Fela Kuti Estate Signs to WME Legends Division, With Unreleased Music & Biopic In the Pipeline

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WME announced on Tuesday (Oct. 24) that the agency has signed the estate of Afrobeat pioneer Fela Kuti for management worldwide under its WME Legends division.

WME Legends is focused on estate and legacy brand management, with the objective of growing the legacies of artists and brands for a new generation.


Kuti (born Olufela Olusegun Oludotun Ransome-Kuti) is a Nigerian-born musician, bandleader, composer, political activist and Pan-africanist who created the Afrobeat genre, a percussion-heavy fusion of funk, jazz, fuji and highlife music. That eventually led to the genre’s 21st-century polyrhythmic offshoot, Afrobeats, which has been steadily crossing into the mainstream over the last few years. Kuti died in 1997 after suffering from complications with AIDS.

The WME Legends team will manage Kuti’s name, image, likeness, life, IP, music and publishing rights across WME and parent company Endeavor’s departments and companies worldwide in partnership with the administrators of Kuti’s estate. All existing deals controlling his recordings and music publishing remain. Partisan Records will continue to distribute Kuti’s catalog in North America, while Universal Music still distributes it in the rest of the world. His music publishing is split between BMG and Sony worldwide.

WME Legends is focused on growing Kuti’s legacy for a new generation with various projects, including a definitive scripted biopic; an expansion of the Fela! stage musical franchise; previously unreleased masters and unpublished songs; licensing and merchandising; commercials and endorsements; and more. It has not yet been determined who will distribute and admin the previously unreleased material.

The Kuti biopic is currently in development. Notably, 12 Years a Slave director Steve McQueen was previously developing a Kuti biopic for Focus Features to star Chiwetel Ejiofor. In 2013, McQueen dropped out and was replaced on the project by Nigerian director Andrew Dosunmu, though McQueen told The Hollywood Reporter the following year that the project was “dead.” However, in the same story, producer Lydia Dean Pilcher told the outlet the biopic was still in development outside of Focus. It’s unclear whether any of the above-named players are involved in the current version of the biopic.

WME Legends also represents the estates of The Notorious B.I.G., Andy Kaufman, Eartha Kitt, Waylon Jennings, Peter Tosh and Charlie Sifford, as well as Ram Dass’ Love Serve Remember Foundation and the iconic New York punk/new wave club, CBGB.

During the course of the negotiation, the Kuti estate was represented by Olajide Oyewole, a member of DLA Piper Africa. 

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