Fela Kuti, The Radical Fashion Icon

We take a dive into how the Nigerian musical legend used fashion as a form of protest.

There’s no doubt that Fela Kuti is one of the most radical musicians that the world has ever seen. His politically-charged lyrics, sardonic album titles and covers, and his unabashed denouncement of the Nigerian government (which led to the infamous raid on his compound, resulting in the death of his mother and landing him in jail) are confirmation of this.

A less obvious symbol of Fela’s revolutionary proclivity was his fashion sense. His clothing choices were not only an expression of good taste and bravado, but also a conspicuous rejection of Western ideals. In his song “Gentleman,” Fela breaks down his aversion to Western attire by telling the story of a friend that has adopted a European style of dress.

“Africa hot, I like am so. I know what to wear, but my friends don't know. Him put him socks, him put him shoe. Him put him pant, him put him singlet. Him put him trouser, him put him shirt. Him put him tie, him put him coat. Him come cover all with him hat. Him be gentleman. Him go sweat all over, him go faint right down. Him go smell like shit Him go piss for body, him no go know. Me I no be gentleman like that.”

For Fela, wearing, what was considered to be, non-Western attire was a matter of authenticity. "I be Africa man original," he goes on to sing. True “Africanness”meant refusing to subject himself to the ways of others or compromise himself for the sake of conformity and assimilation. Achieving full liberation meant rejecting the customs and rules of the oppressor—all the way down to the oppressor’s clothing. Fela’s aesthetic was to be understood as the antithesis of that of the deadpan politicians and military leaders that he so often criticized.

Fela’s sartorial choices were a mirror of his political views, equally forthright and expressive, and a reminder that fashion can be a form of protest. He often appeared shirtless with large beads adorning his neck, or in ankara jumpsuits and matching top and bottoms, or simply in his underwear.

Fela’s decision to rock underwear publicly was yet another showing of his apathy towards the “white man’s” social order—an act of wearable subversion. Fela would conduct interviews and make appearance in his undergarments, sometimes smiling, with a blunt in his hand, showing very little regard about how he might be perceived. This swaggering show of boldness translated to him lambasting government corruption and Westernization. His underwear, as well as other items from his wardrobe, are forever immortalized with a display at the Kalakuta Republic Museum in Lagos.

Fela’s rebellious fashion sense, extended to the people around him as well. The stylistic prowess of the “Fela Kuti Queens”—the 27 women he married in a single ceremony in the 1970s—cannot and should not be overlooked. With their beaded braids, head wraps, and elaborate ceremonial face paint, these women effortlessly defied Eurocentric beauty standards.

#FelaKutiQueens 🌺

A post shared by Maria Gloria Grace Angelico (@mariagloriagraceangelico) on

It’s hard to find artists nowadays so unwaveringly devoted to a cause that their politics are worn on their bodies. Fela’s wardrobe was a form of resistance all on its own.

The next time you see a picture of Fela, pay attention to his clothing—or lack thereof—and be inspired. There's never been a more compelling time to channel his spirit of outspokenness, proud blackness, and peerless audacity.

Photo: Marvel

The Dora Milaje Are Getting Their Own Spin-Off Penned by Nnedi Okorafor and We're Here For It

The first of the three-part story drops this June.

The Dora Milaje, Wakanda's fierce, all-women army who stole the show in Black Panther, are finally getting the storyline they deserve in Marvel's universe.

Keep reading... Show less

Black Panther Is Back In the New Trailer for 'Avengers: Infinity War'

Rejoice! We get to visit Wakanda again on April 27. 🙅🏿

Lucky for all of us, we don't have to wait much longer for the Black Panther to return to our screens.

The new trailer for the final installment in Marvel's Avengers series dropped today, and it looks like we're in for yet another visual treat. The movie features some of our favorite Wakandans including the king, T'Challa, Okoye, Shuri, M'Baku and more.

Keep reading... Show less
Famous Bobson. Image courtesy of the artist.

This 21-Year-Old Could Be The Next Big Thing In Nigerian Afro-Pop

Famous Bobson has shared the stage with Davido and dropped consistent bangers. 2018 could be his year.

Bobson Iyovwaye also known as Famous Bobson is one of the fresh faces looking to break out in the Nigerian afrobeats game in 2018.

After garnering a lot of buzz with "Only You" last year, the 21-year-old singer has been picking up speed lately with successful tours both in Nigeria and the United Kingdom. A few weeks ago he was killing it on stage in Birmingham as an opening act for Davido at his 30 Billion World Tour concert.

His latest single "Iyawo" has all the elements of a traditional love song and its accompanying music video which was directed by David Anthony, truly captures the spirit of the song. With a new single and a big concert in Toronto coming up in May, this might just be the year when everyone gets to know who Famous Bobson is.

We caught up with the rising star to discuss his journey so far, his latest single and what we should expect from him in the future. Read our conversation below.

Keep reading... Show less

get okayafrica in your inbox