Kalakuta Queens… Musical theatre casts a gaze into Fela’s harem, politics
Saxophonist, Adeniji Heavywing, stars as Fela
After successful outings with Saro the Musical and Wakaa the Musical in Nigeria and the U.K., Bolanle Austen-Peters Productions (BAP) is making another bold step in the musical theatre tradition with yet another one on the iconic music maestro, Fela. Whereas other producers have focused only on Fela’s music and his revolutionary politics, BAP is going further by taking on his bevy of women, who essentially made Kalakuta Republic what is it really was. Indeed, what was Fela without his women?!
And founder of BAP, Mrs. Bolanle Austen-Peters, has ready allies in Fela’s elder daughter, Yeni, and some of Fela’s wives, who are on hand to coach the array of female cast, led by delectable Osas Ighodalo-Ajibade, what it really was to have inhabited that empire of organised chaos that was the eclectic life of a revolutionary, maverick artist and political prophet.
Following what Austen-Peters regarded as collective insult on the intelligence of Nigerian theatre professionals, when Fela! on Broadway was brought from the U.S. to Nigeria, funded by certain political bigwigs with an insane amount of money, Austen-Peters had nursed the dream of artistic payback. With Saro and Wakaa, she has rewritten the rules by combining serious business with performance artistry, an essential element that has been missing on the country’s cultural firmament. Now, it is time to challenge that Euro/Americo-centric craving with local offerings of global standards.
At the briefing last week, Austen-Peters said her production company started compiling Fela’s story, with the intent of making a musical out of it that looks beyond the surface of what people thought they knew about the man, Fela, particularly Fela’s women, the 27 wives and more who co-inhabited one space with one man. She said Fela’s women were trendsetters and well ahead of their time on many levels, adding what they did in the 1970s and 1980s largely informed what America’s Bounce and many others copied and taught the world. She also noted that Fela’s ladies were instrumental to exporting African dance to the rest of the world during Fela’s tours of major cities of Europe and America.
“These ladies were masters of human bodies and were able to isolate muscle parts, which most of us probably can’t do” Austen-Peters said. “They brought a lot of prowess to the art of dancing. And today in Nigeria, music, dance and popular culture, these things are cutting across, as skills set. More than anything else, these women were brave and extremely courageous; they were imprisoned and went through tough times but held on. In this musical, Fela and the Kalakuta Queens, we will see the different phases that culminated in Fela’s marriage to the 27 ladies.”
To star as Fela in the musical will be the saxophonist and leader of Adeniji Heavywing band, Mr. ‘Laitan Adeniji, a lifelong fan of Fela, whose jazz has a heavy dose of the maestro’s influence. Although acting for the first time, Adeniji seems cut out for the role with his physical presence and bearing. Austen-Peters said the search for ‘Fela’ was particularly difficult, as she wanted somebody, who could play the saxophone, as she couldn’t imagine a Fela without a saxophone. Landing Adeniji, she noted, was timely.
Adeniji said Fela’s shoes are huge, but promised to give his audience the time of heir lives.Also, Nollywood actor and producer, Mr. Kunle Afolayan, will play two roles – a father of one of Fela’s queens and the babalawo (traditional priest), who officiated in Fela’s marriage to the 27 ladies.
Yeni commended Austen-Peters and her team for the amazing initiative, saying that Fela’s Estate was solidly behind the project and was working with BAP to deliver first class Fela show for the world. Other corporate bodies behind the project include title sponsor, MTN Foundation (MTNF), AfricaMagic, Channels TV, OXL, and Axa Mansard.
Chairman of MTNF, Mr. Dennis Okoro, traced his younger days with Fela, whom he knew right from his universities days in London till they arrived Nigeria for their career paths. He also commended the producers for recreating Nigeria’s vibrant past that was also tranquil for the flowering of cultural offerings.
Executive Secretary of the foundation, Nonny Ugboma, said MTNF was excited at the fusion of arts and culture port folio that make up BAP and also expressed happiness that a product of MTNF’s music development programme at MUSON School of Music, Mr. Kehinde Orotimehin, is coordinating music for Fela and the Kalakuta Queens.While Austen-Peters is directing acting, choreographing is being handled by Justin Ezirim, Paolo Sisiano and Yeni Kuti
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