It is not by circumstance that Alliance for new Music-Theatre opens its second season with a show that examines the role of the artist in society, and particularly questions the socio-political responsibilities of the artist. In the nation’s capital and in such volatile times, it’s a question we as artists and audiences must also ask from time to time.
Fela Anikulapo-Kuti, a native of Nigeria, grew up listening to western music, especially American pop and jazz. He later traveled to further his musicianship first to London then America, where he learned about Black Power movement and was radicalized. He returned to Nigeria and stepped into a political role, using music to send his message out of revolution to free his people. He survived imprisonment, torture and the burning of his compound where his family members were brutalized and his mother murdered. He never left Nigeria, committing himself and the rest of his life to help Nigeria free itself from tyranny and corruption.
The show stars Sahr Nguaujah and he is quite simply a phenomenon. Fela! comes to the Washington Shakespeare Theatre from runs in London and on Broadway where in both countries it received several nominations.
These are the questions we discussed after seeing the show on Sunday afternoon, and we invite you to join in and continue the on-line conversation:
- At the beginning of the show, Fela breaks his music down by introducing the African beat (the pulse of life), then the human voice, then – and he wants the audience to tell him what next in the interactive narrative. What do you think Fela wants us, his audience, to get from his music when he puts it all together?
- At one point in the play, the character Fela quotes teachings from his mother about good vs. bad teachers. According to this musical, what do you think Fela understood in the phrase that “a bad teacher is the one who tries to make sense of things?”
- How would you describe Fela’s musical and personal journey in this show?