On Stage, United Kingdom

Fela Anikulapo-Kuti’s life on stage

From the glittering lights of Broadway comes this award winning original production, portraying the fascinating and intriguing life of this iconic African musician and political activist.

Sofia Ahmad

The Rebellious, hedonistic and politically motivated life of this man is explored through a unique fusion of dance theatre and music. Kuti’s own songs and the musical style that he pioneered – a blend of jazz, funk, African rhythm and harmonies is used to bring his story to life.

The National Theatre in London plays host to FELA!’s UK debut. This production has received critical acclaim throughout the British press and has picked up three Tony Awards (the most prestigious theatre awards in the U.S) including one for best choreography. It has been running since November and is set to continue throughout the Christmas and New Year period until the end of January.

Fela Kuti born in Abeokuta, Nigeria, 1938, was a controversial figure; an inspiration to the underprivileged in his country and a thorn in the side of the politically powerful, particularly the military regime in Nigeria. In an eventful life he perpetually strove to spread both his music and political message while experiencing deportation, violent attacks and imprisonment.

He was born into a firmly middle class family and grew up with the twin influences of music and politics. His father was an extremely talented pianist and his mother was a political activist, involved in anti-colonial, anti-military and the Nigerian home rule movement. It is clear that music and politics ran through his blood and soon after he was packed off to London in 1958 to study to become a doctor he swapped medicine for music and signed up to study at Trinity College’s school of music.

He found the continuous study of European composers tiresome and he founded his own band, Koola Lobitos. When he returned to Nigeria in 1963, he set up a new version of this band and he was beginning to develop his own musical sound. He coined the phrase “Afro-beat” to define this new intensely rhythmical sound that was also partly a critique of African Performers who he felt had turned their back on African Musical roots in favour of American pop trends.

In 1969 he brought his band to Los Angeles on a ten month tour and his relatively short time in the United States would prove to be a turning point in his life. It was here that his distinctive musical sound matured into the explosive hybrid pioneering afro-beat music that he is so famous and his political passions were re-awakened as he came into contact with the writings of Malcolm X and the Black Panthers.

He dropped his second name “Ransome” declaring it to be a slave name, changed the name of his band to Nigeria70 which would later be named Africa70 and most significantly his music became much more explicitly political and vocal against the oppression of the powerless.

He became a star across West Africa and found his biggest fan base was amongst the poor of Nigeria. This is not surprising, as his music particularly echoed their political oppression and gave a voice to those who were otherwise politically impotent. The Nigerian military did not take kindly towards him and hounded, harassed and tried to kill him until his death.

He even survived a 1,000 man military attack on his compound and was briefly imprisoned in the early 1980s. Throughout his life he set up a political party, MOP (Movement of the People) continued to record music passionately attacking not only Nigeria’s corrupt military government but also the regimes of both Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher.

He died of an aids related disease in 1997. However he is still a hero to many particularly in his homeland where he is considered to be Nigeria’s answer to Bob Marley. This Broadway production ensures that his legacy will not only live on but extend to audiences further afield.

For more information on FELA! and to watch video clips of the Broadway production, visit the FELA website http://www.nationaltheatre.org.uk/felalondon/. In addition to this on the 13th of January a screening of FELA! will be broadcast throughout cinemas Nationwide.

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