OTA's Play With Culture Series
OTA brings you closer to the stage through our Play with Culture series. Join OTA for a Broadway experience like no other and discuss how culture plays an important role in community.
By application, OTA offers youths and residents of the community a rare opportunity for cultural exposure by attending a Broadway production followed by dinner and discussion. We organize approximately three such trips per year, typically in October, November and January.
No shows are available at this time. Please contact us if you wish to be notified when we are able to go again, email@example.com.
Fela! on Broadway
OTA on the Play:
"Fela! on Broadway" was thrilling; it fulfilled our very purpose of taking people to see it. We are happy we were able to do so at a discounted price. The play educated people on the life of Fela Anikulapo-Kuti. Understood as the Bob Marley of Africa, Fela was a revolutionary, who unlike government officials, advocated (mainly through his music) for the interest of Nigeria and its people. The play told a well-rounded story of Kuti's life, his influences, and his influential music. This was achieved through talented actors, who danced and sang along with Fela's Afrobeat with addictive kinesthesia. Separated by a 15 minute intermission, the entire play was vicariously engaging. Fela and his band reproduced his influential ballads, in which some of he asked the audience to stand and partake. The play was historical, telling and entertaining, a definite must see.
Fela established what was known as "SHRINE", an untraditional night club that had a very traditional Nigerian ambiance and catered to a progressive leftist audience. SHRINE earned Fela! global recognition and operated as the premier night club in west Africa. As it opened at 11 p.m. and operated into the wee hours of the morning, it was not only the hotspot but its patrons enjoyed a status of exclusivity; though, some of its patrons engaged in what might be considered risque behavior and smoked "Igbo" (Yoruba for marijuana), actions frowned upon in the mainstream. Fela's followers, so to speak, were filled with passion and served as Nigerian soldiers in the war against oppression and corruption. SHRINE being located just across the street from his compound was an opportune location for Mr. Kuti to practice and develop his music.
The musical style performed by Fela Kuti is called Afrobeat, which is a fusion of jazz, funk, psychedelic rock, and traditional West African chants and rhythms. As Iwedi Ojinmah points out in his Article "Baba is Dead - Long Live Baba,", Afrobeat also borrows heavily from the native "tinker pan", African-style percussion that Kuti acquired while studying in Ghana with Hugh Masakela under the uncanny Hedzoleh Soundz. Afrobeat is also characterized by having vocals and musical structures featuring jazzy, funky horn sections. The endless groove is also used, in which a base rhythm of drums, shekere, muted guitar and bass guitar are repeated throughout the song. His band was notable for featuring two baritone saxophones, whereas most groups using this instrument only use one. This is a common technique in African and African-influenced musical styles and can be seen in funk and hip-hop. Some elements often present in Fela's music are the call-and-response within the chorus and figurative but simple lyrics. Fela's songs were almost always over 10 minutes in length, some reaching the 20- or even 30-minute marks, while some unreleased tracks would last up to 45 minutes when performed live. This was one of many reasons why his music never reached a substantial degree of popularity outside Africa. His songs were mostly sung in Nigerian pidgin; although, he also performed a few songs in the Yoruba language. Fela's main instruments were the saxophone and the keyboards, but he also played the trumpet and guitar and took the occasional drum solo. Fela refused to perform songs after he had recorded them, which also hindered his popularity outside Africa. Fela was known for his showmanship, and his concerts were often quite outlandish and wild. He referred to his stage act as the Underground Spiritual Game. Fela attempted making a movie but lost all the materials to the fire that was set to his house by the military government in power.
On SHRINE's walls, one would find images of "The Ancestors", gods and Black Leaders, who like Fela risked their lives for their beliefs. Some of the pictures included Malcolm X, Martin Luther King Jr., Marcus Garvey and Stokley Carmichael (a.k.a. Kwame Ture). What is interesting is that Fela, being aware of his roots and heritage early in his years, took an unpopular position as a Black political leader in Nigeria. However, it wasn't until he came to America in 1969 that he learned about Black Power. A precept he learned from African Americans, specifically a woman by the name of Sandra Smith Isadore. Ms. Smith exposed Fela to a wealth of written texts and organizational efforts of Black progression, for example, Alex Haley's Autobiography of Malcolm X. As if Fela needed more women in his life, upon meeting Ms. Smith, Kuti was initially smitten by her physical beauty and strong demeanor. But the unfazed Ms. Smith provided Fela with the ingredients necessary to hone his understanding of his position. Of this fact he said, "It was incredible how my head was turned", to the New York Times in 1987. "Everything fell into place. For the first time, I saw the essence of blackism. It's crazy; in the States people think the black power movement drew inspiration from Africa. All these Americans come over here looking for awareness; they don't realize they're the ones who've got it over there. We were even ashamed to go around in national dress until we saw pictures of blacks wearing dashikis on 125th street." We see this in Fela introducing the fist pump to Africans in Africa and "Powerful Right", a statement he has coined with two fists in the air for black power.
This embodiment of Pan-Africanism was not of any social interest to many Nigerians, especially officials within the government. This disinterest was even the case within Mr. Kuti's immediate family. Mr. Kuti came from a highly educated family, including the Reverend Israel Oludotun Ransome-Kuti (Felas father), Funimiliyo (his mother), and his three other siblings whose professions range from nursing to doctors. Although Fela loved his parents, he openly despised what he referred to as his father, the reverend, "revering the white man" and taking on a colonial white man's name. It was so much the case, as Fela would tell it, that his father subscribed to his Christianity and preached social progress, modeling the ideas of the white man of the West, promoting the idea of the "white man's burden". Fela was fueled by his father's self-deprecating precepts and instead decided to embrace his heritage. This is something Fela believed to be very important, and unlike his siblings, he removed the westernized part of his surname and adopted "Anikulapo", a Yoruba term which translates to "death in my pockets", which means, the ancestors whose blood is in our veins have died by the hand of the oppressor, and from them he draws "Juju", power that which no man can now oppress him. So he went back to embrace tradition which had been forgotten, Sankofa!
Despite a popular depiction of Fela lacking formal education, prior to turning to music, Fela was on his way to London to attend medical school. It is believed that Fela's opposition to the status quo of oppression and corruption in Nigeria and the tie between formal education and mental slavery probably led to Fela revolting against Western medicine. For Fela believed that HIV/AIDS, from which complications would ultimately take his life, in African nations and among Black people all over the world was a "voodoo" brought upon by white people.