Lagos, Nigeria. The country's largest city teems with people hustling to make a living. Despite Nigeria's oil wealth, daily life remains a struggle. Necessities like clean water and electricity remain elusive to many, and the government consistently ranks among the most corrupt in surveys by international organizations.
Against this backdrop, Fela Kuti in the 1970s created Afrobeat, a powerful concoction of American funk and jazz, West African highlife, and incendiary, rebellious lyrics. "Afrobeat is the African truth," says Fela's youngest son, Seun. "Nobody speaks for a lot of us in Africa. They speak for themselves and their business, but they don't speak for the people."
Fela challenged the military rulers of Nigeria and portrayed the plight of his people in songs like "Shuffering and Shmiling," which he sang in the dialect of the streets: Every day my people dey inside bus, suffering, and smiling. Every day my people dey inside bus, suffering, and smiling. Them go reach house, water no dey. Them go reach bed, power no dey. In response, the government dispatched 1,000 soldiers to destroy Fela's compound in 1977. The soldiers beat him, killed his mother by throwing her from a second story window, and torched the building. Fela was arrested more than 200 times in his lifetime.
Today, Fela's youngest son Seun is carrying his father's torch. He recently released his debut album, "Many Things," in which he delivers his own criticisms of the government. Unfortunately, things have actually gotten worse in Lagos, Seun tells reporter Marco Werman. In the Kuti family nightclub, The Shrine, Seun sings: As time dey go, things dey spoil more and more. As time dey go, children dey die more and more. No food to eat. No light to see. No water to drink. Nowhere to stay.
Cassandra Herrman, Producer
Marco Werman, Reporter
Andrew Gersh, Editor
Andy Bowley, Camera/Sound
Kole Payne, Nigeria Coordinator
George Uwaifo, Jib Operator
Christine Levy, Additional Photography
Faruk Lasaki, Nigeria Production Rentals
The story of Afrobeat legend Fela Kuti is now a high-energy Broadway musical starring Sahr Ngaujah and directed by Bill T. Jones. Watch this scene to see why audiences are dancing in the aisles.
In March 2005, Seun Kuti joined world music star Youssou N'Dour in Dakar, Sengal for a festival of African music dedicated to fighting malaria. Watch his performance at the festival of "Mosquito Song."
Breaking it Down: Afrobeat
Host Marco Werman leads a musical exploration of Fela Kuti and the continuing evolution of Afrobeat.