Obviously, there are different aspects of Fela Anikulapo Kuti’s life that are yet to be unveiled. The late Afrobeat music pioneer, human rights activist, husband and father, lived a life that many perceived in different lights.
If you were at Terra Kulture Arena in Victoria Island, Lagos, during the festive period, especially the wrap-up show in the new year, you would appreciate how Bolanle Austen-peters Production ( BAP) effortlessly unveiled on stage another aspect of Fela’s life in an enthralling musical called ‘Fela’s Republic and the Kalakuta Queens’.
The musical is a sequel of Fela and the Kalakuta Queens, which was about the most-seen stage production in 2017. Since December 14, 2019, when it premiered and for the 10 days it lasted during the festive holiday, the musical excited appreciative audiences. However, the wrap-up show on January 5, 2020, was phenomenal as the BAP cast and crew lived up to the audiences’ expectations.
From the moment the stage curtain opened with an inscription ‘ Welcome Na De Shrine’ to kick-off of the play, until the cast bowed to the appreciative audience to signal the end of a stellar performance, ‘ Fela’s Republic and the Kalakuta Queens’ was more enthralling than most guests imagined.
In the epic story of Fela, a legendary icon, the cast brought the late Afrobeat pioneer live on stage with perfect depiction of his character, enabling the audience to follow the man Fela, the myth, the legend and the unapologetic activist.
Through the unveiling on stage, the audiences discovered that Fela had troubles in his days, but his queens were the shock absorbers and reason he continued delivering good music and activism at the same time.
The musical also bared the emotions and worries of the queens, who left their parents (some at the verge of being disowned by families) to follow Fela.
For instance, Ihase, narrated how the melodious sound of Fela’s music, which she heard while on an errand o buy cigarette for her father, lured her to run away from home in Benin City to join Fela is Lagos, as well as, Naa Lamiley, who came all the way from Ghana to become a Fela dancer. There were glances into the squabbles among Fela queens all acted on stage. Fela had time table for sleeping with his queens and every one of them look forward
Fela’s Republic and the Kalakuta Queens to her day. But the coming of Malaika, a beautiful woman from outside the country, changed it as Fela slept with her often and not according to the timetable. The undue advantage by the woman whom the other queens perceived as a stranger, incurred their wrath against her. There were disclosures on how Fela gave allowances to the queens and insistence that allowances are given to those who are useful to Kalakuta. There were also punishments to erring queens, ranging from cut in their allowances and forfeiture of bedtime with Fela.
The intrigue of the musical was the fact that popular Fela songs were performed intermittently with the stage play. From Dem Dey Craze, You Dey Bleach Ohh You Dey Bleach, Shakara to many other evergreen songs, the cast mocked Africans that copy foreign culture. They also mocked politicians who steal billions from the Nigerian coffers with pen and are walking the streets free, while common criminals are languishing in jail for stealing food.
Again, Fela did something extraordinary when he married all dancers and named them Fela Queens after accusation by police and mocking by the society that the women were prostitutes. Fela said he married them to give them dignity and respect in the society.
But the song Zombie was another highlight. The stage showed police officers who were sent by their superiors to arrest Fela for his hard stand on government. Fela was manhandled and taken to jail. It was at the prison that he got the name for his kalakuta Republic.
While in the prison, Fela was dumped in a cell called ‘Kalakuta’; a place for rascals, and it was at that point that he decided to rename his shrine Kalakuta Republic and vowed to use rascality to fight back government.
But the climax of the excitement on stage was the invasion of his house by soldiers, beating him, raping his queens, and burning his house. From that point, things fell apart as some of the queens were wounded, and some hospitalized. Though Fela was later released from jail, but things were not like before.
By the time the cast and crew were taking the final bow, the guests were sad that the play was ending because of its engaging nature.
Of course, there were many highlights at the wrap-up show, but the presence of some of Fela’s children was top among them. Yeni, Femi and Kunle graced the final show. Femi came with Bade, his first son who is studying music in the same university Fela studied in the UK.
As well, Laide and Lara, two of the living Fela Queens, were also at the wrap-up show.
Speaking at the show, Lara was appreciative of Bolanle AustenPeters for delving into this aspect of Fela’s life that was hardly in public domain.
“What you see this night is the real Kalakuta. Everything is pure, no artificial”, Lara said.
In same vein, Laide, another living Fela Queen, said, “This play truly depicts how Kalakuta used to be until soldiers came to beat, molested Fela and we the queens, but the burning of the house was the last thing they did and the attack impacted my health till today. The burning of Fela’s house affected us so much because they burnt our belongings. Fela took very good care of us, pay us our allowances and we had treasure”.
Yeni and Femi, both commended Bolanle Austen-peters for bringing to the fore other aspects of Fela’s life that many did not know, as well as, the superlative performance by the cast. But they decried that their father, family and the queens are yet to get justice. “The play is very emotional for us, especially at the end when they burnt the house. I usually shade tears because we lived through it. I will never forget the day we drove past my father’s house and it was burnt. I was with my brother, sister, mother and uncle. We have been trying to get to Fela all day and when we finally got there and saw the house and mother started screaming that they have killed them. So, every time I watch that part, I always cry because I live back to those days and I know that justice was never served to Fela or his wives or the family”.
For Femi, watching the play brought back pains. He asked those who are wondering why Fela’s children are not talking like their father to take to the streets and talk as Nigeria belongs to all.
“We saw all these happen to our father and family most Nigerians went back to their homes and pretended nothing happened because it wasn’t their families, they gave excuses why they could not support him. But some musicians across the world did worse than Fela, yet their country loved and supported them”, Femi said.
Excited at the successful staging of the play for 10 days, Bolanle Austen-peters, BAP Productions, noted that the stage play was launched in 2017 to portray and preserve the history of Nigerian activism and the role played by Fela and his wives in fighting to make the government accountable to its citizens.
She attributed the success to the incredible cast and crew, support from Fela’s family, especially Yeni and Femi, Laide and Lara, the two living Fela Queens, among others.
“The journey of ‘Fela’s Republic and the Kalakuta Queens’ started two and half years ago because we wanted to discover other aspects of Fela’s life, especially what happened to the women who worked with Fela. Again, Fela was so iconic that we forgot that he had children and they all went through the challenges at that time and even after”, she explained.
She was happy that Fela’s family, the living queens and the audience attested to the great delivery of the true life story on stage at Terra Kulture. She also thanked all the sponsors; MTN, Ecobank, Africa Magic, Amstel, Channels TV, among others, for helping BAP to actualize the musical project this feative season, while promising more fantastic shows.