On the surface, there doesn’t seem to be any real connecting thread between those two names. But let’s dig a little deeper. Both of them are highly influential aspects of their national history, both are dynasties – one political and one musical. Both lost one of the most public members of the family in very sensational events and both are representative of a point of struggle in their countries identity.
Let’s explore even further. The Kennedys are said to be American Royalty. From the highly charismatic John F. Kennedy to the equally well-known Maria Shriver, they have become a name synonymous with politics in America. Everything they have ever said or did was newsworthy. They are irrevocably part of America’s history. Recently, a mini-series was shot about the Kennedys. It had been shot over 2 years and produced by The History Channel for about $25 million dollars. The series, which was to be a fly on the wall account of one of America’s most powerful dynasties, was due to air on the History Channel and hopefully other major networks.
Prior to public broadcast, a private viewing was given to the Kennedy family, friends and associates. The reaction was vehement disapproval. In the face of such a negative reaction, The History Channel pulled out and so did every other major channel and network. A small independent channel ReelzChannel finally aired the series to a very small audience and recieved very mixed reviews.
The Anikulapo-Kuti family is synonymous with music in Nigeria. Not just any music, but body-stirring yet socially conscious songs that speak of survival in the midst of struggle and hardship. Fela continues to be an icon, years after his demise. So much so that there is now a Broadway play “Fela!” The play is produced by Hollywood greats Will and Jada Smith and Jay-Z and has won 11 Tony awards. It’s a big deal! However, between the production team, the crew and the lead cast, there is just one Nigerian featured. The man who plays Fela, Kevin Mambo is originally East African and of course the executive producers are American, this for a man who is so intrinsically a part of Nigeria’s history? And it is not because we do not have people who can afford to sponsor the play, or make a biopic of his life or turn his house into a museum. It is not because we lack actors with the fire and passion to bring Fela’s ideologies back to life. It is simply because no one seems to think it is a big deal.
Every year, the Anikulapo-Kuti family celebrates Fela’s birthday in a week long affair named Felabration. There are talks and concerts, artistes are invited to come and perform in honour of Fela and news correspondents come from around the world to report on the festivities. Yet, Felabration is not a Government recognized celebration. Why? Your guess is as good as mine. A friend I discussed it with thought that perhaps it was because Fela was so anti-establishment, but so was Martin Luther King Jr. in his time, and yet America celebrates the anniversary of his death every year. It’s hard to fathom. Now, Fela! The Broadway show has come to Nigeria after years on Broadway.
For days, the cast thrilled us on the the magic and passion that is Fela! As I listened to the reviews from many Nigerian’s who watched the show I couldnt help but ask myself many questions. I wondered if the performers knew the significance of the songs, in this country? Did they realize that each song was a testimony to the Nigerian spirit? Did they know that now, after so many years we are finally beginning the fight which Fela fought so many years ago? When they sang his songs did their spirits sing with them?
I wondered if our leaders realized the implications of this show? Did they know that Fela is the first Nigerian to be celebrated on an international stage? Did they now finally accept that he is an icon whose name lives after the grave? Truth is I’m not sure they did, because if they did, they would take up this show, they would play it at TBS and at Eagle Square, and Nigerians would pay a token to come and remember one of our heroes. If they did, they would sponsor a tour round some universities in Nigeria and inspire a new generation of dancers and producers to be, who would decide that the next Nigerian to be so celebrated, would be celebrated to world standards, by Nigerians, for Nigerians. If they did, it would be the Federal Ministry of Art and Culture bringing this show to Nigeria, not the Anikulapo-Kuti family, or a private company.
I’m glad that Fela! came to Nigeria, but my heart is a bit sad, because a man who eschewed ostentatious displays of wealth will be watched by people who will pay up to a million naira to attend a performance, while the common man who he sang to, will go through his daily struggle oblivious of the momentous occasion that is happening, the homecoming, in a sense, of one of us. We need to learn to celebrate our own better. The Kennedys, as wonderful a production as it might be, might be doomed because of a group of people that refused to let the significance of the Kennedy story die. Because they understand, that for a family like that, it is not just another movie. Fela! Is not just a show, it is a story of Nigeria told from the point of view of one man. It is a triumphant return of a man who was as mocked as he was celebrated. It is an essential part of our history as a people; we should try to see it as such.
My final question is for all of us: Fela was beaten up, arrested and hounded for most of his life. His lifestyle was mocked and used as an attempt to diminish his message. Today the world celebrates Fela in death like many of us refused to in life. Today we are beginning to create the Nigeria that Fela believed we could have. Nigeria, do we believe that the dream of a free and fair Nigeria, a true dream of one nation, no matter the opposition or the delay, cannot die?
Photo Credits : nigeriashowbiz.com
After a sensational showing by the Fela! cast, we at BellaNaija.com have decided to pay our own tribute to the man, who through his music defended and upheld the African and Nigerian ideal. For the days leading to the end of April, we will be bringing article like tributes that both celebrate and attempt to uncover the man that was Fela and the dynatsy he has left behind. Join us, as we pay tribute to the legend that is Fela!