Afrika’s Greatest: Fela Kuti and the stories behind the musical construction of “Alagbon Close”, “Expensive Shit”, “Kalakuta Show” & “Confusion”


“Whenever I look back on my past, there are things that make me feel so bad, man! 1974! That’s the year when all the horrors started. The arrests … the clubbings … the imprisonments … everything! Sometimes it all comes back to me and I ask myself: “Why all this shit? Why do all these horrors happen to me?… All the shit I’ve been through in this motherfuckin’ world ever since I was born…”

Fela Kuti was voted as the sexiest saxophonist in the world by the BBC


Fela Kuti, undoubtedly is the greatest music icon to have arisen from the African continent, the cradle of civilization and the home of the first homo sapiens. Fela was not just a musical genius, he was one political artist who created a music genre and made it a weapon to fight against oppression of the masses. Of course, for him to not have foreseen the the rough roads he treaded would mean that he was not prepared for the responses his brand of music; Afro Beat had on both society  and governments. 

Fela was the “Ultimate Rebel”; howbeit, a rebel with a course which he treaded and traversed till he breath his last breathe. This story, an extract from the work, This Bitch of a Life tells the story of one of Fela’s tackle with a Nigerian military junta, the vilification he faced, arrest and detention, trials and of course his triumph rendered is now popular musical constructions like Alagbon Close, Expensive Shit, Kalakuta Show and Confusion.

This extract takes root from when Fela’s “Kalakuta Republic” home was raided by the Nigerian Police under the then Inspector-General Sunday Adewusi during the military regime of General Olusegun Obasanjo and standing face to face with a police interrogator.

It’s an unputdownable read! …  Editor

*Fela Kuti in pop and bandages: beaten but refused to be broken by the system

Alagbon Close*
“Expensive Shit”,
“Kalakuta Show”, “Confusion”
“Name?” “Fela!”
The police officer looked up at me. “Just Fela?’ “Yeah, jus’ Fela!”
I knew very well that motherfucker knew my name.
“My house. …”
“Right here in Surulere, man, yeah!”

That was the first time in my life I was taken to jail, man. That first time, it’s a funny feeling. Not the other times. Just that first one. You know how people are brought up thinking that jail is just for criminals, man. For people who’ve “gone against society. …” You know what I mean? That “law and order” shit. But after they put me in that cell with the people they call “criminals”, I started thinking: “Who the fuck is Society? Who jails Society when it does horrors to people? Why Society does nothing to help beggars; to provide jobs and keep people from having to steal just to chop? Why don’t Society fight against corruption, punish
the powerful …?” I concluded to myself: “Fuck society, man. It’s unjust!” I knew I would be in jail for another ten years ‘cause the shit they had on me carried ten motherfucking years, man. But still I said, “Fuck society, man. … Fuck! Fuck! Fuck iiiiiiiiiit!!”

Whenever I look back on my past, there are things that make me feel so bad, man! 1974! That’s the year when all the horrors started. The arrests … the clubbings … the imprisonments … everything! Sometimes it all comes back to me and I ask myself: “Why all this shit? Why do all these horrors happen to me? … All the shit I’ve been through in this motherfuckin’ world ever since I was born. … What kind of world is this? A world where you get your ass kicked if you do good … but given a medal if you kill some guy in the name of patriotism! What shit is that?”

My first clash with “law and order” people was on 30 April 1974. I can’t forget that, man! Oh, what bastards! There I was in my house in Surulere. At that time, you know, there wasn’t any barbed-wire fence around my place. I had nothing to fear. I wasn’t even thinking they could have something against me. I was just preaching revolution for Africa, you know. I didn’t know they were planning against me, man. So my house was open. I didn’t have a fence or a gate. So when those motherfuckers came to bust me for grass, they had no trouble getting in, at all. … How did the shit start? I’ll tell you.

*Fela Kuti, his songs were sharper than the most vitriolic word on governments and systems

That day I was in my house giving interview to someone. Talking ‘bout the scandals and corruption of the Gowon régime. About how people were being whipped in the streets by soldiers, man. Yeah, soldiers hitting your nyash with whips, man! Now, where else in the world does that happen? In South Africa? Not even. So while I was heavy into this interview-o, fifty motherfucking policemen just walked in. F-i-f-t-y, I’m telling you, man!

At that time, man, you got up to ten fucking years for just smoking grass. But I never use to hide the shit. And these bastards, man, found grass everywhere. Under the carpets, in toilet, in kitchen … every fucking place. All my people smoke. Everybody has his own shit. We all went to prison, man: Alagbon Close. About sixty of us were packed in the same cell like animals, man! It was the first time I ever see prison in my life-o! I use to think prisoners were criminals until
that day. Inside there I found guys who were also looking for a better life. The day I was busted I was getting ready to leave for Cameroons on my first big tour outside of Nigeria. On that day, the fucking police didn’t touch me-o. No, not that time. They didn’t beat up anybody. There were already many girls living at my house. They were all taken to Welfare. Me, they put in prison. That was on Monday. … Then, they took me to court on Thursday or Friday. The police told the court that they opposed bail ‘cause they hadn’t finished investigations. So the magistrate gave them another three days. I went back to jail. That was Friday and I stayed the weekend plus Monday.

Tuesday, they took me back to court. I got my bail. I’d spent eight days in jail, man. Now, when they raided my house that time, they’d taken my passport-o. The bastards! In fact, I’m sure they busted me just to keep me from going to Cameroons on that big tour I was to make. So I got out of jail on Tuesday. And Wednesday I went looking for my passport. Me and my lawyer went to see Sunday Adewusi.* I told him I had to travel on Friday to Cameroons. He said: “OK. Come tomorrow morning at 9 a.m. for the passport.” So that Wednesday I went home to sleep, expecting to go see him next morning
for the passport.

Fela doing the underground spiritual game dance

While I had been in jail those eight days, all my girls had been taken into custody by Welfare. Can you imagine that, man? Police had took everybody from the house. The women spent about two months at Welfare. They had to escape by themselves. They jumped over the fence of Welfare. They escaped; all of them escaped, except maybe five or so. Those, my girls! That’s why I had to marry them, man. They were a bunch of wild motherfuckers, man!

When I went home, the house was almost completely empty. I got fucking high and went fast asleep. At 4 a.m. –it’s now Thursday morning – guess who shows up? Police! Fuck it! I swear, I didn’t know police would come again. And there they were to raid me again. I hear: tarn … tarn … tarn. … I had a spy-glass on my door, but I didn’t even bother to use it. I just opened the door and … Baaaam! What do I see? Five detectives! Now, I’d smoked some joints earlier. What was left was in the ashtray on a small table near my bed. They’d just finished raiding me, man, so I wasn’t ready to have them catch me again. I said:
“Police? What do you want?” They said they’d come to search me again. “Again? You just finished. I left on bail yesterday. What’s happening?”
They said they’d come to raid me again. I said:
“Fine. I have a woman inside there. She’s naked. You cannot come in here until
she is dressed.”
“OK,” they said.

I banged the door in their face. I quickly went to my ashtray, man. I put all the grass in my mouth, plenty, man. About a handful … in my mouth … just like that … mmmmmmmmm. You follow me? I stood at the door and suddenly opened it. Boinggggg! I did like I was feeling sick, holding my mouth like I wanted to vomit and I ran to my toilet. I just rushed through them. They didn’t know what I was doing. I was too fast for them. My toilet was just there. I opened the sink. Spit everything into it. Ran the water. Pushing everything down the drain in a rush. Then I went back into my room, closed the door again. Just to make sure, I searched every corner and cleared my room. My room was safe.
Then I opened the door. “Come in.”


They came in. They started to search here, there … under … everywhere. They didn’t find shit. Then they dropped one joint that they brought themselves, just one joint. Enough to send me in for ten years, man. It was wrapped in a paper like how we wrap joints for sale in Lagos. So they brought it out from under somewhere.
“We found this,” they said.
“You found this?”
He unrolled it and opened it to show me, saying, “I found this.”
“I can’t see it.” They brought it close to my face and showed it to me. I again
said, “I can’t see it.”
And they brought it right up to my face like that.
They said: “Look!”
I looked at it. I was thinking fast, man. Then suddenly, in a split second – really fast! – I went for the paper, grabbed it, put it in my mouth and jumped on my bed, man. I’d swallowed it! I took the whisky bottle by my bed, put it to my mouth and washed the shit down. Then I started to lecture them.
“Motherfuckers, what’s the matter with you? Look-o, I’m trying to save this country, man. You want to put me in jail. What have I done? Whaaat have I done? ‘Cause I smoke? Fuckin’. …”

They were looking at me while I was eating it. There was left about one tiny grain inside the paper. And they took that one tiny grain, looked at me and said: “Let’s go!” And they took me. This time they were so sure they’d got me! ‘Cause that first raid wasn’t a clean one. They’d done everything roughly. This time they made sure they had a neat one. A police officer was even waiting for me in the office, at Alagbon Close, the big police station.
“Fela is coming. This time we’ve got him,” he said.
When we got there, this man was sitting on his chair. I stood there, with four detectives standing next to me. So, the man, looking big, stood up in the front. He asked them:
“So you got him?”
“Yes, sah. But when we showed it to him, he grabbed it and ate it.”
The man was so shocked. He looked at me as if I was the biggest criminal he ever saw. Motherfucker wants to put me in jail, man, and I’m trying to get myself out of jail and he thinks I’m a criminal for that, man! What he has planned-o. … He’s the criminal now! He looks at me, so annoyed.
“Lock him up!”

Fela was loved and admired by his wives

They locked me up, man, a second time. Motherfuckers! Second time in one same week! I didn’t know what was gonna happen. Have I told you the part about the hospital? I didn’t? It’s fantastic! I must tell you, fuck! Look, they put me in the cell. I was there for hours, waiting. I could see the officers through the cell door, running up and down, planning. Motherfuckers were planning on me, man. I was jus’ looking at them and thinking: “What are they up to? They can’t charge me with that shit there, man, ‘cause they ain’t got nothing to test, nothing to show. So what do they intend to do?” I was waiting when they came and opened the door.
“Come out.”
“Just follow us.”

They make me get into a Peugeot and zoooooooooooom. Where they’re taking me, I don’t know. Straight! They took me to a military … hospital. I was thinking, “Now, what do they want to do?” Once inside, they take me to see Dr Peters, head of the military doctors at that hospital. He’s my cousin, you know.
“Oh, Fela, how are you?” he asked.
“Ah. …”
“What’s happened?” he asked, like as if he didn’t know.
“I don’t know what they brought me here for,” I said.
“Follow me.”
So, you see, he knew. They had already told him, see, why they’d brought me to him. He took me to an operating theatre. I’m standing there, still not knowing what was up. Then a nurse came. She was carrying two new shoes, the type you wear in operating theatres. She put them on the ground and said: “Wear these!”
“Shoes? Are you blind? Don’t you see shoes for my foot?”
Then, blaaaaaaam! It occurred to me. I said to myself, “So that’s it?” I look at nurse, I look at doctor, I look at police.
“So, you people want to wash my stomach! Fine! Go ahead! Wash my stomach. Fine. You will do it ‘cause you can do it, can’t you? ‘Cause you will take me in there by force, right? You’re ready to take me in there by force? OK-o! Make you take me by force-o! It’s my nyash you want to put somethin’ inside? Well, you’ll never get anything in my nyash! Let me tell you somethin’: before you do anything to me, all that theatre, I will break it down. So take me inside. Let me see you take me inside, you mother-fuckin’ police! Bastards! Take me inside! Ba-s-t-a-r-ds!”

*Fela being arrested by the police

“Oh, man, I was so fuckin’ mad! When the doctor heard I was gonna break his theatre, he told police: “If you can’t get your prisoner under control, I can’t do it.”
“You doctor,” I said. “I know one thing. You cannot do anything to my body unless by my express permission. So you get that into your head. I know that law!”
That one just messed him up. Po-po-po-po-po-po! He went away. He left me there with the police. And I say to police: “What do you want to do now?”
“Follow us,” they say.
I follow them. We reach outside. Guess who was outside waiting for me? The boss of Nigerian Interpol, man: Mr Atta! He was there waiting for the results of my shit thing! When he saw me and the police coming out, he asked them:
“Have you done it?”
“Fela no agree for them to do it, Sah,” they answered.
He looked at me like I was a criminal. You know what he said? “Get in my car!”
Not in the car I came in, you know. He’d brought another car. He must have thought I was a stupid man. He put me at the back seat. It was a Peugeot Station Wagon, three seat lines – front seat, middle seat and back seat. He put me in the back seat and he sat in the middle seat. His driver took off! Then he turns round to me, still looking at me like I’m a criminal.
“I’m going to talk to you in my office.”
“You get office?” I asked sarcastically. “You foolish stupid bastard! Low-down sonofabitch. …”
Oh, I abused him like a dog. I was cursing, calling him dirty names, “dog”, “bastard”, “goat”, things like that!
As soon as we arrived at Alagbon, Atta ordered:
“Lock him up!”

*Fela Kuti, the family man at home relaxing

When I was finally taken to court, they charged me with possession of Indian hemp. However, they said in court that I had eaten the Indian hemp; that it was still in my stomach, and so they wanted me kept in jail to collect samples. You understand, man? When I hear that in court again, I say: “Collect my shit? These police never give up.” So the magistrate asked: “How many days do you need to collect that ‘thing’, the samples?”
“Three days.”

So they took me back and locked me up for three more days. When my mother found out, she started to send me vegetables. I was just eating vegetables. You know, to quench the vegetables inside there. I refused to shit. That first day I didn’t shit-o. Then, in the middle of the night, the prisoners woke me up. They said: “Fela, all the police are asleep now. Why don’t you come and shit in the pail ‘cause they won’t see you shitting. Then they go throw it away tomorrow with
everybody’s shit.”
I said, “That’s a good idea, man.”
So I crept out of my bed … not bed, man. There was no bed. Just a position on the cell floor where I was sleeping. And I got to where the pail was. You see, the cell was a room with different positions. A small room, roughly the size of an average sitting-room. There were eight of us in there at that time. Everybody had a position. The pail of shit, too, had its own position in the corner of the same room. So I went to the pail position and I did my shit there. In the morning the police threw it away thinking it was the shit of the other prisoners. Then, police come and say:
“Fela, you don’t want to shit yet?”
“Shit? No, I don’t want to shit, man!”

*The mausoleum where the late Afro-Beat King rests at Fela’s Afrobeat Museum in Ikeja, Lagos

Second day, my mother send vegetables again. The second night, the prisoners again say: “Fela, the. …” The “president” of the cell at that time was a guy named Rockwell. He was in jail for forgery of notes. He had been in the cell for eight months. No investigation. Nothing. They just kept him there. So he said: “Fela, these people are bastards. That one shit not enough-o. So you go shit another one tonight, to make sure your stomach is clear.”
I said, “Thank you.”
So that night, again, when everybody’s asleep, I do the same thing. Then, in morning, they throw it away. Now, when police came, they again asked me:
“Fela, you want shit-o?”
“Me, I don’t want to shit yet-o. Shit? Shit no come!”

The morning I was due in court, I woke up at 6.30 a.m. and call out: “Hey, police, I want to shit.” Oooooooooh, see the commotion in the police station, man! “Fela wants to shit!” Helter-skelter! Everybody looking for chamber pot – policeman, orderly, constable, everyone! They all want Fela’s shit! They took me to the backyard, put the chamber pot under my nyash. I shit. When I look at my shit, man, it was clean like a baby’s shit. Clean! That’s how I got myself out of that shit that time, man. The motherfuckers couldn’t charge me for any fucking thing. No evidence!

In spite of that I still had two cases in court. The first didn’t last long: four and a half months. One day, the magistrate just said: “Look, I’m tired of this case. Everybody go home.” Finish! That’s how the first case ended. It had seven counts: three counts of abduction. But the case connected with the second raid went on for five years in court before it was thrown out, too! You know what police did to me in court for the first case though? Adewusi tried to jail me for abduction that time. Man, he put three counts of abduction on my nyash. They brought a man and a woman to court to swear that they were the mother and father of a girl they said was kidnapped by me. Imagine that! Fela kidnapping woman! You see, what these “law and order” people can do? The girl’s name is Ibekwedi. She was one of the twenty-seven girls I married in ‘78, but she has left me since, though I still see her once in a while. …

SOURCE: Carlos Moore This Bitch of a Life (2009) Chicago Review Press

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