I had the pleasure of attending the Broadway play “Fela!” at the Oriental Theater in Chicago. “Fela!” is the true story of the legendary Nigerian musician Fela Kuti, whose soulful Afrobeat rhythms ignited a generation. Motivated by his mother, a civil rights champion, he defied a corrupt and oppressive military government and devoted his life and music to the struggle for freedom and human dignity.
I had an enjoyable evening learning more about Fela Anikulapo Kuti who was a pioneer of Afrobeat music, human rights activist, and political maverick. Fela who was sent to London in 1958 to study medicine ended up studying music and forming the band Koola Lobitos. Afrobeat music which Fela made so famous is a complex fusion of Jazz, Funk, Ghanaian/Nigerian High-life, psychedelic rock, and traditional West African chants and rhythms. The colorful costumes, music and dancing kept the musical entertaining and the audience dancing in their seats.
The play goes through the stages of Fela’s life highlighting his marriages, Afrobeat music and politics. The American Black Power movement influenced Fela during his time in the states and you can hear it in his music and politics. He called for a united, democratic African republic and was a candid supporter of human rights. Fela died on August 3, 1997 of Kaposi’s sarcoma, an illness which was brought on by AIDS. It is said that over a million people attended his funeral at the old Shrine where he played his music in Africa.
Sahr Ngaujah played Fela in the musical and did an excellent job portraying the musician. His music, dance moves and interaction with the crowd was most memorable. The show has received 11 Tony nominations and three Tony Awards for Best Choreography, Best Costumes and Best Sound. Rapper Jay-Z and actors Will & Jada Smith are producers for the hit Broadway musical. It is definitely worth seeing this dynamic performance, and I would encourage you to go and see the broadway play, if it comes to your city. Check out music and dancing of Fela Kuti & Africa 70 live in Berlin from 1978.
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