Love in Fela’s Kalakuta Republic

Fela Anikulapo-Kuti – Africa’s most prominent political dissident and musician – upset Presidents, challenged Nigeria’s armed forces, was arrested and jailed 200 times, created a music genre celebrated till today but no one talks about how he could not have done these without the 27 women (and more) who were his wives, girlfriends, disc jockeys, back up singers, dancers, supporters, counsellors. Not even in Fela! a musical that opened off Broadway, New York in 2008 and will celebrate its tenth anniversary come October 2018.

Fela used his music to fight against oppression for the common Nigerian and or African man catching the attention of the world. He did not do all these alone.

A group of daring, unconventional, hedonistic women played a part. They were known as the Kalakuta Queens, a homage to the urban commune where they lived, created and for a time, thrived with Fela. These women took protests to police stations and airports, places where Fela himself might not have dared. They inspired and contributed to the making of his music. They were routinely attacked, assaulted and arrested by the authorities. They stood with Fela through it all. Controversially, they flocked to his residence as teenagers. They openly smoked marijuana. They were branded as Fela’s sex objects and yet they were so much more.

Using the true stories of two living Kalakuta queens, Rotinwa has written a long read memoir-essay that tells the history of these women, how they came to be with Fela, their life with him, their contributions to the Afrobeat music genre, to the image Fela built which widened his appeal and brought him success, the costs they bore by being with him and where they are now, more than twenty years after a decade of protesting, loving, growing in Fela’s Kalakuta Republic.

Ayodeji Rotinwa is a writer and journalist based in Lagos, Nigeria covering art, culture, development and often how these intersect. I have previously written for Anthony Bourdain’s Explore Parts Unknown, Mail & Guardian, Artsy. He has been published elsewhere by the Financial Times, OZY, CNN, Forbes Africa and the Africa Report. He tweets @ayodejirotinwa

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