The charismatic Fela Kuti glimpsed on stage. Kuti blazed the trail for a polyrhythmic, politicised amalgam of funk, soul and African sounds. Courtesy Bernard Matussière
The charismatic Fela Kuti glimpsed on stage. Kuti blazed the trail for a polyrhythmic, politicised amalgam of funk, soul and African sounds. Courtesy Bernard Matussière

New documentary looks at the life and legacy of Fela Kuti, creator of Afrobeat

"I don't want to jive you here tonight, brothers and sisters. I want to present myself as an African. I want you to look at me as something new that you do not have any knowledge about, because most – 99.9 per cent – of the information you get about Africa is wrong." So begins Finding Fela [official website], an intriguing new documentary about the life and legacy of the Nigerian saxophonist and band leader Fela Anikulapo Kuti.

In this grainy film clip, Kuti is in his prime – snake-hipped and handsome, dressed in a brightly patterned suit and addressing a packed auditorium of well-to-do white faces. Fast-forward to the present day and it is difficult to consider this artist without at least a few preconceptions. As the creator of Afrobeat – an infectious fusion of Ghanaian highlife, jazz, funk and soul – Kuti spent the better part of three decades bringing the culture and concerns of his continent to the global stage. Since his death in 1997 at the age of 58, he has become a totemic figure, known as much for his outspoken politics and unconventional personal life as his work.

In 2008 Kuti even became the unlikely subject of a New York musical. Conceived by the choreographer Bill T Jones, the businessman Steve Hendel and the director Jim Lewis, Fela! included condensed versions of Kuti's most popular music performed by the respected Brooklyn-based Afrobeat ensemble Antibalas and sung by actor Sahr Ngaujah, who took the lead role. The show proved a hit and, after securing the financial backing of stars including Jay Z and Will Smith, soon moved to Broadway. The birth of this production forms the frame for the Academy Award-winning director Alex Gibney's film: the point at which he and many of those involved in the project begin to uncover not just what Kuti was about, but also the secret to his enduring appeal.

While Kuti is often portrayed as a maverick outsider, the truth is that he was born into a privileged and well-connected family. His father Israel was a Protestant minister and his mother Funmilayo a political activist and champion of women’s rights. His brothers Olikoye and Beko would respectively become known as Nigerian health minister and a prominent human rights campaigner, and his cousin Wole Soyinka was awarded the 1986 Nobel Prize in Literature.

Kuti played piano and drums as a boy, but his parents had set their hearts on him becoming a doctor. In 1958 he moved to London to study medicine – a subject for which he showed little aptitude. He wound up at Trinity College of Music, fell in love with jazz, formed the band Koola Lobitos and married his first wife Remi.

When the couple returned to Lagos in 1963, he reformed his band and set about carving out a career as a radio producer and entertainer. Although he met with some success as a musician, Kuti was never satisfied with the songs he was playing and believed Nigeria needed a new sound all of its own. It would, he decided in the late 1960s, be known as Afrobeat.

These events are all meticulously detailed in Finding Fela, accompanied by archive footage of live performances and interviews, behind-the-scenes glimpses from the Broadway production and commentary from fans including Paul McCartney and Ahmir "Questlove" Thompson of the hip-hop collective The Roots. The film also explains how a trip to the United States in the late 1960s catalysed Kuti's transformation from musician to political firebrand.

When Kuti took Koola Lobitos to America in 1969, he was already captivated by the heavy soul and disciplined band leadership of James Brown, but his experience of the burgeoning African-American struggle for civil rights added a vital sense of urgency to his new musical template. Returning to Lagos with Sandra Smith – a beautiful young member of the Black Panther Party whom he neglected to tell that he was already married – he renamed his band Nigeria 70 (and later still Africa 70) and began releasing challenging albums that often consisted of a single track on each side. To maximise the penetration of his messages, Kuti decided to deliver his songs in pidgin, one of Africa’s most widely spoken languages. Afrobeat didn’t just set dance floors alight, it confronted the corruption and violence of Nigeria’s military government in an unprecedented manner.

Not content with releasing a barrage of propulsive, polyrhythmic tirades against a heavily armed dictatorship – including the albums Roforofo Fight, Gentleman and Expensive S*** – Kuti set up his own nightclub called The Shrine, where hundreds of fans attended concerts, elaborate word-sound rituals and discussions of African identity, personal empowerment and political resistance. He also took out a series of full-page ads in national newspapers that heaped invective on those in power. Then he built a compound for himself and his entourage which he declared an independent country named the Kalakuta Republic.

"Fela was always very single-minded. The word 'compromise' just didn't exist in his dictionary," says Rikki Stein, the associate producer of Finding Fela and Kuti's manager for 15 years. "I respected him. I knew what he'd been through, I knew the sacrifices he'd made and I knew what underpinned his decisions. The thing that attracted me to him when we first met, what really drew me in, was his candour. That's a much fatter word than honesty – you know, there was just this transparent way he had of dealing with things."

This honesty and openness was not without its downsides. As a Broadway musical, the plotline of Fela! necessarily omitted some of the more problematic aspects of its subject's life – for instance, his questionable attitudes towards women and his refusal to acknowledge the existence of Aids in Africa, even though the disease was slowly killing him. In Finding Fela, though, Gibney addresses these issues with admirable straightforwardness. Eccentric acts of publicity seeking, such as Kuti's decision in 1978 to marry 27 female members of his inner circle at the same time, are examined in the context of their impact upon his existing family. Meanwhile, his appetite for grandstanding provocation is presented as both inspiring and reckless.

This is especially poignant, given the footage of the 1978 raid on the Kalakuta Republic ordered by General Olusegun Obasanjo. It was no coincidence that this assault came shortly after the release of Zombie, Kuti's incendiary attack on the methods of the Nigerian military. One thousand armed men stormed the compound, members of the community were beaten and raped, the property was burnt to the ground and Kuti's mother was thrown from a third-floor window. Her injuries were so severe that she fell into a coma and died shortly after.

This was a loss from which Kuti would never recover, but his response to the tragedy was not one of submission. Instead, he led a procession through Lagos and eventually delivered his mother's coffin to the Dodan Barracks in Lagos, where Obasanjo lived. The song Coffin for Head of State was also written as a tribute to her lifelong commitment to political change.

While Finding Fela pays ample homage to Kuti's talent and fearless activism, Gibney avoids the trap of reductive hagiography by showing his subject to be a man who was both fascinating and flawed. The film also addresses the irony that, no matter how many concert halls he filled or records he sold, Kuti has achieved a far greater level of recognition in death than he ever did in life. Looked at from a slightly different angle, though, the growing popularity and longevity of his work can be viewed as the ultimate validation.

For Stein, this remains a bittersweet consolation. “The sad thing is that if you go to Nigeria today, the same mess still exists as when I first went out there with Fela all those years ago,” he says. “The same confusion, the same problems with education, water, health. Then again, that’s what makes his music so relevant to people now – and I don’t just mean in Nigeria, but the world over. The same issues still matter. We still need transparency and social justice, and we still need to speak truth to power. Those are the things that Fela fought for.”

Dave Stelfox is a journalist and photographer based in London. His work has appeared in The Guardian, The Independent and The Daily Telegraph.


Company name: Klipit

Started: 2022

Founders: Venkat Reddy, Mohammed Al Bulooki, Bilal Merchant, Asif Ahmed, Ovais Merchant

Based: Dubai, UAE

Industry: Digital receipts, finance, blockchain

Funding: $4 million

Investors: Privately/self-funded

The specs

Engine: 2.3-litre 4cyl turbo
Power: 299hp at 5,500rpm
Torque: 420Nm at 2,750rpm
Transmission: 10-speed auto
Fuel consumption: 12.4L/100km
On sale: Now
Price: From Dh157,395 (XLS); Dh199,395 (Limited)

Living in...

This article is part of a guide on where to live in the UAE. Our reporters will profile some of the country’s most desirable districts, provide an estimate of rental prices and introduce you to some of the residents who call each area home.

Law 41.9.4 of men’s T20I playing conditions

The fielding side shall be ready to start each over within 60 seconds of the previous over being completed.
An electronic clock will be displayed at the ground that counts down seconds from 60 to zero.
The clock is not required or, if already started, can be cancelled if:
• A new batter comes to the wicket between overs.
• An official drinks interval has been called.
• The umpires have approved the on field treatment of an injury to a batter or fielder.
• The time lost is for any circumstances beyond the control of the fielding side.
• The third umpire starts the clock either when the ball has become dead at the end of the previous over, or a review has been completed.
• The team gets two warnings if they are not ready to start overs after the clock reaches zero.
• On the third and any subsequent occasion in an innings, the bowler’s end umpire awards five runs.

How Sputnik V works
Company profile

Company name: Fasset
Started: 2019
Founders: Mohammad Raafi Hossain, Daniel Ahmed
Based: Dubai
Sector: FinTech
Initial investment: $2.45 million
Current number of staff: 86
Investment stage: Pre-series B
Investors: Investcorp, Liberty City Ventures, Fatima Gobi Ventures, Primal Capital, Wealthwell Ventures, FHS Capital, VN2 Capital, local family offices

UAE athletes heading to Paris 2024


Abdullah Humaid Al Muhairi, Abdullah Al Marri, Omar Al Marzooqi, Salem Al Suwaidi, and Ali Al Karbi (four to be selected).

Men: Narmandakh Bayanmunkh (66kg), Nugzari Tatalashvili (81kg), Aram Grigorian (90kg), Dzhafar Kostoev (100kg), Magomedomar Magomedomarov (+100kg); women's Khorloodoi Bishrelt (52kg).

Safia Al Sayegh (women's road race).


Men: Yousef Rashid Al Matroushi (100m freestyle); women: Maha Abdullah Al Shehi (200m freestyle).


Maryam Mohammed Al Farsi (women's 100 metres).

The years Ramadan fell in May





Red Joan

Director: Trevor Nunn

Starring: Judi Dench, Sophie Cookson, Tereza Srbova

Rating: 3/5 stars


Director: Sudha Kongara Prasad

Starring: Akshay Kumar, Radhika Madan, Paresh Rawal

Rating: 2/5

The Specs

Engine: 1.6-litre 4-cylinder petrol
Power: 118hp
Torque: 149Nm
Transmission: Six-speed automatic
Price: From Dh61,500
On sale: Now


July 5, 1994: Jeff Bezos founds Cadabra Inc, which would later be renamed to, because his lawyer misheard the name as 'cadaver'. In its earliest days, the bookstore operated out of a rented garage in Bellevue, Washington

July 16, 1995: Amazon formally opens as an online bookseller. Fluid Concepts and Creative Analogies: Computer Models of the Fundamental Mechanisms of Thought becomes the first item sold on Amazon

1997: Amazon goes public at $18 a share, which has grown about 1,000 per cent at present. Its highest closing price was $197.85 on June 27, 2024

1998: Amazon acquires IMDb, its first major acquisition. It also starts selling CDs and DVDs

2000: Amazon Marketplace opens, allowing people to sell items on the website

2002: Amazon forms what would become Amazon Web Services, opening the platform to all developers. The cloud unit would follow in 2006

2003: Amazon turns in an annual profit of $75 million, the first time it ended a year in the black

2005: Amazon Prime is introduced, its first-ever subscription service that offered US customers free two-day shipping for $79 a year

2006: Amazon Unbox is unveiled, the company's video service that would later morph into Amazon Instant Video and, ultimately, Amazon Video

2007: Amazon's first hardware product, the Kindle e-reader, is introduced; the Fire TV and Fire Phone would come in 2014. Grocery service Amazon Fresh is also started

2009: Amazon introduces Amazon Basics, its in-house label for a variety of products

2010: The foundations for Amazon Studios were laid. Its first original streaming content debuted in 2013

2011: The Amazon Appstore for Google's Android is launched. It is still unavailable on Apple's iOS

2014: The Amazon Echo is launched, a speaker that acts as a personal digital assistant powered by Alexa

2017: Amazon acquires Whole Foods for $13.7 billion, its biggest acquisition

2018: Amazon's market cap briefly crosses the $1 trillion mark, making it, at the time, only the third company to achieve that milestone


Friday Stuttgart v Cologne (Kick-off 10.30pm UAE)

Saturday RB Leipzig v Hertha Berlin (5.30pm)

Mainz v Borussia Monchengladbach (5.30pm)

Bayern Munich v Eintracht Frankfurt (5.30pm)

Union Berlin v SC Freiburg (5.30pm)

Borussia Dortmund v Schalke (5.30pm)

Sunday Wolfsburg v Arminia (6.30pm)

Werder Bremen v Hoffenheim (9pm)

Bayer Leverkusen v Augsburg (11.30pm)

Company Profile

Name: Direct Debit System
Started: Sept 2017
Based: UAE with a subsidiary in the UK
Industry: FinTech
Funding: Undisclosed
Investors: Elaine Jones
Number of employees: 8


Director: Nikhil Nagesh Bhat

Starring: Lakshya, Tanya Maniktala, Ashish Vidyarthi, Harsh Chhaya, Raghav Juyal

Rating: 4.5/5

The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes

Director: Francis Lawrence

Stars: Rachel Zegler, Peter Dinklage, Viola Davis, Tom Blyth

Rating: 3/5

The Boy and the Heron

Director: Hayao Miyazaki

Starring: Soma Santoki, Masaki Suda, Ko Shibasaki

Rating: 5/5

Company Profile

Company name: Hoopla
Date started: March 2023
Founder: Jacqueline Perrottet
Based: Dubai
Number of staff: 10
Investment stage: Pre-seed
Investment required: $500,000

Most Read
Top Videos