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Fela Kuti - Zombie
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"Zombie" by Fela Kuti [1976]

Ain’t No Monster Mash: Better Music for Your Halloween Party, Day 8 of 13

Many of you will host or attend Halloween parties that have a playlist to dance to. Alice Cooper’s “I Love the Dead" won’t really work in that situation. Fela Kuti’s afrobeat anthem "Zombie," however, will keep the dance floor bouncing for over twelve minutes. The story behind the song (and album of the same name) - released at the tail end of 1976 - is unfortunately not as innocent as a simple novelty Halloween dance tune. As the album cover makes clear, "Zombie" was a metaphoric attack on the Nigerian military. And it had real life consequences.

Here’s what The Guardian had to say about “Zombie” in a 2004 retrospective: 

You could make a case for 1976’s most revolutionary record being not ‘Anarchy In The UK’ but this second, perfectly conceived slice of pop subversion, with its killer groove sounding like no one else, thunderous brass with wonderful trumpet from Lester Bowie and lyrics in pidgin English attacking the mindlessness of the Nigerian military (‘Zombie no go turn unless you tell am to turn/Zombie no go think unless you tell to think…’).

Fela’s robotic stage moves had been copied by protesters in riots against the government he was banned from Ghana for being ‘liable to cause a breach of the peace’ and this song provoked an attack on his new commune, named by Fela the Kalakuta (‘Rascal’) Republic. Indeed, Fela had declared independence from the repressive Nigerian state. On 18 February 1977, more than 1,000 armed soldiers surrounded the compound, set fire to the generator, and brutalised the occupants. Fela alleged he was dragged by his genitals from the main house, beaten, and only escaped death following the intervention of a commanding officer. Many women were raped and the 78-year-old Funmilayo was thrown through a window. She subsequently died.

Fela kept up the polemic, delivering his mother’s coffin to the army barracks and writing the song ‘Coffin for Head of State’ . One of his masterpieces, ‘Unknown Soldier’, followed an official inquiry that claimed the commune was destroyed by ‘an exasperated and unknown soldier’.

Read the full article: The Big Fela.