Photo by Bernard Matussiere.

Photographing Fela: Bernard Matussiere On His Iconic Images of Fela Kuti and the Kalakuta Queens

The French photographer speaks to OkayAfrica about what it was like to capture the Nigerian legend in his interior life and on tour.

Veteran French photographer Bernard Matussiere had no idea he'd be capturing pivotal moments in the life of Africa's most storied musician when he joined Fela Kuti on tour in the early 80s. He quickly became a fly on the wall-like presence around the artist, documenting him as he performed across Europe, surrounded by those close to him, most notably the Kalakuta Queens (the group of 27 dancers and backup singers he married in a single ceremony in 1978). Matussiere produced perhaps the most memorable and most extensive collection of portraits of the Queens (as they're often referred to), allowing them to share a spotlight that was usually reserved for their fierce band leader.

With the inclusion of the Queens, as well as Fela's bandmates and children (a baby Seun Kuti makes several appearance in Matussiere's photos) the "Fela" section of Matussiere's website is a well of style inspiration, rockstar fantasy, and a glimpse at the artist's interior life that's well worth getting lost in for hours. His photos largely center the quiet details that surrounded the boisterous musician: when have you ever seen a photo of Fela Kuti at a grocery store? Upon looking at the photos, they reveal an icon's striking presence and lifestyle, but it's clear from Matussiere's stories, that what occurred behind the camera tells its own unique narrative about who the musician was.

We caught up with the French photographer ahead of the release of his Fela Kuti clothing line with the OkayAfrica Shop to hear about his time photographing the Afrobeat legend.

Read our conversation below.

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