Afro Beat Activist Fela Succumbs

August 4 [12:00 EDT] --One of the most fascinating figures in music is dead. Nigerian rock star and political activist Fela Anikulapo-Kuti died over the weekend after a long illness his brother now confirms was AIDS. The eccentric singer had been in poor health for some time with AIDS-like symptoms, and had led a promiscuous lifestyle conducive to exposure to the virus, but he had never consulted a doctor prior to the past two weeks.

On stage, Fela would perform in sequined suits backed by a full rock band, a horn section and over two dozen dancers and singers, an imposing figure preaching revolution for his country and social justice for all. Jailed several times as a dissident (generally disguised as other charges), he was touted at one point as a future President of Nigeria.

Backstage, he remained equally majestic, enough even while holding court in just his underwear, something Fela was prone to do. He openly enjoyed several vices, the most prominent being a love of

sex and marijuana.

"He had 24 women on tour with him, and he slept with all of them," recalls Bud Walters, a crew chief who once worked with the group. "His stamina was unbelievable." Equally unbelievable, adds Walters, was that none of the women counted among his 28 wives.

Fela popularized the genre generally dubbed Afro Beat, a forerunner of rap, playing a fusion of jazz and 'hilife.' He gave up politics two years ago but still occasionally performed at a club he owned in Lagos called The Shrine, staging rap sessions called 'yabbis'.

Anikulapo-Kuti was 58.