From the Archives: Fela Kuti

In 1986, Nigerian musician Fela Anikulapo Kuti visited the KCRW studios for an interview with Tom Schnabel on Morning Becomes Eclectic. He spoke of his views on African unification, his strict and often violent upbringing, and his 27 wives.

KCRW has a long relationship with Fela. It started in 1980 when our first African show, Morning Goes Makossa, started airing every Tuesday in the third hour of Morning Becomes Eclectic). We had lp’s from Fela Ransome Kuti Africa 70. There was a slight Nigerian slant to the program for two reasons: there were no African albums to be had, and a guy named Loughty Lassisi Amao—percussionist for the popular British-based Nigerian band Osibisa–was living in LA at the time and brought all his Fela records in. Later, having two Nigerian hosts on KCRW’s long-running African Beat program also helped spread the afrobeat gospel in Southern California. Even before the internet, KCRW’s influence on other radio stations both in America, Europe, and Japan was felt. Each month we airmailed hundreds of playlists all over the world.

It’s a wonder that Fela got so much radio airplay on KCRW—his songs were usually 15-30 minutes long. Only a station like KCRW could handle that kind of freedom.

Two years later, in 1986, KCRW presented him at the Olympic Auditorium in downtown LA, the boxing stadium that was built for the 1932 Olympics. I think it’s a Korean church now. This was the first show KCRW ever presented!

I saw Fela many times. He would let the big band cruise along for a while, saxes blaring, then come out and have an assistant light his joint. He would sing, deliver lectures on colonial mentality, zombies and mental slavery, then break to take the occasional hit off the spliff. One time, performing with his 27 wives all on stage (at the Greek I think, but it could have been the Wadsworth Theatre), his wives were on their knees in short skirts with their bottoms facing the audience, and I noticed–from the second row–that some of them weren’t wearing underwear. Now I’m no peeping Tom, but you don’t forget such moments.





Tom Schnabel