Today marks the 21st Death anniversary of the late Afrobeat pioneer and legend, Fela Anikulapo Kuti.
In this extremely detailed piece that documents the last days of ‘Abami Eda’. the story of his last days come to bare and details of how Fela refused western medicine till it was too late.
The spiritual connotation for 1997 was more than the 20th anniversary of the Kalakuta raid or the 10th anniversary of the death of Fela’s close friend President Thomas Sankara (who through undeniable spiritual fate, died on Fela’s birth day). 1997 was also the beginning of the manifestation of the cycle: Fela’s rejuvenation. Though strong for important days, Fela was already a shadow of his former self in February.
His body was too thin for his head, his skin dry, spotty, like they’d been sucked from within. Loads of white hair on his head. In March, Fela had his most expensive show ever. 3,000 Naira (about $27 dollars then. $27 dollars today is almost 10 thousand). “Fela at the Muson” was a huge success. As rich people and foreigners came to watch Fela. Fela was warned prior, that no marijuana smoking should be done on stage, no provocative dances either. Fela would break those rules barely 5 mins in. Fela, by one of his boys side stage, had been provided with a big blunt.
The music was however enthralling especially for the bass-filled rendition of ‘Clear Road for Jaga Jaga’. By the time Fela got to ‘Condom Scallawag and Scatter’, the provocative dances came. Fela began to grab at the vagina of his dancers, making different sex poses as he danced with them. An act which shocked those who were seeing him for the first time. The music was bubbling as the chorus “Baba Obo” rang through. The crowd was well pleased with Fela’s performance giving him a wonderful applause at the end. Similar to his Yabbis Night speeches, Fela during the course of the show had complained of the country’s situation, sighting that the country was actually getting worse.
While not finger pointing at Abacha specifically, Fela dribbled around his main point: the government. Everyone went home that night and the world seemed at peace. A few weeks after, NDLEA agents with armed soldiers swooped down on Kalakuta. This time with more fire power. Fela who had been arrested and magically released with a National TV declaration in ‘96 for Drug charges, had done enough. Fela had been left to smoke and remain in his own corner. Now, ‘Kalakuta Show’ began to spin That gruesome day in March of 1997 saw Fela and the Kalakuta clan in a situation they’d been in, many times. The armed soldiers began to ransack the premises, Fela who must have been in his room smoking wasn’t expecting the ‘visitors’.
It was February 18, 1977 all over again, and while it wasn’t Fela’s mother who was thrown down from the balcony again, it was Fela’s heart and trust. It may have been the last straw that broke the camel’s back. Members of the Kalakuta abode were all hauled to prison. Fela himself was handcuffed, paraded before newsmen and led behind bars. Many who saw Abami that day were aghast! Fela looked frail and undeniably there was sorrow in his eyes.
He wasn’t smiling like he normally would. The Abacha regime had another win. Beko behind bars, Wole fled the country, and now Fela was in custody. The government used the ‘cut the head, and the body will shrivel’ technique. As many of the famous activists found themselves dead, forcefully exiled or behind bars, the reality of the sovereignty began to dawn vividly to Nigerians. The Fela images were to humiliate him around the world. Not even Abami couldn’t be touched. Fela resulted to a well known explanation for his predicament: his own enemies were right there in Kalakuta.
The spirits can’t help him if some of his own people aren’t with him. Fela was brought before General Bamaiyi of the NDLEA again. The same man who had said Fela could smoke marijuana on TV now rescinded his words. Fela was banned from smoking. He told Bamaiyi that he couldn’t fuck, eat, or sleep without marijuana. A logic, – a medical condition of drug dependence, would be one of the points used in Fela’s defence. Nonetheless, Fela was sentenced to 10 years imprisonment and the Kalakuta shrine was closed. But the spirits wouldn’t just abandon Fela.
After some time, Fela was released on bail. The Government had obviously shaken him and made their message clear: they were always watching. It was in this imprisonment that some of the Kalakuta brethren, especially some wives believe Fela was injected with what eventually killed him. A theory or reality? Life continued
Fela’s supposed last show was June 14, 1997 at a Port Harcourt Show with Geraldo Pino. It was clear that the magic and fire were gone. Fela himself ordered the band’s quick return to Lagos, despite some opposition. Upon return, Kalakuta went back to its own business: loud music, laughing, fighting. But Fela was always in his room. Despite attempts by Yeni and Femi to give Fela Western medicine, he wouldn’t take it. When they managed to put some in his water, Iyase, one of the Kalakuta women would go tell on them to Fela.
With that, Fela concluded his own children couldn’t be trusted. And even his beloved Sola couldn’t touch him anymore. Fela could no longer play at the Afrika Shrine- Seun, Dede, Baba Ani and Femi (with his ‘Sunday Jump’) kept the place bubbling. On July 21, Fela finally accepted a last chance and was moved to Victoria Island Consultancy and Hospital services. It was during this time that news broke that Fela was dead. A rumour his family was quick to shut down. Fela resisted the treatment at first but accepted it later on.
He also refused to watch TV while he was on the sick bed. On July 23, Fela who had been mostly unconscious, woke up and asked for a doughnut. Funke, Femi’s then wife, brought some from Mr Biggs. The tests confirmed that Fela had AIDS. At midnight, he asked for rice. Rasheed Gbadamosi, a pal of Fela, had his wife cook some and bring it. On Friday, August 1, 1997. There was persistent and powerful RAin, for those who knew, Fela, Ra, was showing his final prowess.
Femi who was supposed to perform that day in Ikeja, couldn’t. August 2, Chima the room aide beside him, saw him breath his last, at 5:30 after a rapid and lengthy breathing. Before the hospital staff arrived, Fela died of heart failure, the third one within a month’s span and the final. For a split second, it was as if time froze. RA, had passed away.
The staff confirmed he was dead and with that, members of his family began to rush in. Dotun arrived first on scene, followed by Femi, Yeni, Sola and Funke. His elder brother Koye followed next. Koye had earlier gone to Beko’s house, with Gani Fawehinmi and other activists to celebrate Beko’s birthday
The Ransome-Kuti, Anikulapo-Kuti family released a press statement at 9, that Fela was dead. A press conference was to take place at the Afrika Shrine, on Sunday, August 3 at 4 pm. Armed with the press statement, news reports began to fly around world wide that Fela was dead. Radio stations began to play his music, breaking news reports on the International and National news.
The shrine was in complete remorse: many couldn’t believe it. But they all shared the same certainty: Abami Eda wasn’t dead, he was still very much alive and now would always be with them in spirit.
Special thanks to Mabinuori Idowu, Kevwe Kuti, Lanre Kuti, Majemite Jaboro, Damiregba Kuti, Ihase Kuti, John Collins and Carlos Moore whose detailed explanations of Fela’s last days enabled this piece.