Thursday night I was at the Boucarou Lounge in Lower East Side Manhattan for another NollywoodNYC event. This time around, they were going to be hosting the cast of the Off Broadway show, FELA!. The event started at 6pm, but considering we are dealing with “African time” the party didn’t kick off until about 7:30pm. There were recognizable faces at the event including ARISE magazine photographer Bennett Raglin, major Nollywood Producer Sam Onwuka and Steve Hendel and Sahr Ngaujah of Fela!. We were also treated with an exclusive preview of the musical on a wide screen, which brought the whole atmosphere into a groove.
This occasion brought back memories of the show, which I attended in September. I have always been a fan of Afrobeat pioneer and Human Rights Activist, Fela Anikulapo Kuti, dancing to my father’s records when I was a kid, in the living room with my siblings. Even though the rhythm of the music got to me, at a young age I found him extremely controversial with his numerous wives and outspoken and unpopular views on religion and sex. My catholic upbringing conflicted with my admiration for this singer who pranced around the stage like a gazelle, with his glittering, seductive dancers.
In the United States, older and less inhibited, I rediscovered Fela and what he stood for. I began to appreciate his views, even some of the ones that made me gasp as a child. Reading more about his life led me to become an obsessive CD compiler. So when I heard about a musical about his life I was nervous. I thought, what if they end up doing a bad job of portraying such an African giant? Well, shortly afterwards my fears proved unfounded.
The performance provided more returns for my $51 investment than expected. Some of my favorite hits, including "water no get enemy," "suffering and smiling," and "zombie"-a sharp, gritting satire on the Nigerian terroristic-like military was played by a band that one could have sworn was sponsored by Fela himself.
The show was equally visually appealing; gyrating females in colorful gear, men moving spontaneously and widely to the rhythm of the drums, truly capturing the spirited dance moves of Africa.
Another quality aspect of the performance is that it portrayed a vulnerable side of Fela-a man who was sometimes fearful and insecure as a result of trying to survive in a harsh political climate. This was a refreshing contrast to the confident man the world was accustomed to. The show was performed by mostly African Americans. Fela, whose music and revolutionary lifestyle was inspired by the black power movement and music of the 60’s/70’s would have been proud.
Unfortunately, the show had a brief run in September/October before I got the chance to save up for an encore. But the good news is, the show is coming to Broadway in November. As his name, Anikulapo, suggests, he will forever live on.