Sandra Izsadore and Fela
Fela met Sandra Izsadore in California during a ten-month US tour with Koola Lobitos in 1969. Izsadore, a Black-rights activist, introduced him to the writings of Malcolm X, Angela Davis, H. Rap Brown, Stokely Carmichael, Huey Newton, Frantz Fanon and other revolutionary thinkers. Fela credits her with helping inspire his philosophy of Blackism. Fela told the New York Times,
“It was incredible how my head was turned. Everything fell into place, man. For the first time, I saw the essence of blackism (black nationalism). It's crazy; in the States people think the black‐power movement drew inspiration from Africa. All these Americans come over here looking for awareness. They don't realize they're the ones who've got it over there. Why, we were even ashamed to go around in national dress until we saw pictures of blacks wearing dashikis on 125th St... I realized that to be a great man you have to have a great country behind you. I had no country, just a bunch of Africans running around in suits trying to be Englishmen. I decided to come back and try to make my country African."
To commemorate Fela during Black History Month, Izsadore wrote the below essay to reflect on their time together.
During this time of Black recognition and acknowledgement I would like to reminisce about Fela Anikulapo-Kuti who was born and given the name Fela Ransome-Kuti. He is the man I met in America in 1969… a man who literally walked with the Los Angeles Times in his shoes because he could not afford a new pair. I had no idea at the time we met, during his performance at the NAACP Garden Party, hosted at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles, California that we would make historical changes in the mindset of the Nigerian people. Fela through his music has had an impact across the world. Fela and I wanted positive change for the world I thought that change could come through music… Fela was that musician.
Here it is fifty-two years later, twenty-four years since his death, and Nigeria is still in crisis. The elders and youth, those who are suffering today in Nigeria, are hearing his music clearly now. Today, Fela is known as a musical prophet, an Icon in his country and well known by people around the world. Fela’s music most people find entertaining, the rhythms are seducing and provocative, with a true message. Even back as far as 1969, Fela tried opening their eyes with his lyrical content, while they swayed to his music; their eyes are wide open now. The Nigerian people are suffering from oppression caused by their own government. The very same people that were in power whom Fela fought, are the very same people in power today. This has happened through fear, rigged elections, and the outright buying of votes. Nigeria has become a government of recycled rulers! Things that I saw happening in Nigeria in 1969 that I thought could never happen in America are now happening in America.
Fela’s music, which was relevant then, is even more relevant today, so much so the youth are asking, when was the music written? Tiwa Savage, Burna Boy, M-Josh, and Wiz-Kid all acknowledge Fela in their songs. Here in America before and after the Broadway Musical FELA! We now have Beyoncé, Kelly Rowland, Wyclef Jean, Antibalas, P Diddy and many more playing, acknowledging, and recording his music.
Just to think that chance meeting in 1969 was the beginning of a new genre of music called AfroBeat and the beginning of a love connection that has had a major impact on the world. When I met Fela, I was searching for truth! About myself, and our race. I thought surely if I could meet an Afrikan man he would teach me the Afrikan story and I would learn the truth about our people, while learning a little more about our race and myself. Well, I did not get the lesson from him because I unknowingly became the teacher. I shared with Fela our story, the little that I knew from the study of Anthropology. I took it upon myself to read and know about every Black person I could find. I shared books I had read and shared stories about the Kings and Queens of Afrika. I shared and displayed that message of truth.