The other day, I watched “Fela Kuti: Music Is The Weapon,” a 1980s’ documentary about Nigerian musician and activist Fela Kuti. Kuti’s life has been turned into a hit Broadway play called Fela (see it if you can), and his songs of revolution, strife and struggles of everyday life in Nigeria still resonate today. “Music Is The Weapon” chronicles Kuti’s 1983 failed run for president of Nigeria, and the intimidation and torture he and his family endured at the hands of police. Kuti’s family was rather, um, nontraditional; in the ’70s, he married 27 women — members of his extended band and dancers for his performances — in one large Yoruba ceremony. He called them his “queens,” and apparently he only kept 12 wives on tap in his commune (dubbed the Kalakuta Republic) at any given time, rotating them in and out of matrimonial service. After police pressure on the Kuti compound increased, many of his wives deserted him.
After a stint in prison in 1985 he divorced all of his wives, claiming that he no longer believed in marriage. The women featured in “Music Is The Weapon” were some of Kuti’s closest companions and advisers, the mothers of his children and followers of his belief in radical change for Nigeria. They also had incredible style — as these shots of the women in full performance makeup — prove.