I fear this might be a long post. I mean really fear, because actually sitting down and writing makes me panicky. I grew up on a house where it was really sinful to take a seat unless anything you could possibly imagine needing to do was done. There were a few lovely exceptions to this rule, but unfortunately what it left in my neural paths was a horrible fear of getting in big trouble for doing something just for myself.
And I am scared of it and do everything I can to avoid it, including getting depressed and it's ridiculous because it is one of the very helpful things. I think I subconsciously avoid it because it's powerful. Thinking about art helps. Art is one of the very helpful things. And on Thursday night I saw Fela, which was the most helpful thing I have seen in such a long time. That piece was soaked in truth and spectacle and I am so grateful I saw it.
It seems to me that Fela Kuti is an extraordinarily clear representation, in one person, of the injustices his continent and thus, really of our world. He also created Afro Beat and was a phenomenally respected musician. He also almost perpetually smoked marijuana. He also had 27 wives. I know, it's a lot to take in at once. I really didn't know anything about him and I took a course in African History in college. I think he was probably edited out of all the cirriculum I encountered maybe for his Marxist associations?
The story of Fela in Bill T. Jones' piece is a dance biography with so much visually arresting truth in dance and song and images that everyone should drop everything and go check out the new theatrical gold standard.
The Olivier at the National has been transformed into The Shrine - the nightclub in the small independent Kalakuta Republic. It was there that he - an incredibly sophisticated musician steeped in Western culture through his musical education in London, Paris and New York - tries to make his best Africa, his true Africa. He was jailed over 200 times. He was beaten and tortured. Still he endured, to make his land the land it should be. Brave sacrifice to bring more justice to his world. I think I will go pour myself a glass of wine in my very warm house and feel a little heartbreak about this later, because it stings my conscience.
Anyway, Fela was extraordinarily qualified to see Africa clearly. His father was the living embodiment of submission to colonialism, submission that included internalizing Christianity to the detriment of his own identity. His mother was a hero fighting for equal rights despite differences of sex, race and culture. Truly a King of Heaven of the highest and best magnitude and I do not know why I have been previously deprived of this information.
Why have I not heard of Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti before? She was gloriously evinced in the theatre by this enormous Marxist looking poster. She was in many ways pretty much a Marxist. That didn't stop her from fighting for human rights. We have to stop shitting all over Marxism while we are trying to figure out the current dire economic state. Not to say that Marxism should be adopted wholesale at all, but rather to say that, I don't care where ideas come from, they should be evaluated on their own merits. (Cut to Syndrome in The Incredibles: "Gosh! You got me monologing again!)
No other reviewer has even mentioned what I thought was the most powerful story embedded in Fela! which was Fela's distaste for his father's Christianity and subsequent curiousity about his native religion, ancestor worship. Fela says at the beginning of the show that he is exiting Africa, that he is moving out of the Shrine and giving up, and going away to play music and make money. He then in the second half of the show has an encounter with his dead mother, beautifully evoked with incredible dancing and an aria. She points out his responsibility to help the world and then, when we have returned to an evening at the Shrine at the end of the show, Fela says he is going to stay and fight. So his plan is to leave, he encounters his dead mother, he decides to stay.
I am reading such incredibly disappointing reviews from UK papers and bloggers about this because these mental giants with their overwhelmingly brilliant understanding of theatre completely missed this point. Again, what the hell? You want story? That's Robert McKee's Story, that is every LA screenwriter basic training, right there. I expected better of England. This is as rich as Shakespeare, you morons, and you missed it completely
Why does no one see that everyone in the UK needs to find their own Fela and make the best England, their England? Why did no reviewer point out this very simple and powerful parallel? I mean, just read main section of the Observer today. No sports in schools, Ireland fucking broke, civil unrest. Which side are you going to be on? And when you decide, why not look to your own saints and heroes, your own Luke Skywalkers or Funmilayos or Jesus or all the Saints, whomever you call King of Heaven? Are you called to fight for what is right? I am. I am manic about it.
It totally made me want to create a play in the style of Fela, it totally inspired me, it totally made me question my life and my response to these strange times. Utterly fantastic.
Side note on me being deprived of Funmilayo:
Anyway, a little bit more about my anger about this beautiful, dignified queen of women? I grew up with Marie Curie, Amelia Earhart and Sandra Day OConnor. I was so sick of Madame Curie with her wimpy gloves and Amelia Earhart with her heart in the air but her questionable decisions. And then by the time I was nine I couldn't forgive Sandra Day O'Connor for being a Republican. I should have read the biographies of people like Rosa Parks and Funmilayo - women who took on political change. And I want to teach my daughter about this woman. She died in a savage attack on the Kalakuta Republic by the Nigerian government that culminated in her defenestration (forgive me but how often do you get to use that word?) But it wasn't how she died rather how she lived that interests me.