Fela! Broadway in Chicago

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I went to see my first Broadway show with a couple of friends yesterday at the oriental theater on west Randolph in Chicago.

It was a musical based on the life of Fela Anikulapo (One who has carries death in his pouch) Kuti, an African multi-instrumentalist, musician, singer, artist, and activist, and the pioneer of Afrobeats.

Everyone I knew was going to see it, or had gone to see it and gave it great reviews. And even though I didn’t know what to expect, I was looking forward to my first Broadway experience. Our show was slated for 2pm, the theater was packed full.

The scene was set in the Shrine, a club created by Fela back in the 70s, where he lived, played and later declared a republic independent from the Nigerian Government, whom he often spoke out against. His many women and dancers in scantily clad clothes dancing provocatively and shaking their “yansh” booty.

Fela was played by a young man from Sierra Leone, Sahr Ngaujah who in my humble opinion did a phenomenal job, even though he butchered the Yoruba language. He nailed Fela’s mannerisms, his way of dancing, tapping his feet several times over, and often strange but fascinating body movements.

As the show progress, I finally got a feel for what it was about; the evolution of the man and artist Fela. The play showcased his ambition to be a musician, but how he evolved into more than just that. How his trip to America, discovering black power, and meeting Sandra a member of the Black Panther Party shaped his views, and changed his music. Fela realized music could be a weapon.

He came back to Nigeria with this mindset, and his music against tyrant government, social injustice, and military bullying took flight. He became a voice in what seemed a voiceless generation. He became the first of his kind.

The play also showcased his mother’s influence on his life, and music. A female activist herself, Funmilayo known as “Mother of Africa” had a huge influence in her son’s life that I never knew of until I saw the play.

With many references to his mother and her big role in his life, we saw how she was encouraged her son, how he looked up to her, and also how she was killed. This takes Fela into another place of awareness and more evolvement as he becomes more involved in traditional beliefs and rituals. He never embraced colonization, western views or their religions, even though his own father was a reverend.

This scene shows the ancient, and some might argue still ongoing Yoruba culture and practice, evoking the gods, paying homage, and seeking their faces for direction, and power. This part of the play is where me, and I am certain a bunch of new generation Nigerians who have found Christianity and faith deemed uncomfortable. As a friend put it, “these people better be careful not to evoke the unknown on themselves.” I agree with her but also think it was staying true to the culture. We know who we are now, but we can never forget where we once were, or who we once were.

Fela’s mother was dressed all white in Yoruba attire, and was very reminiscent of Yemoja “the mother of gods.” The costumes for the acts were all right on the money.

As the show continued I was in a state of nostalgia, I wanted to listen to all of Fela’s songs again. The show had brought me to that place of longing. I was glad I saw it and even though I would have liked more music than the cast delivered, overall I think they did a fine job.

They stayed true to Fela, respected his life, art and vision, and the Yoruba culture. I think it was a play well done, a great experience for my first time. Sahr (Fela) ended the play with an appropriate Fela song- “Gentleman”

I think Fela Anikulapo Kuti, “Abami Eda” himself would have been proud, in Fela’s usual gesture- two hands up.

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13 responses »

  1. I’ve been wanting to see this production since…..forever,especially when I found out that Will & Jada Smith and Jay-z were the money behind it……..wanted to see how true they stayed to Fela’s story and the image of the Shrine…..an old stomping ground back in the day!!!

  2. It was so respectfully done…they stayed true to the essence of Fela and his legacy for the most part. I recommend it. The girls were mean and fierce with their “yansh” shaking abilities :).

  3. Pingback: [#ACE_ PREMIERE] W4 – LIKE FADA LIKE SON | AceWorldTeam | …platform showcasing fresh Nigerian Music | Managed by Dj Sean

  4. Pingback: Fela! The Musical and the Man. « Live

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