Yesterday “Stripes!” and today “Fela!” This might be the week of exclamation point titles. They’re the most joyful punctuation, and with all the work and so little sleep, I’m getting a little punchy. Perhaps tomorrow I’ll write about those bushmen whose name has the ! at the beginning, the !Kung, and then finish the week out with some Lichtenstein paintings!
Please, don’t mind me. Sleep deprivation makes me giddy. (!)
But back to the order of the day, which is a short note about Fela! the musical, a biopic about the legendary founder of the Afrobeat genre of music Fela Kuti, which has just moved to the Eugene O’Neill from Off-Broadway. My friend Maggie scored free tickets to the Saturday night preview show and I just could not stay at home with the laptop with that on offer. It would not have been the joyful thing to do.
I arrived flustered and let’s just be honest, more than a little cranky. I left light as a feather. What happened in between? Music, of course — Fela’s soul-stirring, body-shaking sounds, brought to life by Antibalas, a Brooklyn Afrobeat band, charismatic lead Sahr Ngaujah and the sensational Lillias White. Dancing — not just by men who seem born in motion and women whose bodies seem to be all hips and no spine, but by you too, every last gangly uncoordinated one of you. And the color and energy of costumes that are positively kinetic in their vibrancy.
I couldn’t help but dig up a little history. This video shows Fela in concert — his songs were known to run 20 minutes or longer — so you can get a feel for the music and the joyous performance style if you aren’t familiar with it.
On the revolutionary music blog Revolucion, No you can find lots more about Kuti’s music, as well as these great images of his “queens,” the women who were his dancers and also his wives. These really give you a sense of the gorgeous energy that inspired Marina Draghici’s wonderful costumes and sets.
The translation from history to real life is so vivid, so immersive, that you can’t help but feel that you’re in a completely different world for a few hours. You’re certainly a long way from Broadway!