NEWS: Fela Kuti's Legacy Celebrated With New Scholarship At London's Trinity Laban

Today the Trinity Laban and Partisan Records announce the Fela Anikulapo-Kuti scholarship.

The scholarship will this year enable aspiring jazz trumpeter Alex Polack to continue his studies at Trinity Laban for the academic year 2021/22. The scholarship is funded by Partisan Records and supported by The Fela Anikulapo-Kuti Estate. Like Fela (who also studied at Trinity Laban), Birmingham-born Alex studies trumpet performance. The scholarship, awarded on merit to a talented musician from African or of African heritage following nominations from the conservatoire’s Heads of Jazz and Composition, will enable Alex to continue studying on the conservatoire’s BMus Jazz degree programme.

In addition to the financial award, Alex will be benefit from bespoke artistic and industry focused mentoring from Partisan Records and Fela’s grandson Made Kuti, who is a fellow Trinity Laban alum.

Partisan Records comments –

"Through his music and activism, Fela build his legacy upon the ideas of giving back to the community, inspiring creativity and curiosity, and pushing boundaries. This scholarship is a prime example of one of the many ways this legacy continues to live on and inspire young people to this day. We’re proud to help bring this opportunity to Alex and hopefully future Trinity Laban students. We also look forward to instilling some of Partisan’s own industry expertise and experience into the next generation of creative minds."

Made Kuti comments –

My time at Trinity Laban really allowed me a lot of creative space to experiment and explore my sound with a lot of guidance and support from a very passionate and accomplished staff. It played a major role in helping me see just how much there is to investigate and discover in music and has of course influenced how I've explored the music of my father and grandfather I have consumed for so long, and how I express myself through my own music.

Trinity Laban Director of Music Havilland Willshire comments –

I’m thrilled to announce this gift from Partisan Records and The Fela Anikulapo-Kuti Estate. The new scholarship furthers Trinity Laban’s commitment to widening access for talented and dedicated students like Alex Polack and honours an incredible musical and political figure who is part of our innovative and creative community.

Fela Kuti (1938-1997) - legendary Nigerian musician, producer, political radical, arranger, and outlaw - has also recently been nominated for the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. The originator of Afrobeat also currently leads all 2021 nominees on the official "fan ballot" leader board. Fela is nominated alongside other varied and esteemed artists such as Jay-Z, Tina Turner, Rage Against The Machine, Foo Fighters, + more. If elected, Kuti would become just the second African-born member of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. Inductees will be announced in May, and the 2021 Induction Ceremony will take place in Cleveland this Autumn.

2021 also marks the 50th anniversary of some of Fela’s most beloved recordings, including his album ‘London Scene’ as well as the legendary record he made with Ginger Baker of Cream. Special versions of each will be reissued later this year via Partisan Records. 2021 will also see the release of the fifth instalment of on an ongoing vinyl reissue box set series (previous volumes have been curated by Erykah Badu, Questlove, and Brian Eno). More information on all upcoming Fela releases in 2021 to be announced soon.

Fela’s legacy spans decades and genres, touching on jazz, pop, funk, hip-hop, rock, and beyond. While he never achieved true icon status during his lifetime, the last (roughly) decade has seen a broad resurgence in his popularity, and a critical re-evaluation of his life, music, and influence. In 2008, the biographical musical ‘Fela!’ (co-produced by Jay-Z and Will Smith) became a surprise hit off-Broadway and then on Broadway itself. Since then, Beyoncé performed Fela’s "Zombie" at Coachella, he’s been references as an influence by everyone from Paul McCartney to Questlove, and sampled by Missy Elliott, Kendrick Lamar, J. Cole, Nas, and more. Vice President Kamala Harris even used Fela’s music at her and President Biden's first joint event together.

Fela’s sons Femi and Seun have since become Grammy-nominated musicians in their own right, and in 1998 his daughter Yeni founded the annual music festival, Felabration. In February, Femi and his own son Made released a special two-album project, appropriately titled ‘Legacy +,’ which was met with critical acclaim and officially brought Fela’s music and influence into a third generation. ‘Legacy +’ earned spotlights from NPR, the NY Times, and Pitchfork who praised the project for "merging Fela’s legend, Femi’s unrelenting struggle, and Made’s extension of the genre: three generations of Afrobeats in one place."

Fela's sociopolitical voice has also never been more relevant. He was as much an activist as he was a musician, and was arrested over 200 times for taking explicit aim at Nigeria's corrupt military government. Both Femi and Made have taken to the streets and spoken out in strong support of the ongoing End SARS movement in Nigeria. Last summer, the NY Times highlighted some of Fela’s most essential political music.