Museum devoted to music icon Fela Kuti inaugurated

The family of the late musical icon Fela Kuti on Monday inaugurated a museum dedicated to his life at the site of his last house in Lagos as part of events celebrating what would have been his 74th birthday.

The museum is not yet complete, but his family wanted to use the date — October 15 was Kuti’s birthday — to raise awareness of it. An annual range of events and concerts labeled “Felabration” is being held over the coming days.

“The museum is not finished, but we had to make the opening today,” Kuti’s musician son Femi said at the inauguration amidst a party atmosphere, with a crowd of supporters gathering at the house where the musician is also buried.

The launch “symbolises his birthday and his struggle,” he said.

Kuti’s family has been seeking to promote the afrobeat musician’s legacy more than 15 years after he died aged 58 from an HIV-related illness.

A recent Broadway musical about his life that drew rave reviews has also raised his stature internationally.

Kuti’s outsized personality and social activism made him a hero to many while he was still alive, and his funeral in the giant economic capital of Lagos drew massive crowds into the streets.

The saxophone player was a harsh critic of Nigeria’s corrupt elite, lashing out in songs like “Coffin for Head of State,” “International Thief Thief” and “Zombie,” but with irresistible grooves that combined jazz, traditional music and other sounds.

His songs repeatedly landed him in trouble with the authorities, including arrests and the burning, allegedly by soldiers, of his compound, which he had christened the Kalakuta Republic and declared independent.

His original Shrine club where he regularly performed was shut after his death, but his family later opened the New Afrika Shrine at another location. Femi Kuti and his half-brother Seun regularly perform at the club.

Kuti was also known for marrying 27 women on the same day, most of them his dancers, and had a well-documented love of marijuana.

One of his wives at Monday’s launch, Olaide, was moved by being back at the house.

“This house — it’s a lot of memories,” she said. “I spent almost 30 years with Fela. I love what Fela’s children are doing.”

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