Tom’s Music Salon: Fela Kuti

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Tom really enjoyed the piece in Sunday’s LA Times on Afrobeat king Fela Kuti and sent this Letter to the Editor, describing some of his interactions with the artist.

From Tom to journalist Chris Barton:

Thanks for the piece on Fela. As Music Director at KCRW, I started playing Fela around 1980, and we’ve been playing him ever since.  We presented Fela at the Olympic Auditorium in 1986, and I interviewed him at that time.  KCRW was supposed to present a concert of his at the Hollywood Bowl earlier, in 1984, but Fela was arrested on trumped-up currency charges at the Lagos airport and got put in jail.

When with us in the studio, he was his usual feisty self,  clad in his usual skin-hugging body-suit, talking about about music,  corruption in Nigeria, his 28 wives and how they tried to limit his freedom.  He smirked and groaned when I asked him if he allowed them the same liberties.

It’s ironic that Fela discovered politics here in LA in the late 60s, not in Africa.  Like Sam Cooke and Marvin Gaye, he had a stern minister father who never wanted his son to be involved in show business.  But Fela stayed on message in his music until he died in the late 90s—he even ran for President of Nigeria at one point— and today his music is just as brazen and vital as ever, perhaps more so since it has hit a larger audience than ever before.

Fela would have never believed it, however, if some soothsayer told him that he and his afrobeat music would be on Broadway one day.  I wouldn’t have believed it either.

Tom Schnabel
Santa Monica, CA.