Sunday, July 22, 2012

Africa and the Broadway vision - Fela! on Broadway

Last week we attended our first Broadway show (after living in New York city for many years!), to see the much-acclaimed Fela!
I was a fan of Fela Anikulapo Kuti's music well before I ever imagined living in Africa and marrying an African, to boot. French acquaintances introduced me to his music as a student in Paris, and I was immediately smitten.
In the late seventies and early eighties, when I met my future spouse and learned so much more about Africa, Nigeria seemed to be the shining star of the continent, with industry and close to 100 million inhabitants. Unfortunately, politics brought the country down; I still see it as a beacon, however, and I believe it is again on the rise, after I attended the recent African Economic Forum: it is now an even more populous country, with a plethora of highly educated people and oil revenue, I hope, being better routed, so as to serve a larger number of Nigerians.
The Fela! show recounts the stages of Fela's adult life, rendered quite faithfully when compared to the Wikipedia account: going to London to study medicine, and instead going into music; finding his own musical voice, back in Nigeria; discovering Black Power in the United States in the late sixties; returning to Nigeria and engaging in political activities; his wives; his mother's death; and finally, his own death in 1997.
Our expectation going to the show, was that we would relive Fela's music through the years as well as his life. As soon as we saw the female dancers' make-up--reminiscent of The Lion King--we should have understood that this would not exactly be the case. In fact, some elements made one specific African very uncomfortable.
The fact that Will and Jada Smith, and Jay-Z, were the producers, should have been a hint that this was Broadway's take on Africa, rather than Africa itself.
However--far from me the thought that the show is not excellent! It is fun, colorful, full of energy, and the cast is fantastic. The dancing was awe-inspiring, even if it might have been more inspired by West African dance than Nigerian. On the day we attended, Adesola Osakalumi played Fela--singing, acting, declaiming, dancing, and playing the saxophone. The rest of the cast was similarly incredibly talented and just plain fantastic.
I may be alone in my opinion--my friend Atim Oton, born and raised in Nigeria, wrote her very positive take in the Huffington Post.
Watching the show made me curious about additional elements of Fela's life, and the players: I found a few websites which are listed below.
http://questionmarkmag.com/2011/04/throwback-things-you-dont-know-about-fela-kuti/
http://www.theroot.com/views/strange-love-affair-between-america-and-afrobeat-superstar
The real Sandra: http://www.myspace.com/sandraizsadore

If you want to see the show (if you haven't already), there are 19 performances left from today, July 22.... Please let me know your opinion!