Okayafrica last caught up with Andrew Dosunmu ahead of the theatrical release of his gorgeously photographed debut feature Restless City. Now, Focus Features have announced the hiring of the Nigerian filmmaker/photographer — whose second featureMother of George opened this past weekend — to direct the Fela Kuti biopic, which itself has a bit of a long-winded history.
Back in December 2009 the project was given a green light to be directed by 12 Years a Slave director Steve McQueen. McQueen was to co-write a script along with the upcoming Half of a Yellow Sun director Biyi Bandele based on Michael Veal’s “Fela: The Life and Times of an African Musical Icon” . The most recent life form of Fela Kuti will see Dosunmu directing from a more recent screenplay (also adapted from Veal’s book) penned by Nigerian poet Chris Abani and Focus CEO James Schamus. Needless to say, we’re excited for this one to come to light!
Born Olufela Olusegun Oludotun Ransome-Kuti. Fela was a Nigerian musician, composer, human rights activist, political activist, and pioneer of the Afrobeat genre.
Fela was born on October 15 1938 in Abeokuta, Ogun State, Nigeria. His mother, Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti was a feminist activist in the Nigerian anti-colonialist movement. His father Reverend Israel Oludotun Ransome-Kuti was a minister and school principal, and was the first president of the Nigerian Union of Teachers. In 1958, he was sent to London to study medicine but instead, he decided to study music at the Trinity College of Music.
In 1960, he married his first wife, Remilekun Taylor. In 1963, he moved back to Nigeria and re-formed Koola Lobitos while training to be a radio broadcaster for the Nigerian Broadcasting Corporation. In 1967, he moved to Ghana, where he began to call his music Afrobeat. In 1969, Fela and his band spent 10 months in the US, where he discovered the Black Power movement.
In 1970, Fela returned to Nigeria with his band, which he renamed The Afrika ‘70. The themes of the band's’ music changed from love and relationships to social issues. He also established Kalakuta republic, which was a commune for those connected with the band and a recording studio. Kalakuta was derived from the Black Hole of Calcutta dungeon. He later declared Kalakuta republic independent from Nigeria.
Kalakuta Republic Museum
In 1977, Fela and the Afrika ‘70 released the album ‘Zombie’. The song was an attack on the methods of the Nigerian military. The title song, also named ‘Zombie’ mocked Nigerian soldiers for blindly following orders. He also criticised the government and the army for allowing corruption. On February 18, 1977, around 1000 armed soldiers descended on Kalakuta Republic. During the attack, Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti (Fela’s mother) was thrown out of a window and she died after two months in a coma.
Fela’s response was to deliver the coffin of his mother to the Dodan Barracks in Lagos, Nigeria which was the residence of General Olusegun Obasanjo at the time. He also released the songs “Coffin for Head of State” and “Unknown Soldier” which referenced the government’s claim that Kalakuta Republic has been burned by an unknown soldier.
In 1978, Fela married 27 women to mark the anniversary of the attack on Kalakuta Republic. He also formed his own political party called “Movement Of the People” (MOP). In 1979, he attempted to run for president, but his candidature was refused. Later on in the year, he formed a new band called Egypt ‘80 and continued to release albums. He also released I.T.T (International Thief Thief) attacking the corrupt political establishment in Nigeria. He also dropped the names of then I.T.T Corporation vice-president Moshood Abiola and then General Olusegun Obasanjo.
In 1984, Fela was jailed on a charge of currency smuggling by the Buhari Administration. It is believed that this arrest was politically motivated. Almost two years later, he was released by General Ibrahim Babagida. Following this he continued to release albums, however in the early 1990′s he stopped releasing album’s altogether. In 1993, he was arrested for murder and was released months later having been exonerated of any wrong doing. In 1996, two unknown gunmen opened fire at his home, however he escaped unhurt. In April 1997, Fela was once again arrested for the possession and trafficking of drugs. He was paraded on national television and was visibly sickly. On August 3 1997, Fela’s older brother Olikoye Ransome-Kuti announced that Fela had passed away on the previous day due to Kaposi’s Sarcoma brought on by AIDS.