That Time Fela Kuti Stopped A Gang With A Word, And Four More Stories About The Afrobeat Legend

“I met Fela first in the back of a Mercedes van... lying in the heap of African dancers on our way back from a show.”

August 02, 2016

Today marks the 19th anniversary of Fela Kuti's death, and in recognition of the Afrobeat pioneer and Nigerian activist, has shared a long-ranging interview with Rikki Stein, Fela's former manager.


Even casual fans of Fela Kuti know parts of his incredible life story. Like that time over 1,000 Nigerian soldiers raided his compound, burned it down, and threw his mother from a third-story window (she later died of her injuries). In response, Kuti drove the coffin containing his mother's body to the residence of the general who allegedly ordered the attack, and wrote two songs about the raids, "Coffin for Head of State" and "Unknown Soldier."

However, Stein also shares tidbits that will surprise hardcore Kuti fans, such as his overstated temperament ("A lot of people said 'Fela is difficult, no?' Not for me"), and even notes GEN F subject Wizkid and FADER cover star Davido as artists Fela would respect. Check out the best anecdotes below and watch the whole video above.

1. A gang with machetes was no match for his presence.

"One time we were coming back from somewhere, 3 or 4 o'clock in the morning, we came across the bridge. And Fela was driving, and suddenly Screeeeech! There was a huge truck tire blocking the road. Nobody was there, the second we stopped, they came over the parapet with machetes, iron bars, coming at us. Fela wound down the window, put his whole body out, and said Bastards! They went 'Agh, Fela!' [and] they were gone, man. Gone."

2. Even the Nigerian cops were afraid of him.

"You'd get to the roadblock, and he'd wind down the window, and there'd be this nasty looking policeman there with red eyes and carrying a machine gun. Fela would say "Motherfucker." And the guy, who hasn't seen who it is yet, comes up, and [gasps] 'Fela!' Then [Fela] says "Bastard," winds up the window, and drives away."

3. If you were in his inner circle, he cared what you thought.

"In the afternoon, in The Shrine, there would be four or five hundred people, the real aficionados sitting there. If I accused him of this, he would yab me for it, but I know that before he would make a decision, he would ask himself 'What would those people think if I did this?' And if the answer came back they wouldn't like it, even if the answer came back [they might not like it], he wouldn't do it."

4. He really didn't like being cold.

"It was in the winter, and I had a hat and a coat and a scarf. I knocked on the door [and heard] 'Come in.'... I went in this [hotel] room, it was like a sauna bath. He would carry extra heaters in addition to whatever was provided by the establishment. The room was full of pretty girls and Fela and his Speedos, as usual."

5. His politically-charged lyrics still have tragic relevance worldwide.

"Things started in a way and it became systemic. So [politicians saying] 'Yes! I'm corrupt!' became alright, somehow. So there's a line in one Fela song "Just Like That:" Nothing to give the youth good example. So if you see people doing this, you think it's a license for you to do the same."

That Time Fela Kuti Stopped A Gang With A Word, And Four More Stories About The Afrobeat Legend