FELA! The Concert, the Fela Kuti story featuring members of the original Broadway cast, is at the Queens Theatre in Flushing Meadows Corona Park on Saturday, July 16, 2022 at 8pm. From $25. 🇳🇬
Earlier at 5:30pm, the FELA! cast leads a community drum circle at the Unisphere in Flushing Meadows Corona Park at 5:30pm. FREE with registration. 🇳🇬
Fela Kuti (1938-1997) was the Nigerian musician who created Afrobeat in the 1970s.
He’s one of the main artists responsible for both reabsorbing African Diaspora traditions into African music, and reinserting African Yoruba traditions into American music.
Afrobeat is a Global Music fusion of Nigerian Yoruba music, Ghanaian Highlife, American Jazz and R&B, and Latin Music (which itself blends African Diaspora traditions with Jazz).
In colonial times, African Diaspora traditions were brought to the Americas where they evolved into Latin Music. Cuban Rumba, Changüi, Son and Timba; Brazilian Samba; Haitian Méringue; Dominican Merengue; Puerto Rican Bomba, Plena and Salsa; Colombian Cumbia, Venezuelan Tambor, Peruvian Festejo, Argentine Tango, Honduran Garifuna and other traditions are unique, but are all derived from the community traditions of Mother Africa.
What we call Yoruba in Cuba, the Caribbean, and the United States is actually a blend of Fon, Yoruba, Kongo and colonial traditions. They’re closely related, but not exactly the same as African Yoruba. In the Americas, the traditions are blended.
In what became the United States, they took away the drum and we got the Blues (and then Jazz, Country, Swing, Rock and Rap), basically most of the popular music and dances of the United States.
The 1960s were the global youth decade. By the 1970s, social change was blooming. Fela Kuti’s brought all of this energy back to Mother Africa and blended it into what was happening there. Afrobeat is basically the return of African Diaspora traditions from the Americas and their reintegration into the traditions of Mother Africa.
Today it’s wonderful how African, American, Caribbean, Latin American and European artists recognize each other in our regional traditions. We are all made from the same mud.
Afrobeats (with an “s”) is a broader term that describes the many wonderful African fusions that have developed since Fela Kuti’s Afrobeat.
Afrobeat in American Music
David Byrne (Talking Heads) and producer Brian Eno brought Kuti’s Afrobeat into American New Wave (Post Punk) with Talking Heads “Remain in Light” (1980). In American music, it was a pivotal moment like Picasso’s inspiration from African masks was in art. “Remain in Light” opened a world of musical possibilities.
[Editor “Co-Keith”: Today Eleguá owns my head, but when I look back and wonder how that happened, “Remain in Light” was my first introduction to Yoruba traditions. I learned things in 1980, that only make sense to me now. “Let the water hold me down.”]
FELA! The Musical
FELA! the musical opened Off-Broadway and then ran on Broadway from 2009-2011. It won the Lucille Lortel Award for Best Musical. From 11 Tony Award nominations, Fela! won Best Choreography, Best Costume Design in a Musical, and Best Sound Design of a Musical.
The choreography was done by Bill T. Jones, a New York African American choreographer who works extensively with African Diaspora traditions. We know Mr. Jones from his work developing Contemporary Dance in Cuba. He’s is one of NYC’s godfathers of African Diaspora dance.
African Diaspora song, drum and dance traditions are community gatherings from the time before phones, internet, television, radio and books. In traditional communities around the world and across time, there was nothing to do after work, so people gathered to sing, drum and dance together. In both Mother Africa and the Indigenous Americas, the party would continue non-stop for three or more days.
Fela! brings this vibrant community energy to the stage. Once you experience an African Diaspora drum circle, you will probably want more of this in your life because the communal energy of becoming one just by singing, drumming and dancing, is nothing if not electric. We need to be together now.