Get up and dance, Adelaide! WOMADelaide may be over, but you can still head into Fela Kuti’s Afrika Shrine nightclub and absorb the contagious energy of Fela! The Concert.
Featuring music from the Broadway musical, which captures the story of Kuti’s extraordinary life as a musician and activist, the abridged show gives a teasing taste and leaves the audience wanting more.
As the forefather of Afrobeat music, Fela Kuti was as well known for his political activism as he was for his showmanship and groundbreaking sounds.
Fela! The Concert dips into the essence of his life, but the more audience members already know about his story, then the more they will be absorbed by the show; even a quick search on Wikipedia will spark an interest and help you follow the snippets offered in this production. But those with no background knowledge will still be blown away by the sights and sounds that transport everyone, for 90 minutes, into an all-night Afrobeats dance party.
With a touring cast from the original show – including a 10-piece band, a troupe of nine dancers and singers – the stage of the Festival Theatre is full of energy and colour. An early invitation to the audience to stand up and dance quickly turns into an order and, with a quick lesson in how to move the African way, even the awkwardly uncoordinated join in.
Adesola Osakalumi, as Fela Kuti, brings together the show with his beaming smile and charismatic charm. He runs the performance as a set from the legendary Afrika Shrine club in Lagos in the late ’70s; there are bass-heavy rhythms, girls, dancing, smoking and politically charged speeches. The performance manages to inject the conventional theatre with the vibe of a Nigerian nightclub and gives audiences a glimpse into the raw experience of being there.
Projected archival footage of Kuti speaking and performing reinforces that this is more than an electrifying, funky performance. Showing how music has been used to attack cultural imperialism, promote freedom and champion traditional African culture, Fela! The Concert skims over some of the legend’s more flawed traits to give rise to his legacy as charismatic fighter of human rights.
Intermittent subtitles are projected to help anyone not used to decoding the pidgin English that Kuti was known for in his music. While this can be distracting at times, it helps drive home the politics in the lyrics.
Fela! The Concert is loud, bright and energetic – go along ready to dance. If you’re not already fascinated by the legend of Fela Kuti, then you will be by the end of the night.
Fela! The Concert is playing at the Festival Theatre until March 14.
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