‘Fela’ last chance

This week is your last chance to see “Fela!” at the Ahmanson Theatre. This production  glosses over some of Fela Kuti’s bad points, and emphasizes his charm and his use of music, Afrobeat, to stir up political activism in his native Nigeria.

This is a guy who smoked igbo (that’s marijuana), had more than one wife, and worshipped his ancestors and their gods. If paganism offends you, take a pass. If women shaking their booties while baring their bellies is too lascivious in your view, don’t go.

Belly dance enthusiasts can get a few pointers from director Bill T. Jones choreography (assisted by Maija Garcia) and from the bright costuming (Marina Draghici). Fela Anikulapo-Kuti was a singer and performer so naturally most of the music and lyrics are by him. Additional lyrics are provided by Jim Lewis, who with Jones also wrote the book (inspired by Carlos Moore’s authorized biography “Fela: This Bitch of a Life.”)

Born in 1938, to a Protestant minister father and a feminist mother (Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti), he went to London to supposedly study medicine (hig two brothers are both doctors) and ended up at Trinity College of Music. By 1960, he had married his first wife. He was back in Nigeria by 1963 and in 1967 he moved to Ghana for inspiration, forming what he would call Afrobeat. He’s come to the U.S. two years later and become politically active. He even spent some time in Los Angeles.

Fela would then protest against the dictatorships in Africa, including the military government of Nigeria. He and his followers would be threatened and beaten. His mother was eventually killed. The play takes place in Lagos, Nigeria several months after Funmilayo dies.

The cheap seats (Hot Tix) are all gone (Thursday matinee was the last offering), but if you love the Afrobeat or social activism, this is a good musical to inspire you. In many ways, it goes well with the recent Harry Belafonte biographical documentary, “Sing Your Song.” Music can change the world.

“Fela!” which is presented by Shawn “Jay-Z” Carter, and Will and Jada Pinkett Smith, continues until 22 January 2012. Visit the Ahmanson website for tickets and more information.


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