BN Exclusive: Read our BN Reader Review & Experience Spectacular Photos from “FELA!” in Lagos

BellaNaija.com was on the scene at the “FELA!” in Lagos event. The Broadway export captured the imagination of Lagosians and all Fela fans who grabbed the opportunity to experience the show.
Photographer Tunde “T.O” Owolabi was on the scene and captured these spectacular shots while BN Contributor, Uzo Orimalade shares her “Close Encounter of the FELA! Kind“.
Enjoy.
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When news came through that the Tony award winning Broadway musical Fela was coming to Lagos, I knew I had to attend. Despite the fact that I am not a huge Fela fan, all the hype surrounding the show, the producers,  Beyonce’s black face photoshoot, the non-Nigerian cast and a dearth of things to do in Lagos made it a must-see. I blackmailed the hubby and off we went to the new Expo Hall at Eko Hotel and Suites for one of the 7pm shows.

The ticketing, verification and seating process was surprisingly organized and relatively stress free which I thought was a good omen for the rest of the night. It was a bit disconcerting though to have the seating allocations go to the wind at about 8.40pm when there was a mad scramble for the empty VIP and RG 1 – 3 seats. The event organizers had made it clear that all guests were to be seated by 8.30pm or seat allocations could not be guaranteed. But considering that a lot of the guests were on queues outside the hall waiting to have tickets verified, it seemed a bit unfair that after paying for premium seats, the guests were penalized for the slow progress of the verification process.

The Expo Hall had been transformed into an eye-awakening African Shrine with graffiti featuring Fela prominently displayed and a particularly eerie picture of Funmilayo Kuti hard to miss. As we waited for the show to begin, newspaper headlines from the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s flashed across the stage setting the context for the era of the show.
The show kicked off at 9.05pm – only 5 minutes after its slated start time with Sahr Ngaujah (playing the title role) walking through the audience to the stage both arms raised in the air Fela style clad in a light blue and white ensemble that hugged every part of his slim frame to wild applause from the audience.

Fela! – the show exudes energy. It traces Fela’s life – his musical education as a young man in Lagos, his student days in London to his return to Nigeria, his foray into finding his own style and coming into his own told through flashing images on a projector screen behind the cast, pulsating music reminiscent of the era – swing, soul, jazz, funk and of course work by Fela and gyrating, swaying, grinding dancers that had my head spinning – in a good way.
As the show progressed, the audience corrected Sahr Ngaujah’s pronunciation of Yoruba phrases and peculiar words like Naija in a good humored way which brought to the fore the furiously articulated argument about the use of a completely foreign cast to bring the life story of a Nigeria treasure to the public. While I have my views on this subject, this piece is more about the Fela experience….Sahr Ngaujah didn’t butcher things up too much which might be as a result of his Sierra Leonean heritage but I imagine that Kevin Mambo (the title role alternate) would have a harder time with the Nigerian audience.

Apart from the show being thoroughly entertaining and a great sing-a-long for those that know Fela’s songs, the sheer force of the production tells us more about this recording artist and political agitator than a lot of non-Fela fans probably know. The show makes no apologies for Fela’s love of marijuana or women but shows a man living life on his own terms and his accompanying struggles. It also sheds a lot of light on the relationship between Fela and his beloved mother – Funmilayo. Her influence on him, on Nigerian society and the circumstances around her death are a crucial part of the Fela story.

A lot has to be said about Sahr Ngaujah’s Fela. I never went to the shrine but have seen enough footage of Fela to know that he nailed that air of insolent confidence that so embodied Fela. There was a point in the show, when he stood shirtless in the middle of the stage, with his sunglasses on staring defiantly back at the audience that I broke out in goosebumps. I also at that moment saw the inspiration that must have guided Dapo Oyebanjo’s creation of the artist we know as Dbanj.
The women in this show SHINE. Lillias White plays Funmilayo Kuti and is breath taking. Her voice is exquisite and her presence is eerie and very strong. In one of the most dramatic scenes of the show – Fela travels to the afterlife to meet his mother and Lillias takes that scene and makes it otherworldly leaving us in absolutely no doubt why Funmilayo was so loved by Fela and why her spirit haunts him. Saycon Sengbloh is also impressive as Sandra responsible for introducing Fela to the black power movement.
The show ended to a standing ovation and after the cast introductions were made, Seun Kuti came on stage to finish off “Gentleman” to more applause from the audience. The final highlight of the evening which was also head-scratching and a bit weird and uncomfortable for me, was the mounting of the stage by a lady who came on with Seun Kuti. Clad in iro and buba and an aso-oke wrap around her hips, she proceeded to gyrate and grind against Sahr Ngaujah in a style reminiscent of the original Fela dances. She wound her waist and wrapped her arms tightly around Sahr’s neck as if willing herself to an orgasm. I was fascinated and mortified at the same time. I kept asking the people around me who she was – my guess – one of the ladies from the original Kalaluta republic.

I loved the show and given the chance, I would see it again and again and again. I left so proud that Fela lived and went home to my Fela playlist on my ipod and I haven’t stopped grooving to the Afrobeat sounds of Abami Eda since.

Photo Credit: Tunde Owolabi – www.tundeowolabi.com

26 Comments on BN Exclusive: Read our BN Reader Review & Experience Spectacular Photos from “FELA!” in Lagos
  • popps May 2, 2011 at 10:16 pm

    Woah is all i can say .. SMH i missed out!

  • NIRA May 2, 2011 at 10:21 pm

    WOW!! SEEMS I MISSED A LOT.

  • Justsaying May 2, 2011 at 10:42 pm

    Interesting!

  • partyrider May 2, 2011 at 11:24 pm

    great review

  • THE AMAKA May 3, 2011 at 1:06 am

    from the pictures, it has that stereotypical African look about it (usually the look when they are discussing Africa, mainly South Africa) but good job to them.

    • beezy May 3, 2011 at 6:48 pm

      The Amaka……………what are you saying? Gosh!!!

  • bgirl May 3, 2011 at 2:20 am

    oh mi gosh!…i have 2 admit that i missed a whole lot!this is beautiful in all wayz.look @ femi,he’s got so much passion in him!Fela is truly a legend o

  • Jojo May 3, 2011 at 2:21 am

    Enjoyed every minute of the show when it played in New York last year. A must see

  • andels May 3, 2011 at 2:21 am

    I can’t wait to go and see this on broadway.

  • moi May 3, 2011 at 6:21 am

    And some pple wuld lash out against the establishment..I dont care if they butchered it up or not, but we Nigerians lost our right to prostest when we refused to idolize our heroes and then still dont. Fela story deserves to be told, if we aren’t going to, may someone else do. Of course I have issues with the stereotypical “idea ” of Africa in Hollywood, but you have to agree that Fela influenced them too. I am tired of ignorant folks saying tweets abt things they have no idea; one being the idea of an african sound in music. Everytime I see a post/comment that says a song is not Nigerian/African enough, I so want to gag myself. This so called “western” songs style have African roots. And if someone decides to bring back something we let out, let them without criticism, so the next u want to say that something isn’t African enough, ask yourself what exactly does the word mean. I have no idea about, and I hope that someday I get to the understanding of such a word. But this am sure, it won’t be soon, because most African project the colonial believe abt Africans. we ourselves, shokingly, have no idea who we are, we have lost the way and have assimilated the culture of others, that we can no longer recognize what is authentic, meaning what was there before the white masters. Who knows maybe I might get an answer through this post. Believe I never intended this comment to be this long, but this is something dear to my heart. I weep whenever I see the ignorance of a fellowman showing. If we don’t see or understand ourselves, our culture and all, how can we except outsiders to get an holistic picture of us. I can begin to name instance of things that we consider ours, but is not actually bt rather an adaptation of what was there before, but I must stop typing and slp. So I can wake up early and read for my finals on Wednesday. Bt the long and short of my story is this, celebrate Fela on Broadway, it is touching that our story gets told better than Hollywood flick would ever do. Its home now, accept it. And join me in praying that our history might get excavated, our total history told in school, not the romantized version thought in secondary skuls now that “they” tag history. We nid to know who we are, and the answer lies in the past. The holistic past.

    P.S. if you are going to criticize my post and rant about something that shows you as being in the category that I earlier described. Just give urself a lil time to think, pause and ponder my thought through. U might be shocked on what a little rumination can do to a train of thought. Also I expect this comment to be filled with errors, cos I can’t edit it and dnt have the time too. My bed is calling my name right now, and today is anoda day I have to face in 7 hrs.

  • yummy mummy May 3, 2011 at 8:29 am

    Well,well… I was @ the show all I can say is itw was fantastic

  • Timma May 3, 2011 at 11:14 am

    Didn’t see the show but I do love the review and love the fact that the life of a Nigerian is worthy of such a performance!good job Uzo and BN crew

  • Naj May 3, 2011 at 2:07 pm

    I can not believe I missed this….Good grief this show looked electric…. now all I have to do is find a way to see it on Broadway….lol

    http://www.th3rdculture.wordpress.com

  • Sheila May 3, 2011 at 3:53 pm

    loved every bit of the show. saw the 2pm one with Kevin Sambo and he did a good job portraying Fela, of course he was trying 2 hard to sound African and there were parts i got lost trying to figure out what he said but it was fun all the same…as for the women..WOW, i need to learn to move like that

  • DG May 3, 2011 at 3:55 pm

    Excellent piece Uzo!! And awesome pictures. I was at the show and thought it was amazing, beautiful, strong and energetic. Like Uzo, I would gladly see it again and again. And I totally agree with ‘moi’s’ comment…..

  • Stiletto May 3, 2011 at 4:19 pm

    It was an extraordinary performance.. filled with raw energy that excited me to the tip of my toes….. A must see.. Good review but really do yourself a favour and go see it on broadway!

  • faith May 3, 2011 at 4:40 pm

    i wish i had gone to d show….just lookin at d pics gives me goose pimples…

  • Ready May 3, 2011 at 7:22 pm

    So my people corrected the guy’s pronunciations, hunh? I trust Naija people. The pictures are wonderful; the show won Tony awards & got great reviews so I was expecting greatness. Regardless of who put the show on, I applaud the effort.

    Ehen, why has there been no review of Carlos Moore’s “This bitch of a life”? I would love to read what others think about it, I know I’m burning with opinions & questions.

  • meiz-black May 3, 2011 at 8:15 pm

    mind blowing event.

  • Mary May 4, 2011 at 7:47 pm

    AWESOME! I loooooooooooveeeeeeeeed it.

  • mabijo May 4, 2011 at 9:07 pm

    Guess we saw the show on the same day,saturday the 23rd. I totally loved it though I wouldn’t agree with you that the ticketing was organized.

    The show made me love the Icon,Fela all over again,wish he was here.

    I also saw the connection between fela and d’banj!

    And they said it when the woman came on stage that she was on of the original queens.

    Kudos to the organizers of Fela!Live in Lagos!!!
    Long Live Abami Eda!!!!!

  • Jaja May 6, 2011 at 2:05 pm

    Excellent piece, I was also at the matinee version of the show on a sunday, and I remember being blown away by the whole performance and the impressive use of lighting and stage craft. However, I couldn’t help but feel a deep sense of sadness at the fact that pretty much all the evils that instigated Fela’s career back then are still very much with us till this day. Also, having done a bit of internet on research as a result of seeing the show, I realise how massive Fela’s influence was and still is in pop culture, so much so that he inspired JayZ and crew to sponsor the show.

  • asa May 6, 2011 at 2:56 pm

    i loved the show n i was there

  • Amaka May 8, 2011 at 6:26 pm

    i saw every single part of the show it was a big blast, excellent in every thing. I most say this is the best event ever.

  • Ola Aluko May 9, 2011 at 3:37 am

    I was fortunate to see this show in Broadway in Newyork, is absolutely amazing. It show that Fela is a very great musician and the most African beloved musician. The couple that sit next to me in the hall said to me, he came across fela music in 1974 when he was a student in Columbia University in New york. He told me, he was blow away when he first hard it, he said he never hard a music with so much melody and .groove. The is a white American saying this to me. The problem with our people, we refused to break away from our colonial fast, we still in colonial enclave of illusion and we refused to value our things or anything related to our identity as people. We continue to leave out of ourself, we always want to be someone else not ourself. I remember how people continue to dehumanize Fela back then and up till now our people see people that associated with Fela music as Igbo smoker or Aborisha. Fela is extraordinary human genius, this kind of people come in every generation. and only People who are in different horizon of though can understand Fela and is music no wonder Fela called it under ground spiritual game. Abima Eda will leave for ever, because he incarnate in Seun, now Seun will carry on. Oun teni ni teni

  • tosin o. May 21, 2011 at 7:19 am

    I think that was Femi in the pictures not Seun…or am I wrong?

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