FELA! THE MUSICAL
Thursday 15 April 2010, by
FROM BROADWAY TO LONDON NATIONAL THEATRE.
And now FELA! The musical is coming to the National Theatre London. One of 20th century Jazz music icons in “MILES – The autobiography” by Quincy Troupe, affirmed that ‘the music of one Fela Anikulapo-Kuti from West Africa would be the music of the 21st century’. In 1989 when the book was first published, who would have thought Miles would be so right in his predictions? Today, the certitude of Miles Davis can be seen and heard from all the hues and cries of Fela and afrobeat music around the world. Apart from Cheikh Anta Diop and Theophile Obenga, Fela Anikulapo-Kuti is also another personage that have contributed immensely towards African awareness in the last half of the 20th Century and beginning of the 21st Century. Using music as a weapon in his special musical creation called Afrobeat, Fela invited Africans and Diaspora Africans to be proud of their African heritage (Blackman’s Cry). Today, with the production of the new Broadway musical “Fela!” in New York and later in the year in London, featuring dancers in the aisles of a theatre decorated like a Nigerian nightclub with the music and choreography of the show - about the Afrobeat star this is a testimony to the employ that Fela’s name is taking. It is great to see Fela becoming a household name, but with all the hues and cries we should not forget the essential part of FELA’S message: “My music is not for entertainment! My music is to spread a message!” Africa the mother of civilisation has remained for over two thousand years and still remains the Dark Continent (Listen to Fela – COLOMENTALITY).
There is no justifiable reason not to recognize a dark part of one’s past except if the person is ignorant or doing so for personal reasons. Like the author of CIBA SYMPOSIA, Dr. Victor Robinson felt obliged to say: “It is one of the paradoxes of history that Africa, the mother of civilisation, remained for over two thousand years the Dark Continent.
To the moderns Africa was the region where ivory was sought for Europe, and slaves for America. In the time of Johathan Swift (1667-1745), as the satirist informs us, geographers in drawing African maps would fill in the gaps with savage pictures - where towns should have been they placed elephants”. (Africa Center of the world – Fela & Roy Ayers: Music of many colors). What is meant by the “Dark Continent?” There is no precise established meaning for this phrase; each writer has his or her definition but in general, it can be considered a degrading phrase to describe a continent and her people. There are of course equal amounts of adverse comments against Africa and her indigenous sons and daughters down through the ages. To some extent, most part of humanity only knows the adverse comments without knowing that the opposite exists. There are those who don’t care one iota, about the cultural genocide that the Africans suffer at the hands of Western so-called authorities on African history.
Over the last five hundred years, from the vicious slave trade to the wanton partition of Africa, and the subsequent so-called independence right-up till now in the 21st century nothing much has changed to neither rectify nor stop this cultural genocide despite the cries of people like Fela and those before him. There is no doubt that this opinion of Africa as the ‘Dark continent’ is a creation based on religious bigotry and politically racist hypothesis to justify slavery. (Suffering and Smiling – Fela)
However, other views of the continent by those who were opportune to know the truth are affirming the contrary. This is the case with the writer of the book, History Of Nations published in 1906: “The African continent is no recent discovery; it is not a new world like America or Australia…While yet Europe was the home of wandering barbarians, one of the most wonderful civilizations on record had begun to work its destiny on the banks of the Nile…”
We are able to say today with all certainty that mankind was born in Africa – along the region that covers present-day Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, all along to Tanzania right down to South Africa. Also, it is clear that any member of the human community born in that region (south of the equator) could not have survived without the pigmentation of skin.
Scientifically speaking it is known with all certainty that nature doesn’t create anything by chance. It is for that reason that humans born in a sub-equatorial region was given melanin to protect his skin hence the first-man had to be BLACK. At the time human anthropology had not quit evolve to the extent at which it is today, there were two theories confronting each other regarding the origin of man.
The mono-genetic theory had its defenders who claim one source of origin for mankind. The idea is that man was born in one place and as he moved to other parts of the world, subjected to different atmospheric changes he became transformed. The second is the poly-genetic theory which contends that man was born in Africa like in other continents such as Asia and Europe. This theory pointed to the physical differences in humans to justify their claim. On the surface it makes sense looking at the different external characteristics of man.
However under a close scrutiny this theory falls apart if we remember that scientifically speaking nature does not create the same being twice. In the animal world, through-out evolution of animals when it is created, it evolves either to become something else in the process of survival or disappears – but he is never created a second time.
The defenders of poly-genetic origin of man based their scientific claims on the Piltdown man - a fossil fabricated piece-by-piece in 1912 by an English geologist Charles Dawson who claimed he dug them in the fields at Sussex, England. Like modern man, his fossil had a fore-head and eyes of man but his mandible is that of a monkey. From this fabrication developed the poly-genetic theory to establish the existence of “pre-sapiens man”. Many Western anthropologists defended this theory basing their argument on the fossil of Piltdown man despite being aware that it was falsified.
We know today that it was false because in1954, a British anthropologist Professor Oakley working with the British museum tested the fossil and found it to be false. However the damage had already been done, for more than fifty years the scientific community was divided into two – one defending mono-genetic origin of man while the other defended poly-genetic theory using Piltdown man as their reference.
No other continent in the world other than Africa so far, have been discovered the six series of Human fossils. All evolutionary information regarding man’s origin was unearthed along the Olduvai Gorge in Tanzania, for this reason scientists are able to say with certainty that man has a mono-genetic origin. Other fossils found outside Africa have proved under scientific scrutiny to be of resent origin.
For example when we say the Americas is a new world, it is because the only human specimen (fossil) found in America is that of homo-sapiens sapiens. America was peopled through the Bering Strait at the end of the final glaciations hence it can only have homo-sapiens sapiens. In Asia we have fossils of Homo erectus, the Neanderthal man and Homo Sapiens Sapiens. Equally in Europe there are fossils of Homo erectus, the Neanderthal man and Homo Sapiens Sapiens.
The man called in pre-historic history the Grimaldi Man, left Africa about 40,000 years ago for Europe. He lived between 40,000 and 20,000 years adapting and transforming at a time when the climate was extremely cold – much colder than what it is today. This man would later transform into what is known as Cro-Magnon Man. It was the last glaciations period that lasted for 100,000 years. Leaving Africa, some of them passed by what is called today the Suez Canal or the Isthmus of Suez to go and populate Asia and Eastern Europe while others left for Europe through the Strait of Gibraltar.
Count C.F.Volney, a member of the French delegation that visited Egypt in 1787 wrote a first-hand account of what he saw and published in 1890 titled “Ruins of Empire” and “Oeuvres” published in 1825. This is what he wrote: “There a people now forgotten (who) discovered while others were yet barbarians, the elements of the arts and sciences. A race of men now rejected for their sable skin and frizzled hair, founded on the study of the laws of nature, those civil and religious systems which still governs the universe”.
To deny Africa’s role in history irrespective of religious affiliation, economic circumstance, or political attachment, is participating in genocide against a people. Scientific and archaeological facts are abounding today pointing to Africa as the origin of civilization. To mention a few, the colloquium on the population of ancient Egypt and the decrypting of Meroe scripts for the production of a general history of Africa held in Cairo, Egypt from January 28 – February 3rd, 1974 under the auspices of UNESCO validates this claim. As members of the international scientific committee at the Cairo colloquium, the interventions of Dr. Cheikh Anta Diop assisted by Théophile Obenga, were considered in the final report as meticulously prepared and invite the scientific community to re-write universal history of humanity, granting Black Africa her primordial role that she has effectively assumed in the edification of civilization. Today, one can see little-by-little how history and science has departed from so-called reality proclaimed by “authorities on Africa”. This move is commendable in view of certain political views notoriously hostile to the approach to recognize a dark part of history. (Dakar discus of French President Sarkozy). Like in the HISTORY of AFRICA and the history of a colonized people written by her former colonizers, it is the custom among WESTERN MUSIC CRITICS to associate and attribute the inspiration for his creation to what they know – namely JAZZ and FUNK. Fela’s creation of Afrobeat have been claimed to be a combination of JAMES BROWN’S funk, highlife and jazz. This should not be a surprise taking into consideration, the prominence of people of AFRICAN ORIGIN in American music such as jazz, rock and funk being part of their link with their African heritage.
Thanks to archaeological excavations, world civilization in general owes a huge amount to African traditions - an essential part of FELA’S MESSAGE. Despite Afrobeat being played with so-called “Western” instruments, this does not diminish its African authenticity. Particularly, if we take note that all wind and string instruments have their origin in the African continent before people like Antoine-Joseph (aka) Adolphe Sax produced the first so-called “Western instruments”.
While Fela was accused by MUSIC CRITICS in EUROPE that he did not care about the rules of musical composition (Berlin Jazz Festival 1978), in NORTH AMERICA Afrobeat is considered to be influenced by Western, particularly American sounds - all these to justify the claim of a diversion through a European or American career.
One can say with certitude today that despite his education at the Trinity College of Music in London, the inspiration behind Afrobeat music came from the traditional YORUBA ‘APALA MUSIC’. The way the bass, tenor and rhythm guitars work in short phrases; criss-crossing in unison in Afrobeat, it is parallel to those of the TALKING DRUM family in Yoruba traditional music. In view of the above, let us like the German Leo Frobenius, who furthered the work of Count C.F.Volney in the year 1910 titled: UND AFRIKA SPRACH (AND AFRICA SPEAKS). He urged his fellow Western colleagues to: “Let there be light! Light in Africa! Light in that portion of the globe, to which the stalwart Anglo-Saxon Stanley gave the name “Dark” and “Darkest”. Light upon the people of that continent whose children we are accustomed to regard as types of natural servility with no recorded history. But the spell, has been broken the buried treasures of antiquity again revisit the sun.” In the same spirit with which the buried treasures of antiquity revisits the sun - thanks to archaeological excavations and works of people like Count C.F. Volney, Cheihk Anta Diop continued by Theophile Obenga, we know with certitude today that world civilisation in general owes a huge amount to African tradition - an essential part of Fela’s message.
Thus, Fela the man or the musical from Broadway to London or where else, the commercial success of the brand name FELA should not be lost in the Bling! Bling! Of six-figure Dollar signs. The man himself when he was alive was very aware of his financial potentialities; it is not the Knitting Factory team the first to see the financial potentials of Fela. As far back as the early ‘80s, Chris Blackwell of Island records shortly after the demise of Bob Marley, approached Fela to buy his back catalogue. Fela in return asked for $10,000,000 which Chris Blackwell thought was a crazy amount for Fela to ask at that time. Today, with all the Broadway and Hollywood talks around Fela, we know that the brand name plus his back catalogue is worth big money.
To the Knitting Factory guys who have succeeded in bringing Fela the Natty Dread main-stream, I can only say like the French ‘Chapeau’ but in all the commercial success let us not forget Fela’s message: “my music is not for entertainment; my music is to spread a message”. The 21st century message of Fela to a capitalist world is: capitalism where morality is not capital is a shame and got to stop. It is not morally right to use the social welfare contributions of the masses to bail-out big banks during economic crises, while the same system considers providing health care for all as SOCIALISM.
Fela should not be only a commercial success on Broadway and Wall Street, Fela’ ideas should be heard on Pennsylvania Avenue, Downing Street, Elysée, and all the seats of power. A Welfare State where everyman is his neighbor’s keeper is the future of man.
• The New York Times (November 24, 2009) “A terrific dance party of a musical, an exuberant celebration that also drives home a spirited message of human resilience - There has never been anything on Broadway like this production!”
• Back Stage (November 24, 2009) “Explosive dance numbers are performed with an uninhibited joy and intensity by a fiercely talented ensemble”.
•The Bergen Record (November 24, 2009) The term "unique experience" is thrown around loosely, but I’ll go out on a limb and say you’ve never seen anything like "Fela!," the infectious Afrobeat musical that opened Monday night at the Eugene O’Neill Theatre.
•Bloomberg NEWS (November 24, 2009) Fela’s music and Jones’s equally matchless dances, uniquely combining earthiness with flight, dynamics with delicacy and drive to equal, if not surpass, Olympian ideals.
•Los Angeles Times (December 8, 2009) FELA! On Broadway: Moving the Masses.
•New York Magazine (November 24, 2009) If you don’t spend a portion of FELA! Staring at the amazing asses onstage, you’re just not doing your job."
•New York Observer (November 24, 2009) A Night at the Shrine of FELA!
•The New York Post (November 24, 2009) There’s enough energy in FELA to short-circuit Con Ed. It spills over from the stage and into the orchestra seats, boundless and joyous: This is as close as Broadway gets to fully immersive theatre.
•New Jersey/Star Ledger (November 24, 2009) Broadway has never before witnessed a musical quite like FELA! - An explosive mix of catchy Afrobeat rhythms, wild, sexy dancing and raw bio-dramatics...
•New York Daily News (November 24, 2009) FELA! Is one of the most original and exciting shows to come around in a long while. It deserves its berth on Broadway - and that exclamation point.
•NY1 (November 24, 2009) FELA! Speaks to Broadway’s next generation whose embrace of the work gives hope for the theatre’s future.
•TheaterMania (November 24, 2009) There’s no better dancing on Broadway than what’s currently on view in Fela! Directed and choreographed by Bill T. Jones and now playing the Eugene O’Neill Theatre following a successful Off-Broadway run at 37 Arts last year. The sheer exuberance of the performers makes this bio-musical about Nigerian activist, composer, and performer Fela Anikulapo Kuti an exciting and richly rewarding theatrical experience.
•Time Out NEW YORK (November 24, 2009) FELA! Is more than a musical; it’s an ecstatic phenomenon.