Fiery and fun, Fela gives a passionate insight into the legend’s life
Any theatre goer not exhilarated by the posse of toned wonder women pulsating effortlessly on stage in the opening scenes of Fela must be one hell of a grump.
Just a couple of songs in, as the wonderfully talented Sahr Ngaujah makes his mark as Nigerian singing legend Fela Anikulapo-Kuti, with those backing dancers still hitting every beat, it becomes clear this is going to be a fun evening.
But the jovial start to the show belies the struggles, contradictions and raging passions to come as the creator of Afrobeat clashes with the authorities, a split society and his own conscience in his quest to pioneer a new way of thinking.
The most notable of an increasingly-politicised Fela’s missions was the commune he created after his travels to England and America during the Sixties.
Named the Kalakuta Republic, the collective of musicians and fans who connected with Fela’s musical style later became victims of a violent raid by soldiers under a Nigerian government deeply distrustful of his free-thinking mission.
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It also led to the death of his beloved mother Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti.
All this tragedy in a musical so colourful and awe-inspiring is difficult to properly gauge and, at times, the production doesn’t switch easily from one narrative to another.
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Fela had many wives, became increasingly interested in the Black Panther movement and was adored by millions across Africa and beyond.
Much of his incredible life is, inevitably perhaps, swept over briskly.
But Sahr Ngaujah is a formidable lead and brings the house down with his ability on the sax and pitch-perfect voice on tracks including Originality and Zombie.
He also builds up a great rapport with the audience from the word go.
This production is fiery, fun and passionately performed and the cast fully deserved their standing ovation on the final curtain call.
Fela! Runs at Sadler’s Wells until August 28.