Atlanta gears up for hit Broadway musical ‘Fela!’

Guerilla Dance Project performing at the official launch party to celebrate the return of the musical Fela! to Atlanta  (Photo Credit: Mark Harris of Sirrah Media)

Guerilla Dance Project performing at the official launch party to celebrate the return of the musical Fela! to Atlanta (Photo Credit: Mark Harris of Sirrah Media)

ATLANTA – The official launch party to celebrate the return of Fela! to Atlanta took place Friday at a funky venue in the downtown district.

The evening, organized by Spread Love and the co-producers of the multiple Tony-Award-winning Broadway musical Knitting Factory, was a well-attended interactive music and art event.

Among other things, the night at 595 North featured live art, exhibits, face painting and performances by African drummers and dancers.

The evening kicked off with a VIP reception, followed by a club night of eclectic music, including Fela Kuti-inspired music and soulful Afrobeat rhythms.

Brad Spencer, director of brand strategy at Knitting Factory Entertainment, flew into Atlanta from Los Angeles for the pre-promotional weekend. “It’s [Fela!] an opportunity to perhaps discover, or rediscover, this amazing and influential musical style called Afrobeat, which derived from another West African music genre called Highlife.”

Kuti’s political activism, historical relevance and struggle for human rights were inspiring and combined make a remarkable story, said Spencer.

The hit musical Fela! is based on the life of the late Nigerian singer Fela Anikulapo-Kuti (1938 -1997), who created a musical style known as Afrobeat, a hypnotic blend of jazz, funk and African rhythms. The production, which stars Destiny’s Child star Michelle Williams, explores Kuti’s controversial life as an artist, musician and political activist.

For those unfamiliar with Kuti’s music, he was to Africa what Bob Marley was to Jamaica or Malcolm X to America. His provocative lyrics ridiculed and poked fun at the then-corrupt Nigerian military governments and also criticized Western interference in African politics.

Singing in Pidgin English, colloquial English and occasionally in Yoruba, Kuti was a poet-warrior, whose songs railed against unethical leaders and inspired the masses.

The launch party was just one of a handful of events in the city celebrating the return of Fela! Friday morning, Mayor Kasim Reed and singer Ludacris gave a media conference to welcome the cast and production to Atlanta.

Sahr Ngaujah, who created and performed the role of the charismatic Kuti in the original Broadway production, was also in Atlanta for the weekend to participate in panelist discussion. He told theGrio that in the light of the Arab uprisings and occupy Wall Street protects; Fela’s political activism is as relevant today as to when the revolutionary musician was alive.

He also talked about his grueling and intense preparation to perform in the energetic two and a quarter hour show.

“I was a long methodological process, calibrating my mind, energy, and vocal chords and going for a run before the show,” said Ngaujah.

Fela! will return to Atlanta for six performances at the Fox Theatre February 28-March 3rd.

Follow Kunbi Tinuoye on Twitter at @Kunbiti