Clad only in jockey briefs, he takes a last admiring look in the mirror dutifully held by an employee, quickly dresses, checks his juju charms necklaces and swallows a spoonful of marijuana jam. It's showtime in the Lagos slum of Surulere.
Barking orders like a field marshal, his graceful figure emerges from his barbed wire-enclosed compound, waits for the bodyguard to clear the way and saunters across the busy nighttime avenue stopping traffic with one hand waving, the other held high in a clenched-fist, black power salute.
Within munutes he's disappeared into the nearby nightclub he calls "the shrine" where the paying customers (who're frisked for knives at the door) take up the chant of hundreds outside too poor to watch him perform. "Fe-la, Fe-la, Fe-la," they all shout.
Saxophonist, singer, dancer, performer extraordinary, the object of their veneration is a peachy cult hero who champions the millions of African nobodys to the mortification of Nigeria's westernized ruling elite for whom he's a black Pied Piper of Hamelin.
In those circles he's seen as something of a traitor to his class, the wayward child of a distinguished Nigerian family - the Ransome Kutis - once known for their preacher father, nationalist mother and their other children all prominent in medicine.
Recently Fela changed his family name to Anikulapo which in real Yoruba means "he who carries death in his sack." But his real sting does not come from Africanizing his name, but from the 10 months spent in the United States in 1969 drinking the heavy wine of then turbulent America, especially the black power movement.
Now amused by American blacks who come here in quest of their roots, he said, "Until I went to America I did not know what Africa was all about."
He has transformed the militancy he saw in the Black Panthers and directed it not against Whitey - indeed his songs and thinking are not anti-white at all - but against the oppressors he sees among his own countrymen.
His main complaint ever since is that "Africans have forgotten how to be Africans. We Africans want everything to be big but we have no standards, no values - the press tells us we're big and we're happy and don't know any better.
"Before America I didn't know how unimportant we were," he replied, contrasting the relative social justice of American society with Nigeria "where our people are sleeping in the gutter while less than 2 per cent live it up on the oil money."
Getting his message across is made easier by music, the most persuasive medium in largely illiterate Nigeria. His own brand is called Afro-beat.
It's a mixture of high life, West Africa's vaguely calypsolike music, and the jazz sounds of John Coltrane, Charlie Parker and Miles Davis that he heard during a London stay in the early '60s. His current musical favorites are Grover Washington and Stanley Turrentine.
On stage Fela's a weird combination of seat singing Cab Calloway, the aggression of Mick Jagger and the insight of Bob Dylan. Backed by a 13-man band - cornets and tenor saxes, electric guitars, drums from classical to African, a calabash and klip sticks - Fela jumps between saxophone and electric organ, sings, struts, smiles, lectures, insults and utterly captivates his worshiping and almost entirely male audience.
Under the raised podium's red-lit slogan - "Blackism - a force of the mind!" - Fela becomes hypnotic. The crowd shuffles and sways on a concrete dance floor and hardly notices two pretty go-go dancers whose bumps and grinds in an earlier era would have closed down Minsky's despite their demure long dresses.
Their faces remain expressionless as indeed do those of the half-dozen young girls who sing the chorus of his songs.
Despite the audience's rapt attention, applause is eschewed in favor of the black power salute at the end of each number.
Both in his introductory patter and the songs themselves, Fela uses pidgin - the lingua franca of coastal West Africa - to pillory his enemies. The list is long: the military government accused of using its might to cow the people, the corrupt and alienated western-oriented elite, the do-nothing state which cannot make the barest public services function properly, Islam and Christianity denounced as alien cultures out to do in native African animism, girls who use skin lightener to appear less black and more white.
In fact, the only thing he came out in favor of wholeheartedly during a long night of preaching was marijuana or, as he calls it in the title song of one of his biggest hits, Nigerian natural grass.
He takes violent exception to its local official name - Indian hemp - and claims the farmers who grow it here don't even know where India is. "It's our natural thing," he says dipping into a large cardbox and handling cigar-sized reefers out to his hangers-on like so many lollypops to a crowd of kids.
Marijuana in the past was a constant source of conflict between Fela and the authorities. Two years ago the military government drastically reduced penalties for possession. But Fela's barbed wire fence and religiously maintained broken windows bear witness to an earlier police raid in which his followers fended off their tormentors for several hours. That was one of the six times he has been arrested.
His stay at police headquarters enriched him literally and figuratively. He put out a very successful album whose cover was plastered with pictures of Fela with bandaged head. And he now calls his empire The "Kalakuta Republic" in honor of the unofficial name of the cell he was put in. Kalakuta, he claims, is an East African word for streetwise.
"That was the first time I mixed with criminals," he recalls. "If that's what criminals are all about it's the true country that's locked up."
That kind of message, however, prompted the Nigerian steward working for a yound resident American couple to hide their silverware when they invited Fela to dinner - and the musician brought along more than a dozen guests.
A women student from Lagos University proclaimed her love for his music, but didn't dare go the "The Shrine" because she was convinced that she'd be forced to smoke marijuana.
"Slander, sheer slander," was Fela's reaction when informed of the student's fear. "We encourage natural things and there's no addiction involved despite what our professors claim."
Fela is passionately interested in politics and wants the military government out immediately instead of in 1979 when it has promised to relinquish power held since 1966. At one point he insisted he wants to run for president, then later on said he was only interested in change.
"They not build roads, not build housing, not build hospitals, they run things as if the people and country were their property," he said. "Every one (else) is afraid to speak out and if we're afraid they will destroy us."
He credits his present armed truce relationship with the military government to the fact his 150 or so followers are organized in their redoubt and that, "I'm not preaching communism or socialism, but Africanism." In order words, they cannot claim he is important foreign and alien ideology.
His only channel to the establishment is through the police inspector general who last year got Fela appointed to the organizing committee for the current Second World Black and African Festival of Arts and Culture. His appointment was of short duration. He resigned to black demands that all musicians be provided with state-supplied instruments and that the venture be turned into a Carter inauguration-style "People's festival." He rails against the regime's excessive security precautions which have enraged many Nigerians.
He reserves his special scorn for the regime's pampering of the swollen Nigerian army and before launching into another sone enjoins his audience, "I want you to go home and think about it."
Denouncing military reckless use of the koboko - a horse whip - on a recalcitrant motorists, Fela pokes fun at another government ventured aimed at growing enough food - dubbed operation feed the nation. "It's operation whip the nation. Our own soldiers whip us. You aren't allowed to drive because they haven't built the roads fast enough. They use their own mistakes to punish us. Instead of building them barracks, they should go back to school and learn how to live with their brothers."
"Suffering in Africa has become a joke" is a line in his popular song, "Sorrow, Blood and Tears," which is not just directed at the authoritarian regime in South Africa. "Everyone run, run, run, everyone scatter, scatter, scatter, some one lose some bread, someone nearly die, some just died, confusion everywhere. It's a regular trademark."
Another current hit - prolific Fela turns out as many as eight albums a year - denounced the Nigerian mania for providing special services and privileges for VIP's. An impish grin on his face, he introduces his song, "VIP, not very important people, but vagabonds in power." It's an unvarnished indictment of the pervasive corruptions of the rich and powerful in and out of government, of those who don't know or want to know the "hungry, jobless and hopeless," but only that "money gets de power."
Not since Joyce Cary's Mr. Johnson has anyone lampooned African alienation as mercilessly as Fela. "You all know J.J.D.," go the lyrics of a hit song. "He's senior brother of J.J.C., Johnny just come talk funny. He just always come from some place. He just come from London. He just come from New York. He get lost in January market," a Lagos landmark.
Because of an argument over royalties, Fela won't allow the state-run Nigerian Broadcasting Corp. to play his music on the radio. It's a decision the authorities are wise enough not to protest, given the lyrics' subversive nature.
But Fela's real charm as showman and superstar are only really appreciated by watching him in the flesh. It's well into the night when the overhead fans hopelessly battle the air fetid with heat, beer fumes and marijuana and Fela strips off his white flowered applique shirt. His body is remarkably youthful despite his 38 years and nonstop cigarette and marijuana smoking. His performance becomes smoother, the saxaphone more insistent, the dancing more fluid and the singing more biting.
Later he will pay homage to the shrine's saint - Kwame Nkrumah - in a ritual dedicated to the late Ghanaian leader's Pan African politics.
The evening ends with Fela returning on donkey back to the compound, to its television set blaring in the courtyard, to the tinroof "jail" for offending females, to its red police light revolving madly from the wall, to the narrow swimming pool installed as an afterthought, to the living room plastered with photographs of the Sultan of Surulere who runs a republic.