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Afrobeat pioneer Fela Kuti earns riveting,
politically-charged musical portrait

Oriental Theatre
Chicago, IL
March 28, 2012
Fela! Fela! Fela!

Story by Andy Argyrakis
Photos Courtesy of Broadway In Chicago

Not only did Fela Kuti pioneer the entire Afrobeat scene, but perhaps more importantly, the multi-instrumentalist/composer was amongst the most bravely outspoken human rights activists of all time. While his history has popped up in a variety of places as of late, from Universal's DVD release of the documentary "Music Is the Weapon" to Knitting Factory Records' re-issue of his entire CD catalogue, the Broadway play "Fela!" has thus far possessed the most broad range appeal.

Having co-producers like Shawn "Jay-Z" Carter and Will & Jada Pinkett-Smith certainly hasn't hurt the cause, while the half million attendees thus far between the Big Apple and touring version include Madonna, Mick Jagger, Sting, Ben Stiller, Spike Lee and Michelle Obama. But "Fela!" is much more than merely a hype fest, and as the near three hour journey of music and emotion unfurled, it was evident why the show scored three Tony Awards (including "Best Choreography").

Intricate dance routines to Kuti's rhythmic potpourri (which have also rubbed off on American acts from Talking Heads to Vampire Weekend on down) were obvious points of eye candy, but beneath his musical glory and influential grandeur, fans were also given an intimate portrait of his politics. Just a handful of his 200 arrests (and the subsequent torturing that ensued) were chronicled by the immensely talented cast, but it was still evident the ringleader was amongst Nigeria's most fearless iconoclasts.

Along the way, "Fela!" shows the lead character standing up against the military, blasting even the slightest inkling of oppression and inequality, while calling out government leaders on misconduct in any arena. Of course, with any form of protest, controversy is right around the corner and the artist turned activist faces plenty throughout the performance, but no matter one's political or cultural background, it's impossible not to leave inspired by his boundary-breaking music and justice-seeking spirit.

"Fela!" continues at Chicago's Oriental Theatre through April 15. For additional details, visit or

Fela! Fela!

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