Sahr Ngaujah stars as Fela Anikulapo Kuti in “Fela!” (Fela Production Photo).
Boston City Councillor Charles C. Yancey recently welcomed the critically acclaimed, Tony Award-winning musical, “Fela!,” to Boston.
Yancey called the musical, which tells the important story of legendary Nigerian musician, Fela Anikulapo Kuti, an incredible demonstration of one man’s sacrifice to improve the political environment and human rights conditions in Nigeria. “The music, the dance, the costumes, and the extraordinary talent made “Fela!” one of the best musicals I’ve ever seen,” he said.
Kuti was a Nigerian multi-instrumentalist, musician and composer, the pioneer of Afrobeat music, human rights activist and a political maverick. He defied Nigeria’s corrupt and oppressive military governments and devoted his life and music to the struggle for freedom and human dignity. His staunch defiance toward corrupt administrations consequently led to more than 200 arrests and numerous severe beatings that left scars all over his body.
Kuti recorded nearly 50 albums portraying his message of transparency, honest government and justice for all. He died in August of 1997 of complications from AIDS. His musical legacy is available globally through Knitting Factory Records.
“Fela!” has received 11 Tony nominations and three Tony Awards for Best Choreography, Best Costumes and Best Sound. It is a collaboration between Steve and Ruth Hendel, Jim Lewis and Bill T. Jones, with support from Shawn “Jay-Z” Carter and Will and Jada Pinkett-Smith.
Before last month’s debut, Sarah Ann Shaw, a well-known Roxbury community activist and former local television reporter, said she couldn’t wait to see the musical.
“I am very excited,” she said, “because it will help educate people in America about the attempt that one man made to change the politics in Nigeria. Despite the fact that America imports a great deal of oil from Nigeria, we don’t know a lot about the country or its political picture. ‘Fela!’ gives us the opportunity to find out how one man was willing to fight against corruption during the ’70s.”
Olutayo Idowu, president of the Nigerian Cultural Community of Massachusetts echoed Shaw’s sentiments. “In spite of the political entity that tried to suppress Fela’s outspokenness,” Idowu said, “he was able to not only enlighten the masses in Nigeria and Africa, but also the whole world.”
Idowu also said that Kuti signified the best in humans. “Fela speaks both physically and politically through his music,” Idowu said. “His music is a political show. Fela allows people to see where Nigeria is and where Africa ought to be.”
In honor of the show, Yancey issued a proclamation declaring April 29 as “Fela!” Day in Boston. Yancey’s resolution notes the work of Kuti’s mother as a civil rights activist.
“Fela defied Nigeria’s corrupt and oppressive military governments and devoted his life and music to the struggle for freedom and human dignity,” the resolution stated.
Infectious rhythms of the late Fela Anikulapo-Kuti's afrobeat beg the body to move. His often ten minute long jam sessions, infused African rhythms, jazz and funk. Together, the tunes formed a unique sound that acted as protest against oppressive government forces in his native Nigeria.
This week, theatergoers were transported from the Cutler Majestic Theatre to Kuti's Shrine nightclub in Lagos at the Fela! play through an explosion of color, dance and a smattering of history. The nightclub is where afrobeat was born and the musician's war against injustice raged for years through haranguing lyrics and wild beats.
Fela Ransome (he later changed his middle name to Anikulapo, a Yoruba name which means he who carries death in his pouch) Kuti was born north of Lagos in 1938 to a schoolmaster and pianist father and feminist leader mother. He was educated among the elite and studied abroad in London. His family sent him to the U.K. for a degree in medicine but Kuti had other plans. He studied music, immersed himself in James Brown and Frank Sinatra and later returned home.
A house-buying 1950's Chicago black family fends off white racists in the strong Lorraine Hansburry drama "A Raisin in the Sun." Now an early 2000's black homeowner Hannah Davis struggles to keep an Irish couple from claiming her suburban Boston home in Kirsten Greenidge's new play "The Luck of the Irish."
Much more than a follow-up to Hansberry's work, "The Luck of the Irish" is a highly personal work, inspired by the experience of Greenidge's own grandparents. As she reveals in a Huntington Theatre Company note, Greenidge decided to write plays after seeing that company's production of August Wilson's "Joe Turner's Come and Gone."
A hen that lays golden eggs. A wolf with a healthy appetite and a few tricks up his sleeve. A wily old witch who casts a spell on her unsuspecting neighbors. And a cast of characters who come together in a place anything can happen: the woods.
The enchantment and mystery of the forest comes to life in the Stephen Sondheim musical "Into the Woods," part of a three-day run last week at Hibernian Hall presented by Mssng Lnks, an organization that develops educational and performance programs that link local arts organizations with urban neighborhoods.
"Into the Woods" intertwines characters from well-known tales including "Little Red Riding Hood," "Jack and the Beanstalk," "Rapunzel" and "Cinderella," and thrusts them in an entirely new direction when a baker and his wife try to start a family - but first, they have to lift a curse placed by a neighboring witch.