Fela! the aftrobeat musical
June 22, 2011 9:54 AM   Subscribe

Fela! is a musical based on a period in Fela Kuti's life when the musician faced off against Nigerian government soldiers. The musical was off-Broadway for a month in 2008, and about a year later opened on Broadway, running until January of 2011. Nominated for a number of awards, the musical presented a number on the 2010 Tony Awards show, where it won 3 awards. The show is now touring, including an opening in Nigeria just before the recent elections. If you can't catch it touring, the Broadway cast recording is streaming. Bonus: M.O.P (Movement of the People), Fela's 37 minute long song for the political party he founded.

More: Feeling Unsettled at a Feel-Good Show, New York Times review of the musical, by Charles Isherwood; with a response by Ezra Gale.

The arrangements for the musical were done in part by members of Antibalas. Here's an interview with musical director Aaron Johnson, a member of Antibalas.

YouTube user Fela Musical has more clips from the musical, including Water No Get Enemy music video from the stage show, and a number of interviews and TV appearances relating to the show.

The streaming audio is from Knitting Factory Records, the label who has done an extensive run of Fela Kuti re-issues. All About Jazz has a great series of reviews, grouped under the title Afrobeat Diaries.
posted by filthy light thief (22 comments total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
If you're listening to the streaming recordings and want to hear the whole show in order, start at the bottom and go up. Here's the track listing on Amazon.
posted by filthy light thief at 9:57 AM on June 22, 2011

What's the origin of that single-name-with-exclamation-point tradition of musical naming?
posted by Trurl at 10:22 AM on June 22, 2011

Coincidentally, I just discovered and listened to Antibalas' 2007 album "Security" this morning. Good, good stuff.
posted by 2or3whiskeysodas at 10:23 AM on June 22, 2011 [1 favorite]

Antibalas on their own are fantastic, so it's interesting to see them involved with timed out and choreographed works, instead of tracks that can expand and change in live shows.
posted by filthy light thief at 10:28 AM on June 22, 2011 [1 favorite]

The company came to the studio at which I work and performed "Zombie," which I have not been able to get out of my head since.....
posted by nevercalm at 10:31 AM on June 22, 2011 [1 favorite]

We saw it when they broadcast the National Theatre production to movie theaters. It was awesome even on a screen. Unbelievable performers, unbelievable integration of story, imagery, all that. I don't know how the touring production will compare, but I can't imagine it'd be much less, since any dancers they get would have to be in astounding physical condition to have that kind of stamina.
posted by Madamina at 10:32 AM on June 22, 2011

It's kind of bunkum to portray a guy like Fela Kuti, who's probably responsible for the deaths of thousands, as an "activist." Sure, I love his music as much as anybody else, but his legacy overshadows his music. And that shouldn't be forgotten.
[cite:] "Fela claimed Aids was a 'white man's disease', but he caught the virus and died from complications on 2 August, 1997, at the age of 58. At the time we met, 12 of his 27 wives remained - he told me he employed a rota system to keep them satisfied - but following a 27-month jail sentence that began later that year (on a trumped up charge of currency smuggling) he divorced them all. 'Marriage brings jealousy and selfishnessness,' he was quoted as saying. His manager, Rikki Stein, maintains 'sex was where his inspiration came from, and considering the number of great albums he made... In the Eighties, on tour, I witnessed fur-wrapped beauties queuing up for their turn...' Fela's last song had been called 'C.S.A.S (Condom Scallywag and Scatter )', which described the use of condoms as 'un- African'. To the end, Fela refused to be tested to determine the cause of his weight loss and skin lesions. After much discussion among the family after his death, his brother, Dr Beko Ransome-Kuti, publicly disclosed the cause, paradoxically enabling, as one commentator put it, 'Aids awareness in Nigeria to leave the dark ages'. In that sense, Fela's death helped save a lot of lives, although it's impossible to know how many women he himself put in mortal danger by his wilful denial of his disease."
posted by koeselitz at 10:33 AM on June 22, 2011 [1 favorite]

Well, calling someone an "activist" doesn't necessarily imply that he's good or correct. Fred Phelps is an activist, too.
posted by Madamina at 10:48 AM on June 22, 2011

And people can have positive impacts alongside negative. The unofficial fansite bio heaps praise on the "inventor of Afro-beat," then notes that Fela was "an unredeemable sexist, and a moody megalomaniac," though they skim over the AIDs details.
posted by filthy light thief at 10:54 AM on June 22, 2011

Yeah, I agree, and I listen to Africa 70 quite a bit. I just like to highlight that part of it, since it generally gets downplayed.
posted by koeselitz at 11:02 AM on June 22, 2011

This is a great show. See it if you can.
posted by pavi at 11:16 AM on June 22, 2011

Saw the National Theatre production last December in London. Loved it! Only slightly familiar with afro-beat stuff before but it really ignited an interest.

Saw his son, Femi Kuti, perform recently and while the show was definitely enjoyable it wasn't nearly as exciting as the musical Fela! and I walked away slightly disturbed by some of Femi's between song banter.
posted by ericthegardener at 12:24 PM on June 22, 2011

This was a clue on Jeopardy! last night. This is appropriate because Jeopardy! is also blue.

(Do we have mefites who have been on the show?)
posted by madcaptenor at 12:41 PM on June 22, 2011

I've heard that while Femi Kuti is, as you've said, enjoyable, Seun Kuti is the one who's performing more closely to Fela's style. Not covering, just hewing closer.
posted by Madamina at 1:15 PM on June 22, 2011

(and yes, I was on Jeopardy.)
posted by Madamina at 1:16 PM on June 22, 2011

The cast of Fela did one of their songs on Late Night With Jimmy Fallon some time ago.

Thanks to the stupid policies of NBC and hulu, the video segment has been allowed to never be copied to a real video archive and has since expired from the official sources.

I hate that about this new media-driven internet. It was an outstanding performance. I think of "Upside down".
posted by hippybear at 1:34 PM on June 22, 2011

Saw it on broadway. The music and dancing were fantastic.
posted by damehex at 1:58 PM on June 22, 2011

For those who don't know (like me until just now): the Mefi wiki has a list of mefites who have been on Jeopardy.
posted by madcaptenor at 2:43 PM on June 22, 2011

Fela! is indeed a fantastic show, particularly if you're lucky enough to see it live on stage. And it's just about to start a run at London's Sadler's Wells theatre, so you haven't missed it yet.
posted by Paul Slade at 3:20 PM on June 22, 2011

I like Antibalas and have seen them live a couple of times, and I prefer their gigs to the Fela! musical, which I saw at Eugine O'Neil. It is great to hear the Fela tunes played live by them, even in the truncated forms in the production.

I found the stage show to be a bit confusing and unclear in parts, even though I was well versed in the story of Fela's life before I went to the show. It certainly didn't add to my understanding of his character. It was good fun and I got my ticket at TKTS, so I could afford a fantastic seat right in the middle of the stalls. It is a wonderful spectacle!

I have seen Femi a couple of times, and the recent gig was very disappointing. He seems to be a grumpy, angry and irascible person. He has the ego of Fela, but not the musical chops. I am sure his band are fantastic, but I couldn't hear the bassist, horn section or percussionists as they were mixed down to allow him to overwhelm the sound, even during their solos. The backing singers were on stage in person, but not in spirit. I think stating that he was going to be bigger than Fela was a mistake that he is living to regret. The music is pretty straightforward Afrobeat that he is trying to fuse with some other styles, so I am not sure about any comparisons with Seun who is said to be more 'true' to the Fela feeling.

Seun has done a couple of mixes for Paris DJs, which you can download from their site. I don't know how his musical taste informs his live performance, but he plays a lot more than Afrobeat in the mixes.

I have also seen Tony Allen a couple of times and can't recommend his live show either, sorry! He is almost as grumpy as Femi and lacks any percussion or backup singers. All the energy I saw at his gigs came from the audience.

The best Afrobeat live act I have seen (other than Antibalas in the early 00's) was Dele Sosimi, who was a keyboard player for Fela in the 80's. His show is fun and funky, but the stand out tunes are Fela's, which he plays a few of. He is performing in the UK production of Fela!, along with some of his band.

If you are in the UK, check out Ariya Afrobeat Arkestra, who lack vocalists but play good solid Afrobeat. If you are in Australia, try out the Shaolin Afronauts. There are a number of Afrobeat bands in New York and a good place to start is a club called the Shrine in Harlem, but it also has other genres too. I saw The Body Electric in New York and they were very committed (and young!) musicians, more jazz than funk though.
posted by asok at 8:37 AM on June 23, 2011 [1 favorite]

Seun Kuti (backed by Egypt 80( on BBC's Later:

You Can Run

posted by reynir at 1:28 PM on June 23, 2011

MetaFilter: more jazz than funk
posted by hippybear at 4:07 PM on June 23, 2011

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