Presented by Adelaide Festival of Arts
Reviewed 12 March 2015
The Festival Theatre was at near capacity for the opening night of Fela! The Concert, a concert version of the Broadway musical, Fela! which traces the life of Nigerian musician and human rights activist, Fela Kuti.
The stage opened to a ten-piece band featuring drums, saxophones, guitars and even a bongo player. The band were dressed in funky seventies attire or, in the case of the bongo player, not much at all. They played acoustic funk for about ten minutes, setting the mood, and then “Fela” and his back-up singers entered the stage. From there it was on – a full-on Afro beat party.
Fela was dressed in a sky-blue jumpsuit with white tribal patterns. His side-kick male counterparts were like sinuous snakes in their open shirts, fedora’s and bellbottoms, and his women were nothing short of African warrior princesses. The colour and vibrancy of the costumes alone was enough to get the audience in a party mood, but then add the Afro beat music (a fusion of jazz, funk and Nigerian rhythms – a genre Fela is credited with creating), powerful singing and tribal dancing and everyone in the house was on their feet.
The concert relayed snippets of Fela’s life, certainly enough to peak interest but perhaps not as comprehensive as the Broadway musical. This was achieved through the projection of newspaper articles of the day onto the backdrop, highlighting Fela’s political influence; lyrics from the songs taken from the musical; and even a snippet from a documentary about his life.
In brief, Fela Kuti fronted a series of bands and released over 50 albums, stating that “music is not a game, it is the weapon of the future.” He was opposed to Nigeria’s corrupt military regime and his stance on human rights gained him a cult following including the establishment of his Shrine nightclub. Fela’s opposition to Nigeria’s military regime led to him being repeatedly beaten, arrested and, in 1984, jailed for 20 months.
He created a commune called Kalakuta Republic that he later declared independent from the Nigerian state, with himself as the President. The commune was raided by 1000 government soldiers, its members were brutalised and Fela’s mother died as a result. In 1997, Fela died of AIDS complications. One million people attended his funeral.
Enough of this story was outlined in the concert but not to the extent that it overrode the joyous atmosphere and party tribute to an amazing pioneer. Perhaps one of the true stars of the show was a female back-up dancer with the most unbelievable “twerk” you’ll ever see. Other dancers in the cast obviously had classical training in addition to their tribal funk moves, and the pace and athleticism of these dancers was mind-blowing.
The entire show was an hour and a half of non-stop pure energy in terms of funky music, a barrage of colourful costumes, seemingly effortless dancing, and true presence of the power of the human spirit.
This is certainly a highlight of the Festival, and if you can get tickets, go. This show is 5 out of 5 stars.
Reviewed by Samantha Bond
Rating out of 5: 5
Venue: Festival Theatre, Adelaide Festival Centre
Season: 12-14 March 2015
Duration: 1 hour 25 mins (no interval)
Bookings: Book through the Adelaide Festival online or through BASS online, phone 131 246 (booking fees apply)