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Fela’s Republic and the Kalakuta Queens ends festive run

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Adeniji as ‘Fela’ on stage

• Family Is Honoured Guest
• Justice Was Never Served Fela’s family, Says Yeni
• Fela Was A Very Difficult Human Being, Says Femi

Emotions ran high late last Sunday night inside Terra Kulture’s Theatre Arena as the superbly performed Fela’s Republic and the Kalakuta Queens musical theatre show came to an end after an amazing 17 shows that started on December 14, 2019 and ended January 5, 2020. It had in attendance Fela’s family and two of his former dancers and queens – Lara and Laide Baby. Fela’s eldest son and daughter – Femi and Yeni, led the family group, made up of another of Fela’s sons, Kunle, his nephew, Dotun, and Femi’s son, Made, who is studying music at Trinity College, Oxford, where Fela also studied back in the 1950s. Only Seun Kuti was missing in the party to see the reenactment of a slice of the life of the legendary music icon.

Indeed, it was an emotional reunion between Fela enacted on stage (as performed my Fela’s protégé, multi-instrumentalist and jazz musician, ‘Laitan Adeniji, also known musically as ‘Adeniji Heavywind’) and the family, which lived under the huge shadow of a legend, who was traumatized on account of his revolutionary, prophetic music and seemingly ‘weird’ lifestyle. Fela’s music achieved what Omoyele Sowore’s #RevolutionNow mantra long before that word gained popular currency. Although Fela’s revolutionary calls came long ago, his experience in the hands of the police, which arrested him for marijuana use that landed him in prison, made his total condemnation of the Nigerian state as a fraud inevitable.

Fela had been locked up in a cell called Kalakuta in Kirikiri Maximum Prison, Lagos. When he got back from prison, he had a different mental attitude to the Nigerian state, and in a country long ripe for revolution, Fela would reevaluate his relationship with the state and not only rename his band but rebrand both his music and philosophy to ‘Kalakuta Republic’ after a cell he occupied known for the rascality of its inmates, a rascality that verges on rebellion against all known authority, ostensibly with a view to changing the status quo. And in a country crippled with acute lack of basic amenities like water, electricity, medical care, Fela would also decide that henceforth his Kalakuta Republic would generate its own electricity, sink its bole hole for pipe borne water and provide its own clinic.

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If only Nigerians knew how prophetic this turn of events in Fela’s summation of the Nigerian state would be, they would probably have been awakened to his unheeded calls for revolution long ago. Perhaps, Nigeria would have been a better place for it by now.

Many years later and long after Fela’s vain calls for a revolution through his iconic music and rebellious lifestyle, Nigerians are living witnesses to Fela’s prophecy of ‘government’s magic’ that ‘disappears’ public money into private pockets while public utilities suffer acute neglect and total abandonment. Nigerians have since been used to being their own local government areas, where they provide these essential amenities for themselves, as government operates more in absence. A prophet who was largely misunderstood and maligned by all segments of society save the tiny few who believed unto him to the death, mostly his many queens, who suffered pariah for following and believing in their idol, Fela forged on regardless in his lone battle to save his ailing society that failed to see what he saw many years ahead.

Today, the petty criminal is still the one who gets maximum jail sentence or doused in petrol and set alight in street corners for stealing N50 worth of bread while those who steal monies meant for the public utilities and causing conditions that forced the hapless chap into stealing bread get a slap in the wrist and charged to sin no more. It is the wicked irony of a reckless country and Fela’s prophetic music continues to haunt the soul of its citizens who fail to save themselves from their own self-inflicted injuries.

And because Fela spoke truth to power, he constantly had brushes with the law enforcements agencies, which were a butt of his musical jabs. Bolanle Austin-Peters Productions brings vividly to viewers the dastardly and cowardly acts of brutality visited on the iconic musician and his hapless family for making music that offended their criminal sensibilities. For instance, Fela’s house was burnt after ‘unknown soldiers’ set it ablaze and pushed his ageing mother to her death, graphically captured in video graphics projected on a screen is master stroke and an apt depiction of the raw use of power against defenceless citizens. Fela actually died in this rough encounter with raw state power, but because he ‘carried death in a pouch’ as a translation of his surname ‘Anikulapo’ suggests, he literally rose from the dead to continue with his struggle for a better Nigeria that seems so elusive many years after he shouted himself hoarse and died unheeded.

From the opening of BAP’s performance of Fela’s Republic and the Kalakuta Queens it is clear Fela was sent with a revolutionary message for his society when the almighty Olodumare sent his forces to rouse Fela up from sleep to embark on the arduous journey to socio-political activism through the instrumentality of his Afrobeat music. Fela proved himself a man well alive to the historic destiny thrust upon him. Alongside his dodged queens who bore many humiliations and hardships with the man they adored, Fela would not only make music but use it to challenge the system that continually proves antagonistic to the yearnings of the common man.

Just as Fela has been a gift to Nigeria so also has BAP’s Fela’s Republic and the Kalakuta Queens been a special offering to Lagosians who trooped out in their large numbers to see the reenactment of a man who once dominated the musical and polemic life of the city. The Executive Producer and Director, Mrs. Austin-Peters, was full of gratitude to Lagosians who poured out so much love to see the show and Fela’s family for the support she got for making the show a reality.

“We started this journey in 2013,” she told her swooning audience, “this is where we are today. We’ve had incredible cast and incredible crew. It’s been a fantastic run. The journey to Fela’s Republic and the Kalakuta Queens started about two and a half years ago when I said, ‘listen, what happened to the Kalakuta queens’? And so we reached out to the family. These two people – Yeni and Femi – have become my brother and sister and friends; they are here with us. They are incredibly nice people. They gave us the story. You know, Fela is so iconic that we forget that he’s got children who also went through all of that with him. We’re proud to be telling our own stories so we don’t let others tell them for us. Also with us are two of Fela’s living queens – Lara and Laide!”

Yeni started by hailing ‘Laide Baby’ and got the hall erupting in wondrous ecstasy, as Laide sang out that Fela famous adlibbing, ‘arararara’ with Yeni responding, ‘ororororo! And then Yeni hugged her.’

“Good evening everybody,” Yeni said, “This is very emotional for me, especially at the scene where they do the burning of the house. I always shed a tear or two, because we actually lived through it. I would never forget the day I drove passed my father’s house and it was burning. I was with my brother, my sister and my mum and my uncle and we were driving… We were trying to get Fela all day and we finally got there and we saw the house and my mother just started screaming, ‘they are dead; they have killed them!

“Every time I watched that part I always cry, because I look back to those days and I cry. I know that justice was never served, as always to the wives or to the family…”

Femi also started with the signature ‘arararara’ and the audience yelled ‘ororororo!

“I think it is very important we thank Bola and commend her very much for doing this,” he said, ‘why because I know what it means to run a troupe like this night and day, working; you’ve all worked so hard to get it right. Thank you very much. It would not have been possible without Bola. So when she came to the family and said she wanted to tell this story, there was nothing we could do but give her everything, especially my sister. Seun could not be here; I think he’s out of the country.

“Ironically, it’s the same story we witness every day. My elder sister is now 58,” and he got interrupted by his sister who interjected that she was almost 59, to which he countered that she was not yet there to provoke more laughter. “Ok, 58 and a half” and this too got loud laughter from the audience. “And I’m 57 and a half! She is 13 months older than me. You all probably wonder why Fela’s children don’t say enough or don’t say as much as they should. And Fela’s children also wonder, why don’t we all talk? Are we the scapegoat of Nigeria? Do they need to burn the shrine again or kill one of us again before you all know that Nigeria belongs to everybody? I mean, we know the story; we saw what happened to our father, and Nigerians went back to their homes and pretended nothing happened. And then all the excuses why they could not support Fela: he smokes igbo (marijuana), he likes women too much, and then we go back, all the music we listen to…

“James Brown did worse than Fela; Bob Marley did worse than Fela; the Beetles did worse than Fela. These guys did hard drugs; Fela only smoked igbo. He has children everywhere. So, why is everybody complaining? It still puzzles us, and like my elder sister said, watching this show brings back that pain. I don’t think you can imagine how painful it is for us to relieve that moment. For me I try to forget it, I want to live beyond it; I want to take it out of my mind.

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“After building the shrine, we kept it open and performed free, to keep the love, to make Nigerians understand what we are trying to do. They still give us a bad name because we are Fela’s children. We can’t marry because we are Fela’s children; we can’t walk into homes because we are Fela’s children. I mean, Fela has so many stories; you don’t know the story of my mother; you don’t know the story of us the children. This is just another very important story of the man. A very difficult human being, I must say. Hopefully one day we will be able to tell more of Fela’s stories. I’m very happy you all enjoyed the story tonight.”

“And hey, ladies, well done. The band, well done. My father refused to put me in school; he just told everybody he (Femi) would make it. And everybody went hysterical and fought him and wondered what was wrong with the man. And I was just roaming the streets. But I made it sha, one way or the other! You all remember my songs – Bang Bang Bang and Wonder Wonder, but I try to give the best education to my son, Made. He writes music, he reads music; he plays six instruments. Wonderful musician; his album will be coming out soon. My brother here Kunle was like four or five when my father’s house was burnt.”

“Here was young Kunle at Kalakuta Republic with 27 step-mothers!” Kunle Kuti also told the audience. “It was fun growing up in Kalakuta Republic.”

Lara and Laide also gave their own testimonies of their time with Fela and commended how true-to-life the performance was as a true reenactment of Fela’s household. Laide still carries the scare of the brutality visited on Fela in her damaged left leg that has a brace. She walks with difficulty and has to be assisted.

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