It is no exaggeration to say that Fela Kuti is one of the most influential African musicians who has allowed the Western world to learn more about the continent’s musical culture and the Afrobeat genre that blends it with funk and jazz. Kuti’s life story is surrounded by many legends, one of the strangest of which is when he married 27 women in one day.
The musician grew up in Nigeria as a child of an upper middle class family. Her mother was an anti-colonial and women’s rights activist, and her father was a school principal and the first president of the Nigerian Teachers Union. Kuti was sent to London to study medicine in the 1950s, but soon docked with music and returned to Nigeria as a musician in 1963, newly independent of the British colonizers. It was here that his musical career began, and with his band he also went out to America for 10 months, where he became acquainted with the radical civil rights movement of the Black Panthers.
Returning to Nigeria, Kuti, strengthened on social and political issues, made a rather unusual decision: he founded the Republic of Kalakuta, which practically meant his own land. Kuti thus thought he was independent of the Nigerian state, and his republic meant a smaller community, and a sound studio and home to the people who were somehow attached to his band. By the 1970s, Kuti had become amazingly popular throughout the African continent. Only the Nigerian government’s eyes were pinched by the African musician who created his own republic. So much so that there were regular raids in the Republic of Kalakuta.
Then in 1977 he released the album Zombie from Kuti and Africa’s 70 band. On this album, he criticizes the Nigerian army with harsh criticism, likening its members to zombies who carry out any orders without thinking. The album was a huge success, but it annoyed the Nigerian government so much that it was besieged by a thousand soldiers that year and literally destroyed the Republic of Turkey. Along with it is the sound studio, including the instruments and sound recordings.
Kuti was brutally beaten by the soldiers, and his mother was specifically thrown out the window, later dying of his injuries. In the end, they set it all on fire. In protest, Kuti took his mother’s coffin to the Dodan Barracks in Lagos, where the country’s then military leader, Olusegun Obasanjo, also lived, and wrote two songs about the incident. Both address the topic that, according to official investigations, Fela Kuti’s commune was destroyed by an unknown soldier.
Kuti and her community temporarily pulled themselves into a hotel, and then in 1978 the musician decided to take a completely unexpected step:
he married 27 women in one day.
In addition, the wedding took place on the one-year anniversary of the destruction of the Republic of Turkey.
The musician explained the unusual everyday by saying he wanted to protect women from the Nigerian authorities. All 27 women were somehow connected to Kuti’s music career as a singer, musician, songwriter, or dancer. And the Nigerian government has accused it of abducting dozens of women against their will.
According to legend, in order to protect the women, Kuti asked whoever wanted to marry her to write her name on a piece of paper and then, to her greatest shock, the names of all 27 women were on the paper. This solution may seem a little archaic, but according to local tribal customs, it was not at all uncommon for a woman who was financially and existentially in trouble to be protected by marrying someone. Even if you already have a wife and otherwise there is not and will not be any sexual relationship between them.
However, the worries of more than two dozen wives were not tolerated for too long, so he developed a new system and always rotated them to have a maximum of 12 wives with whom he lives. However, over the years, all 27 went to Ghana for a honeymoon.
In 1983, free elections were held in Nigeria for the first time in a long time, and Kuti decided to run for president. This attempt was refused and then sentenced to 20 months in prison for currency smuggling a year later, although international organizations say it has been behind bars on clearly fabricated charges and political showdowns. One of her first things after her release was to divorce her current 12 wives, saying marriage would bring jealousy and selfishness out of a man.
The musician died in 1997, at the age of just 58, from AIDS-related health complications. Several women had seven children, at least seven of whom were officially recognized. Many of them became well-known musicians and dancers who carried on their father’s musical and cultural heritage.
Sources: Answers Africa, Fela Kuti website, Pulse.ng, Vanguard