Unquestionably one of the most influential and iconic men in the history of African music and culture, Nigerian-born Fela Anikulapo Kuti is certainly a fascinating subject for a documentary. Skillfully handled by Oscar-winning filmmaker Alex Gibney (Taxi to the Dark Side, 2007), Finding Fela chronicles this pioneering post-colonial activist’s extraordinary life, ground-breaking music and extremely non politically correct philosophies with reverent thought and true passion.
It’s an enlightening and uncompromising biopic, intelligently weaving many strands: raw footage of the man himself, segments from the hit Broadway show based on his life, news clips to layout the lethal landscape of Nigeria following its horrific civil war. Relevant and insightful contributions from musical contemporaries and those closest to him allow the audience an unprecedented window into the many personal and professional aspects of this complex individual.
While studying in the late 1950s at London’s prestigious Trinity College of Music, Fela formed the band Koola Lobitos. As he was more influenced by Miles Davies than Amadeus Mozart his band played a fusion of jazz and highlife that would eventually develop by the late 60s into his trademark Afrobeat groove.
Even though Fela was born into a world renowned politically active family, surprisingly it was only in 1969 that he became fiercely radicalised after meeting Sandra Isidore while touring LA. But, once armed and inspired by the writings and theories of the black power movement, Fela’s musical direction and lyrics moved swiftly from love to social issues.
Fela and the renamed band The Afrika 70 became hugely famous throughout Africa, but his scathing lyrics and outrageous behaviour angered the tyrannical ruling government ,resulting in numerous arrests, raids beatings and tragedy.
As his popularity reached fever pitch he became as renowned for his bizarre private life as much as his activist music: he created the Kalakuta Republic – a commune that he declared was independent from the Nigerian state, marryied 27 women in 1978, and carryied around his own disturbing guru. The footage of his funeral in Lagos after succumbing to AIDS in 1997 is truly astonishing and deeply moving as his children emotionally recall how over a million people passed the legends’ glass coffin and paid respects to their beloved fallen icon.
Finding Fela is released nationwide on 5th September 2014.