LAGOS, Nigeria (AP) _ Fela Anikulapo-Kuti, a pop superstar who fused rock with African rhythms into a blend known as ``Afrobeat″ and was a persistent critic of Nigeria’s military regime, has died of AIDS, his family said Sunday. He was 58.
The flamboyant singer’s death Saturday was announced by his brother, Olikoye Ransome-Kuti, in a statement broadcast on national television. No cause of death was given at the time. Throngs of stunned, tearful fans gathered outside Fela’s nightclub, the Shrine, after hearing the news.
Ransome-Kuti, a doctor and former health minister, joined other family members at a news conference Sunday and confirmed that Fela had died of heart failure caused by AIDS. That immediately raised questions about whether any of Fela’s 27 wives had contracted the disease.
Fela, known across the continent by his first name, was one of the dominant superstars of African music in the 1970s and 1980s and had recorded more than 50 albums.
He also became famous for his songs criticizing the military junta of Gen. Sani Abacha, as well as earlier military regimes in Nigeria, West Africa’s most populous nation.
``Fela was a great legend who used his music tirelessly to bring about social justice,″ said Rasheed Gbadamosi, a prominent businessman and writer.
Fela, a saxophone player, was born in 1938 in Abeokuta, about 50 miles north of the capital, Lagos. He started out as a jazz musician but shifted toward pop and reggae while studying at Trinity College of Music in Oxford, England, from 1959 to 1962.
He also spent time in Ghana and the United States, where he developed a strong interest in politics and civil rights. Returning to Nigeria for good in 1973, he swiftly became a big star. His top albums included ``Zombie,″ ``Army Arrangement″ and ``Vagabond in Power.″
``For us, he was a monument, a reference point,″ prize-winning singer Lokua Kanza of Congo told The Associated Press in Paris. ``To hear him was like a blast of fresh air, a shock.″
He became enmeshed in a long-running confrontation with military authorities because of his urging that young Nigerians become more politically active. Troops burned down Fela’s house in 1977.
In 1979, Fela and his entourage of wives and girlfriends went to the ruling junta’s headquarters and placed the coffin of his recently deceased mother on the steps. Fela said he wanted to demonstrate that the power of the state was impotent compared to the power of the human spirit.
Fela was convicted of illegally exporting foreign currency in 1984 and was sentenced to 10 years in prison. A year later, the military government of Gen. Muhammed Buhari was overthrown by Gen. Ibrahim Babangida, who freed Fela.
In March 1996, Fela’s home was attacked by gunmen. His most recent arrest came April 9. He and about 100 others _ including several of his wives _ were detained for marijuana use by police drug agents who raided his nightclub north of Lagos.
Fela’s fans had known for weeks that he was ill, but few details about his condition were made public before his death.
Ransome-Kuti, who once worked as deputy director-general of the World Health Organization, used Sunday’s news conference to accuse the Nigerian government of failing to implement effective AIDS programs. He said AIDS cases at Lagos University Hospital had risen from less than 10 annually to more than 300 since 1992.
Another brother of Fela’s _ Beko Ransome-Kuti _ is an outspoken political dissident who was sentenced to 15 years in prison last year for alleged participation in a coup plot.