Friday Music: Fela! returns

Michael Fitzgerald By Michael Fitzgerald

“Fela!”, the musical about Nigerian music star/radical politician/polygamist Fela Kuti, has come back from stints in London, Lagos and other points, and is now starting a North American tour. Through songs like “International Thief Thief (I.T.T.)” and “Zombie,” Fela established himself as a political force against the state — which struck back violently at him, but did not squash his spirit — making him a hero to many throughout Africa. Though his own run for president failed miserably, his flamboyance and his energy (many of his songs go on for 20 or 30 minutes) helped establish Afrobeat as a world music force.

Cast members of Fela! at the Tony Awards ceremony, June 13, 2010. ( Reuters/Gary Hershorn)

The musical, directed and choreographed by Bill T. Jones and backed by Jay-Z and Will and Jada Pinkett Smith, won three 2009 Tony Awards (though not Best Musical) in New York. In London it inspired tributes, sold out its theater but received some dings for falling short of the man himself in London (though it also got praise for capturing Fela’s radical essence), where Fela trained as a classical musician in his youth. Nigerian critics were kinder to their hometown hero, and adored its cast.

We’d rather be in Philadelphia, but we’ll settle for a few clips on a Friday.

Welcome back to the U.S., “Fela!”

An early pre-Broadway clip of “Fela!”

Here’s the real, leaner Fela in action :


And vintage footage taken by legendary drummer Ginger Baker on a trip to Nigeria in 1971: