Fela Kuti Musical

Fela Kuti is a musical that is currently in circulation at the Oriental Theater. The musical depicts Fela standing defiantly at The Shrine unmoved by the Nigerian military authorities attempt to break the back of his entire family. The musical is more of a tribute to those people that died in the struggle for peace and freedom. The musical has been adopted to reflect the life of Trayvon Martin who was killed in Sanford, Fla. His death is compared to that of Fela, who was considered as both famous and infamous political activist and musician. In addition, the musical can be considered as adapting Fela’s ideologies, in order to aid in sending the message of what Fela Kuti projected forty years ago. The musical has been inspired by Bill T. Jones, which many considered as unusual. Notably, the play has adopted Fela Kuti’s music and lyrics in their musicals. However, it should be noted that Fela Kuti was a Nigerian multi-instrumentalist composer and musician. He is celebrated for pioneering Afro beat. His origins can be traced back to Nigeria, although he moved to London where he was supposed to study Medicine, but later settled for music. His music career commenced, while he was in London, as he was able to form a band christened Koola Lobitos, which entertained people with Jazz and Highlife. Thus, this essay traces the ‘Fela Musical’ from its original status to its creation as a theatrical production.

“Fela Musical” traces its origin from 1958, when Fela Kuti opted for studying Music instead of Medicine at the Trinity College of Music in London. According to Falola and Heaton, his composition got support from his band members, which was known as Koola Lobitos (73). Fela Kuti began his musical career playing Jazz and Highlife music, which he continued with after he moved back to Nigeria in 1960. In 1967, Fela commenced a new genre of music, which he christened Afro beat, and this took place, while he was in Ghana. He was a good schemer and a political activist, and that explains the reason why he was instrumental in the formation of Black Power in the United States, which influenced his music significantly (Otfinoski 113). There was a new awakening in Fela Kuti’s songs in the 1970’s, as he moved from changed from making love songs to political songs, which seemed to appeal to many people at that time. This explains why the music enjoyed much popularity among the public, but at the same time, it was unpopular within the government, because of the politically instigated message the music conveyed. However, the frequent attacks by the government did not deter Fela Kuti, as he was motivated to make more musicals.

Fela’s continued aggression against the government was finally countered by a scathing attack, which was advanced by Nigerian soldiers. The raid on Fela’s property was motivated by the fact that he, alongside his band, had released an album that criminalized the Nigerian soldiers on the tactics they used. This popularity of the album infuriated the government, which resulted into an attack of Fela’s commune that resided at Kalakuta Republic. During this attack, it is established that Fela suffered from severe injuries, which resulted from the thorough beating advanced to him by the Nigerian Soldiers. In addition, his mother suffered fatal injuries as she was thrown out of the window. This incidence could have resulted into the death of Fela where it was not for an intervention from a soldier (Falola and Heaton 92). However, Fela’s studio, master tapes, and instruments were destroyed. This incidence angered him much that he delivered his mother’s coffin to the Dodan Barracks, which is located in Lagos. He also delivered the coffin to General Obasanjo’s residence. This incidence was followed by the release of his two songs christened “Unknown Soldier” and “Coffin for the Head of State”.

Dramas transpired in Fela Kuti’s life after the burial of his mother. For instance, he decided to marry twenty-seven women from his ensemble. His action was motivated by the desire to mark an anniversary after the Commune was destroyed. At that particular moment, he was residing at Crossroads. In 1978 still, he orchestrated two controversial concerts at Accra and Berlin. These concerts resulted into riots and his band mates deserting him respectively. Thus, he was banned from visiting Ghana, he still managed to get at the political forefront through the formation of his political party christened “Movement of the People”. Kuti’s political aspirations were not fruitful, as his party was blocked from participating in elections close to a decade. He was forced to progress with his musical career, which resulted to his incarceration in 1984 for a charge of smuggling currency (Falola and Heaton 124). His flip side regarding the social life and marriage was evident on his release from prison, whereby he divorced his wives stating that marriage contributed to jealousy. Fela’s demise occurred eventually in 1997 from Kaposi’s Sarcoma, which was motivated by the AIDS virus.

Fela’s revival commenced in 1999, but it mostly featured the remaking of his albums and people mentioning him in various movies. That was a way of acknowledging his influence in politics and the musical arena. However, Fela's influence in theater commenced in 2008 with a production that featured his life, and the Broadway production was christened “Fela!”. The Broadway production commenced with the collaborative efforts of Afro beat band called Antibalas in conjunction with Bill T. Jones. Research indicates that the show received much critical commendation. There was another remake in 2009, which commenced a run on Broadway at the Eugene O’Neill Theater, and was co-written by Bill T. Jones and Jim Lewis. It received sponsorship from myriad celebrities, such as Will Smith and Jay Z (Otfinoski 142).

Thus, the play that is currently doing rounds in Broadway, it was motivated by Fela Kuti’s life as depicted in many scenes from the play. In addition, the musical adopted by these plays reflects Kuti’s type of music because of the instruments that are incorporated.  For instance, From Bill T. Jones’ play, several actors can be acclaimed for having played their roles well. These include Ngaujah, Marina Draghici, and the female ensemble that resembled the one formed by Kuti’s 27 wives.

The first business factor that shaped this trajectory is the need for a brand name. Bill T. Jones realized that Fela Kuti was a renowned artist whose life and contributions to the society influenced many people; thus, Jones settled for his name for the play and incorporation of his life and controversies. This influenced Jones trajectory immensely, as he chose a musical on an artist that had a mass appeal, and addressed social and political issues. Definitely, branding a musical, as Jones did, was timely, as people would want to keep up with the history of their cherished artist. Secondly, Jones realized the appeal that Kuti had among myriad people from different countries. Thus, he bargained on the fact that adopting such a trajectory will always have a demand, which in the real sense does, as many people still flock the theaters, in order to get a glimpse of the musical. Another business factor that influenced the musical’s trajectory revolves around the variety. Jones comes up with different topics for his musicals, in order to appeal to the masses regarding the different sectors of Kuti’s life that he has captured. The political climate also contributes to the business factors that advised the trajectory of the musical. The musical can take place without restrictions, as the political environment in many countries has shifted from dictatorial to democratic. Lastly, Jones bargained on the fact that Kuti died at the time when he was at his peak; thus, he maximizes on the opportunity to present to people musicals that depict how Fela would wish his life to be and how the direction the music promoted by Kuti should take.

In conclusion, “Fela” is a play that has been adopted from the lives and times of the renowned musician named Fela Kuti. Fela died in 1997, after leading a controversial life that saw him marry many women and aggrieve several leaders. This led to the death of his mother and destruction of his Commune that was referred to as the Shrine. However, Kuti did not relent in his campaign for greatness and speaking against the Nigerian oppressive system. At one point in his life, he was incarcerated for 20 months for charged of currency smuggling. On his release, he divorced all his wives, because he asserted that marriage bred jealousy and animosity. Several years after his death, Bill T. Jones came up with a musical that depicted the life and times of Fela Kuti. The musical has taken the Broadway by storm, as many people went to watch the musical. Several business factors shaped the trajectory of the play. First is the creation of a brand name, which was facilitated by the late musician’s own name “Fela”. Secondly, the political cloud around the world has softened its stance; thus, people can watch the musical freely. Thirdly, the need to keep up with Fela Kuti’s work influenced the play’s trajectory. Jones realized that people would want to have a glimpse of works by Fela; thus, his production is more of a preservation effort.

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