It is common to hear that Fela married 27 of his singers and dancers. What is not common is how he took care of them all.
“Fela was a very generous man. In fact, may his soul rest in peace.” A middle-aged woman who beamed with a smile said as we approached her in front of the African Shrine with our microphone. She was very enthusiastic and receptive as she soon began explaining who Abami Eda was to her.
Today the world celebrates the 80th posthumous birthday of the late Afrobeat innovator, genius songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, political activist and provocateur like no other, Fela Anikulapo Kuti, whose life and times transcends through decades and generations.
But the story of Fela’s unmatched legacy would be incomplete without giving credence to his unsung 27 wives and lead singers, who left everything behind and unashamedly followed Fela round the world, tour after tour.
These 27 women who were married to him all in one day including his back up singers, dancers, and supporters were known as the Kalakuta Queens. They alongside Fela were arrested almost two hundred times; but each time they were trampled upon, these women took protests to police stations and airports. They became his muse and to a large extent, contributed to the success of his music.
One of those unsung heroes turned out to be the woman who smiled at us as we approached the African Shrine. A fairly tall and light-skinned lady with dreadlocks dangling behind her, she who would later reveal herself to us as Ngozi Chukuka, one of Fela’s lead singers who hailed from Enugu State.
“I was an 18-year-old when I first met Fela. He came to Enugu with his band and I was among the people who were chosen to guide his band while they performed on stage. He later asked me to drop by the shrine whenever I visited Lagos. So one day, I went to visit a friend of mine, and instead of spending two days, I spent five days; I was initially scared to go back home for fear of being chastised by my parents. So I packed my bags and began my journey to Lagos; but upon getting to the Shrine, I was informed that Fela had been jailed.
‘Fela was a very plain man. In fact, he was generous to a fault. Not many people know that I ran away from my parents to be with Fela. If you asked him for anything, he would grant it. He was the first person who took me to Europe for his world tour, he made me dine with Kings back then. If you heard the news back then which said two of Fela’s singers and dancers were pregnant back then, I was the singer they were referring to. And yes, Fela took care of me although he was not responsible for the pregnancy.”
Mrs Chukuka also revealed that Fela had many parts including attending to every detail; especially when his singers were incomplete.
“As many as we were, Fela would notice if one person was missing during rehearsals. So on this day, I was ill as a result of my pregnancy. I couldn’t make it for rehearsals and while they were singing, Fela looked back and shouted cut! my singers are incomplete, where is Ngozi?”
Narrating this as her most memorable experience with the late Afrobeat legend, Ngozi said;
“When he was informed that I was ill, he immediately screamed, practice closed! My singer is sick, then he ordered that I be specially taken care of. In fact, Fela na better person o! Everybody was shocked at what Fela did. Thus I held that memory close to my heart and till today, it remains one of my most cherished memories with the late Fela.”
Watch her full video above.
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