In 1969 Los Angeles Fela is living with Black Power activist, Sandra Smith, who recommends The Autobiography of Malcolm X to him. He says of Sandra, “She was the one who opened my eyes. I swear, man! She’s the one who spoke to me about Africa! For the first time I heard things I’d never heard before about Africa!”

And it’s at this time too that he feels he has to create music that is specifically African.

…Africans have have to start feeling that we belong to any part of the continent. We should not limit our area of belinging to that small enclave cut out for us at the Berlin Conference in 1984-5. Africa has to open her doors to ever Black man in the world. Until Africa sees it that way, she won’t have made it yet, man. White people, wherever they are, have a sense of belonging. (Fela: This Bitch of a Life)

Rasul Mowatt is Associate Professor of American Studies and Associate Chair and Associate Professor in Recreation, Park and Tourism Studies with the School of Public Health at Indiana University.

“It’s Highlife Time”
“Coffin for Head of State”
“Colonial Mentality”
“Opposite People”
“Shuffering and Shmiling”
“Sorrow, Tears, Blood”
“ITT (International Thief Thief)”
“Water No Get Enemy”
“ODOO” (Overtake Don Overtake Overtake)

Fela Kuti: Chronicle of A Life Foretold by Lindsay Barrett
Sandra Smith Talks About Afrobeat’s L.A. Origins

Special thanks to David DeBruicker and the Atlas Ballroom for hosting Interchange.

Producer & Host: Doug Storm
Assistant Producer: Rob Schoon
Site Engineers: Jim Lang & Dan Withered
Board Engineer: Jennifer Brooks
Executive Producer: Joe Crawford

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