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Afrobeat Pioneer Fela Kuti Celebrated with New Scholarship

Mon 22 March 2021

Awarded in memory of the Trinity Laban alum, political activist and musician, The Fela Anikulapo-Kuti scholarship will enable aspiring jazz trumpeter Alex Polack to continue his studies at Trinity Laban for the academic year 2021/22. The scholarship is generously funded by Partisan Records and supported by The Fela Anikulapo-Kuti Estate.

Recently nominated for the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, Fela Kuti (1938-1997) studied composition and trumpet performance at Trinity Laban (then Trinity College of Music), arriving in 1958. He went on to become one of the World’s best-loved performers, pioneering the Afrobeat sound which continues to be a major influence on today’s charts. Through his music and his activism, Fela also became a leading figure within Nigerian and pan-African politics.

This year 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. The independent label, founded in 2007, are responsible for re-issuing Fela’s catalogue and also represent his Grammy-nominated eldest son Femi, as well as Femi’s own son Made.

Funded by Partisan Records in celebration of Fela’s remarkable legacy, the new scholarship will support current first-year jazz student Alex Polack. Like Fela, 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.

Prior to studying at Trinity Laban, Alex was involved in several Birmingham-based music-making including Royal Birmingham Junior Jazz sessions and projects run by Jazzline as part of Town Hall Symphony Hall’s 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.

On receiving the scholarship, Alex comments –

“I feel honoured to have been awarded this scholarship and the opportunity of mentorship from Partisan Records. The scholarship will be a massive help towards supporting my studies at Trinity Laban where I can continue to develop and benefit from the experiences and the opportunities that London has to offer.”

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.”

Partisan Records comments –

“Through his music and activism, Fela built 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.”

The scholarship announcement follows the installation of a commemorative plaque at the conservatoire’s Faculty of Music in Greenwich in November 2020 as part of the Black Plaque Project. A partnership between Nubian Jak Community Trust and Havas London, the project aims to redress the balance of commemorative blue plaques in London, of which only 1.6% currently represent Black people.

Image L-R: Alex Polack (courtesy THSH Birmingham), Fela Kuti (credit: David Corio)