Broadway Features and Reviews
Fela! Set To Ignite Broadway Season
By Leora Kanner, Broadway Magazine
Coming to Broadway this fall is "Fela!," a new musical based on the incredible life and invigorating music of a noted African musical phenomena, Fela Anikulapo Kuti. With choreography and direction by "Spring Awakening's" Bill T. Jones, "Fela!" will be making the move to the Eugene O'Neill Theatre from its acclaimed run Off-Broadway at 37 Arts.
While music aficionados and legends like The Beatles' Paul McCartney have long sung the praises of Fela Kuti, Fela is hardly a household name in America. So who exactly is Fela Anikulap Kuti?
This legendary African composer was not only a performer but was also a political activist. Originally sent by his family to study medicine in London, Fela had other plans. In London, he enrolled at Trinity College and took up the trumpet and studied composition. After forming his band in 1961, the Koola Lobitos, Fela became a fixture of the London night scene.
Returning from London to Nigeria, Fela's music evolved into his unique form, "Afrobeat," a blend of traditional Yoruba music, jazz, and high life. Fela's Afrobeat took off as he toured the world spreading his unique and interesting sound. In his world travels, Fela was introduced to the work of Malcolm X and became seriously interested in ideas of Afrocentrism and Black nationalism.
Fela's new political interests resulted in his return to Lagos and his band went through a variety of name changes and forms. He founded a commune/recording studio called the Kalakuta Republic, complete with his own private nightclub - The Shrine. His band (now called Africa 70) became hugely famous in West Africa. Fela's music became more than just entertainment; it became a form of activism against oppression and a form of critique against the military and African government.
Fela was arrested after a governmentally sanctioned attack in 1977. Fela suffered injuries and his mother was fatally injured simultaneously. His studio was set on fire by soldiers resulting in the loss of his tapes and other personal valuables. He was arrested over 200 times in his lifetime.
Following a brief Ghana exile, Fela returned to Nigeria where he attempted to continue his political work by running for President. Although he was unsuccessful, he continued to speak out against government corruption well into the 1980s.
Fela died from complications related to AIDS in 1997 after a life of political activism, iconic fame as an artist, and world recognition. His work was influential musically as well as politically. With some of the best reviews in New York City last season, anticipation is high for Fela! on Broadway, and buzz for star Sahr Ngaujah who plays Fela is already in the air. The production is a high-energy, concert-theatre production that honors the legacy of one of the most dynamic musical artists of the 20th Century.
Preview performances of Fela! begin at the Eugene O'Neill Theatre October 19. The official opening is November 23.
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