Friday 11 February 2011

Fela! National Theatre Live in Amsterdam

Fela! National Theatre Live

It has been so easy to forget who Fela Anikulapo Kuti [1] was as he is now celebrated in the West as that visionary revolutionary and musical genius.

The much acclaimed Fela! [2] That wowed Broadway [3] and is playing to great reviews in the West End in London did not come to Amsterdam as a live show but a hurriedly arranged screening at a cinema in the South-East as part of a National Theatre [4] Live broadcast which was an encore of the transmission that first went out on the 13th of January 2011.

The lack of a live performance allowing for feedback and response did not take away from the spectacle of the show.

Beats and dance

Many themes were relayed to me as I sipped my Coca-Cola and munched on my sweet popcorn, the wonder of African percussion, the sound of the Afrobeat drums and the way the performers responded to the beats.

The choreography was energetic combining African and contemporary dance, the heads, the arms, the body, the hips, the legs in violent synchronism that made you rock in your seat.

The sense of rhythm and movement, the explosion of colour on stage and variety of dance that could not be qualified with steps or the collage would be denied just praise.

Culture and identity

Fela’s story was compelling covering the discovery of his kind of music to the troubles he suffered in Nigeria which were causative of his mother’s death, his rise as a voice of conscience, a revolutionary and activist.

He renewed African consciousness without being militant, the compelling message being return to your roots, the identity that is part of your culture especially that of names and the need to respect our animist traditions and gods that contribute to enjoying the fullness of African life.

This resonated with me because my given name which came from my Muslim grandfather to his Christian grandson was not defined by religion but by situation and that also became my Christian and baptism name.

The story and the message

The sad narrative is that his mother fought off abuses of colonialism in emancipating the women but freedom did not arrive we found our own people robbing us blind as potentates with untrammelled powers to curtail our liberties, Africans left no better after all.

There were many references to his mother and she featured strongly through the performance, it was like Fela was in a constant grief for losing her.

The music was very familiar but not exactly the same, lyrics were modified in places and melody adapted more to a story-telling with a musical feel.

Being a Yoruba man, there were songs that were far from accent-perfect, the lead playing Fela was from Sierra Leone; he did well enough but for a native Yoruba speaker, it could be a bit jarring to the ear.

Fela in life

I first saw Fela perform in 1983 in Lagos at Yaba College of Technology, we were gate-crashers who found a vantage point to view him, there was always a feeling of ambiguity about him in Nigeria – his message was loud and clear but his lifestyle was shunned as decadent and unworthy of any of the youth that aspired to any success.

Yet today, any of his material played back to our hearing is like he transcends the times, the words fetch true today as they did then; the proverbial prophet without honour in his own land.

Sadly, we lost Fela in 1997 to AIDS presented opportunistically by Karposi’s Sarcoma a type of skin cancer that 12 years on medicine did contain, curtail and treat; the scars of which decorate my soles.

I would love to see the live show in London, it moves to Sadler’s Wells from the 20th of July 2011 to the 28th of August 2011, this is a show [4] that you must see.


[1] Fela Kuti - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

[2] Fela! - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

[3] FELA! The Most Original New Musical On Broadway

[4] FELA! London - FELA! at the National Theatre

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