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January 18, 2012

Musical Review: Fela! At The Ahmanson Theatre

My family and I went to see the Broadway Play, Fela! which is based off the life and music of Fela Anikulapo-Kuti, "a Nigerian multi-instrumentalist musician and composer, pioneer of Afrobeat music, political rights activist and political maverick." (from Wikipedia - Fela Kuti Biography)  He ingeniously fused Jazz, Cuban rhythm, Funk and African drums to create the sound known today as "Afrobeat".  Fela focused on the happenings in the then extremely corrupt part of Nigeria known as Lagos and used his music as a political platform to evoke social change. 

The play was set in Fela's compound known as The Shrine, where he performed all of his work for the locals of Nigeria during the 70s.  Fela was arrested on several occasions in Nigeria for his political views that he shared through his music and soon became an international star with Reggae star Bob Marley, among others, wanting to work with him.  Fela died in 1997 of AIDS, but his music and legacy lives on as Will and Jada Pinkett Smith, Jay-z and Questlove signed on to produce the play on Broadway in 2009 as it finally made its way to Los Angeles in 2012.

Fela! the play was vibrant and exuberant from the moment the curtains were drawn.  The music was melodic and rhythmic as the band played live and his dancers gyrated across and up and down the stage.  Fela was played by Sahr Ngaujah, who embodied the legend's cocky bravado and larger than life persona as he belted out Fela classics like "Stalemate", "Zombie" and "Black President".

There was even a moment when Sahr made the entire theatre stand to their feet to dance to his rhythms as he directed them verbally from the stage.  The show was very interactive and maintained a high level of energy just like many of Fela's songs.  The play took me back to that time of political issues and uncertainty in the United States and across the sea to Lagos, Nigeria, which was strictly controlled by a corrupt political system and police and military force.  The play touched on many of these occurrences and coupled them with the inspiration Fela experienced in order to write and create music about the dreadful occurrences at that time.

Fela Kuti is an inspirational artist that not only garnered influence from the states and James Brown with his civil rights music and The Black Panther Party, but his legacy lives on through this very inspirational play that shows a day in the life of Fela (meaning He Who Emanates Greatness).  The artist, activist, musician, composer and legend.  I wish there were more dates in Los Angeles as it tours throughout the country so that I could urge my readers in LA to attend.  However, check the website for upcoming dates of the tour and more information on the production.  I enjoyed every minute of it an was so thankful to get the chance to attend.

Have you ever heard of Fela Kuti?
Have you heard his music?
Are you a fan?
Have you seen the play or do you plan on seeing it?
What are your thoughts on his music and legacy?


  1. Thanks for broading my Horizons....

  2. Oh and thanks J.Z, Will+Jada for forwarding black culture....Bet that was'nt on MTO or YBF or any other runn in the mill Blog or so....


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