Legendary and trailblazing Nigerian musician Fela Anikulapo Kuti made waves for his nonconformity, ideals and radical character. Known as the pioneer of Afrobeat, he enjoyed stunning popularity through his music. As a human rights activist and Pan-Africanist, Fela became a thorn in the flesh of politicians and oppressors who took advantage of their positions and power to dictate the way people should live and die.
Indeed, Fela lived and breathed for freedom and justice for the common people. But the exceptionally talented musician perhaps wouldn’t have developed these attributes but for his relationship with Sandra Izsadore.
Becoming the only featured female lead vocalist in Fela’s music, Izsadore was Fela’s lover and singer but most importantly his mentor, who radicalized his music and political ideas, giving birth to Afrobeat. Izsadore herself became known as the Mother of Afrobeat, largely through her relationship with the Nigerian musician.
Born Sandra Smith in Los Angeles, Izsadore was an afro-sporting dancer and a Black Panther member participating in the civil rights movement when she met Fela and his band in Los Angeles in 1969. “Fela asked me my name and I told him,” Iszadore recounted to Carlos Moore.
“Then he asked me if I had a car and I said, ‘Yes.’ He said, ‘Good.’ He just said ‘Good’… Just like that. Then, ‘You’re going with me.’”
“It just blew my mind ’cause I’d never had anybody be so aggressive with me. I didn’t say ‘no.’”
Izsadore, as lover and teacher, would influence Fela with her ideas and introduce him to Black consciousness to the extent that the young man who had just completed music school in the UK moved his music away from love themes to social issues. In other words, instead of pursuing highlife and comforting rhythm that he and his Koola Lobitos band had become well known for in the 1960s, Fela took a rebel stand with Afrobeat, a music genre he pioneered on his return to Nigeria. He even renamed his band The Afrika ’70.
Back in Nigeria, Izsadore joined him there for a few months, helping him to become the legendary musician he currently is. Fela couldn’t agree more.
“Sandra gave me the education I wanted to know. She was the one who opened my eyes … Nothing about my life is complete without her,” the Afrobeat pioneer said in Carlos Moore’s biography called Fela: This Bitch of a Life.
Izsadore, who sang on Fela’s 1976 hit “Upside Down”, stayed in Nigeria singing and working with Fela for seven months before returning to the U.S. The poet, singer and social activist went on to fight against racism not only in her native Los Angeles but in countries abroad like Cuba.
It is documented that apart from working on a novel, Izsadore continues to record music as a solo artist and with Afrolicious’s Joe McGuire, changing the world with her songs.
In 2016, it was announced that her latest record, named after Nigeria, featured among its 15 tracks a song about Fela. Izsadore, a graduate of Redlands University who was featured in three documentaries, continues to tell the story of the late Afrobeat legend and his music. In a recent interview when she was asked to share something about Fela that people may not know, Izsadore said: “He relinquished all material things.
“He employed many while he walked this earth and is continuing to do so from the spiritual world.”