Fela Kuti is the sort of artist whose influence is undeniable, but whose music is not necessarily mainstream in the United States. This is the sort of act whose music and whose approach sits across a great many of the conflicts within the postcolonial world and whose fusion of a variety of styles made him a massively influential founding figure within a style of music which remains vibrant, especially in contemporary West African music and among the African diaspora. And while he is an artist without any hits in the United States at least, he did have a prolific body of work and an approach to music as well as politics that remains influential in highly ambivalent ways. For example, many may celebrate his hostility to Nigeria’s dictatorships of the 1970’s and 1980s and the way that he suffered several jail sentences as a result of his political stance despite his massive popularity (or perhaps because of it) as well as his hostility to the language of the West (including this writer) when referring to poor performing African nations as undeveloped or third world, but fewer will celebrate his misogynism towards women who appreciate Western standards of respect towards women or his rampant polgyny.
The Influence Of Fela Kuti
Fela Kuti’s influence can be felt in a few ways. His largest musical influence has been among West African musicians who to this day play the Afrobeat music that is a mix of such disparate elements as jazz, Ghanaian highlife music, funk, traditional African folk music, and other strains . This sort of music became particularly popular in West Africa, especially in Anglophone West Africa, and certainly had some popularity in the rest of the world. In addition to the popularity of his music, there was his focus on Afro-Consciousness, a generally anticolonial attitude that has also remained popular, and has ensured that he has remained in the consciousness to the present day, even becoming the subject of an off-Broadway play as well as a film portrayal that states understanding his music is essential to understand the music of Africa in general.
Why Fela Kuti Belongs In The Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame
It is lamentably true that artists outside of the US and UK have had a tough time being inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame and it remains true that no artist has ever been inducted without having had a high degree of popularity in either the US or the UK, and even that has not been enough for a great many artists outside of those nations. When nations like Sweden, Germany, Ireland, and Australia have struggled to have their most notable and popular acts inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, Nigeria is certainly going to lag. Still, it is unquestionable that Fela Kuti has had a large degree of influence on the musical traditions of a large portion of the world, especially in but not only in West Africa. As has been commented among other acts, being a foundational figure in the creation of a vital and important genre of music gives one a great case for induction into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame regardless of whether or not the artist has any hits or not. Fela Kuti belongs with figures like Talk Talk (post-rock), Kraftrock (electronic music) and Gram Parsons (country-rock) as being the somewhat obscure but highly important figures in creating a new approach to music that other artists follow up on and carry onward. That is enough for me, at least, to consider him a worthy inductee.
Why Fela Kuti Is Not In The Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame
As mentioned above, this is more a matter of the limited appeal of Fela Kuti’s music to the popular audiences of the United States. Traditionally speaking, the development of new genres of African music has not tended to count for much among American rock & roll audiences. Whether or not this should be the case, it has been the case, despite the fact that it is impossible to deny that there has been a heavy African influence in Rock & Roll music from the beginning.
Verdict: It seems quite possible that Fela Kuti will eventually be included into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, but perhaps under the Award For Musical Influence or as an “Early Influence” in Afrobeat, rather than directly as an artist.