I feel so late writing this piece, but it took me a year to see the Broadway musical FELA! Having been a fan of Fela Kuti’s music for some time now, the Broadway adaptation only enhanced my love and admiration for the passion, the courage, and vision of this musician and revolutionary. From beginning to end, it captivated me. I left DC’s Shakespeare Theatre inspired. One man, through his music, made a change. He wasn’t perfect. He loved his sex, marijuana, and lawlessness; but he cared about his land and his people. Through this musical, I learned things about Fela Kuti that I never knew before. His strength and his persistence; his raw energy and showmanship moved a nation to revolution, and made the world take notice.
Prior to Fela’s life and music becoming an artistic phenomenon in the big apple, I had stumbled across his music. I think an old friend of mine, world-renowned chef Marcus Samuelson, mentioned him to me one day over dinner. I eagerly went to find his music at the Tower Records on Broad Street, in Philly. I was anxious for something new and his music, The Best of Fela Kuti, quenched my desire. After the first listen, I instantly fell in love with the rhythm. After playing the CD over and over, I did a Google search and discovered “the man.” His life was a motion picture. So when I heard that Jay-z and the Smiths signed on to co-produce the stage play, I was elated. Their fame would help shine light on a man who was an influence to many of the artists we listen to today. All of Beyonce’s booty-shaking dance moves suddenly have a history and meaning, once you see Fela!
I was fortunate to have the opportunity to converse with the play’s producer, Steve Hendel, afterwards. We shared a moment about how he, too, was moved by Fela’s album, The Best of Fela Kuti, and that that CD is what inspired him to even produce the musical. I told him that seeing the performance made me understand the music more. He said that his desire to understand Fela’s words lead him to do the research, and that after reading about his life, he wanted to share Fela with the world.
I won’t give the whole play away, but there is a moment when Fela says, “The music will live forever.” Even though Fela is long gone, his music does live on, and still leaves more to be discovered. Through watching the musical, I learned about a force that educated and changed Fela’s life- an African-American woman named Sandra Smith (now Sandra Isidore). The love they shared fueled the revolution, and transformed him from a popular musician to an icon. For opening night in Washington, D.C, the real Ms. Isidore, humbly, made an appearance.
To me, life is all about exposure and experiencing new things. This play was an experience. It will be like no other play you have seen, particularly ones the Black community typically embraces. Anyhow, that is another conversation! If you are interested in seeing this play, it will be showing at the Sidney Harman Hall, located in Washington D.C, thru Oct. 9th. Click here for more info: http://www.theatreindc.com/playdetail.php?playID=479.
Also, if you want a 20% discount on tickets, use code Feladc20.
Click here to see an original performance from the real Fela Kuti in 1971. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p-SQH94Pifc