By chance last week, Katie and I happened to meet one of the stars of “Fela” on Broadway. Fela is the story of Fela Kuti, a Nigerian musician and activist famous for inventing “Afrobeat” music.
Kuti was born in the late 1930s to a feminist activist mother and minister/principal father in Abeokuta, Nigeria. He initially intended to study medicine, but his love for the trumpet prevailed and he enrolled at the Trinity College of Music in London. From 1963 to 1970, Kuti developed his Afrobeat music genre everywhere from Ghana to LA. He returned to Nigeria in 1970s and began to develop song lyrics that were more politically active – his lyrics often shined a light on the disenfranchised and exposed corruption in the Nigerian government. He paid the price for his political action – he was arrested 200 times, beaten, his home was set on fire, and his mother was thrown from a window during one of the government raids he endured.
He continued to develop his music, sharing the stage with other activists as part of Amnesty International – including Bono, and Carlos Santana. But by the 1990s, his health had started to fail and he slowed his pace – in 1997, he died from complications of AIDS. He produced 50 albums over his life, and over 1 million attended his funeral in his home country, Nigeria.
With my music, I create change...I am using my music as a weapon.
- Fela Kuti
The quote above just reminds me – each of us has at our disposal, the ability to use our greatest talent as a tool (and weapon) to right injustices. People from Mandela to Malala have focused on the power of education as a weapon – a weapon we can use to fight poverty, ignorance and a tool we can wield to change the world. It’s a concept we think of every day while we do the ground work of ensuring our 2,300 students receive a quality education in rural Zambia. And listening to Kuti’s music has created that same power for me, just in a different way. Hope that you add it to your playlist this week!
- Reshma Patel, Executive Director