I recently had the privilege of seeing Finding Fela. The film is directed by Alex Gibney and shows the life of Fela Kuti, his music and the Broadway musical that helped bring his story to the world. Before I get too far into this posting, I have to be honest and admit that I was initially quite skeptical about this documentary. I’m easily annoyed by people who hold onto things for too long and refuse to let them fade away when they’re supposed to. Because I was part of the original cast of the Broadway show from 2009 to 2011, I assumed that the production company may have been milking Fela’s story a little too long. I couldn’t have been more wrong!
After hearing a few testimonials as well as rumors of footage of the original Broadway cast being in the show, I became a bit curious. I then heard from a friend that the MIST Harlem was showing the film and it dawned on me that I couldn’t pick a more ideal theatre for me to see the film. Being a part of the show introduced me to so much in my life including the simple things like helping me afford to move out on my own to my first apartment in Harlem. When coincidences like that line up, I try to see the message they point to. In this case, the obvious message screamed “El, put your preconceived notions to the side and go see the film!” I showed up early the very next day and noticed that it was the film’s Harlem premier (random coincidence?). After a few speeches, the lights dimmed and the film began. Enjoying footage of our cast performing the opening number led to me getting chills of excitement and smiling from ear to ear. I think I even squealed in delight and startled the unlucky souls seated next to me! I did get control of myself and behaved reasonably well for the rest of the film in case you’re wondering. The nostalgic memories faded away as my amazement for all of the things I began to learn about Fela grew. I saw how his experiences with corruption in his country helped to forge his determination and resolve. Watching his music evolve to Afrobeat was equally entrancing. Because he was bold, slightly outrageous and passionate, I’ve always been a huge Fela fan but the film really helped open my eyes to how brave and strong he was in the face of seemingly insurmountable obstacles. He always found a way to beat the odds and achieve his goals, even when those closest to him, including his family, believed he would fail miserably. The more examples of this the film showed, the more respect I felt for him and the more inspired I became to carry on his mission. Because he allowed his creativity to flow uninhibited by the existing genres of music, he created his own genre that is now studied and revered in addition to becoming the iconic trailblazer whose story continues to touch the souls of everyone who hears it.
While reflecting on some of the film’s messages later that evening, I couldn’t help but think of some of the challenges Acute Inflections faces creating music that is rich but minimalistic, lyrics that are thought stopping and provoking while having the combination remain easily appreciated and understood by those who may not be musically inclined. It’s hard work and it’s taking us a while to perfect but to summarize one of Fela’s messages from the film, “anything one creates to last must be done right.” We want our music to outlive us and the messages that it delivers to speak wholeness to all that are willing to listen.
One more pseudo random coincidence before I end this verbose post. Sadiki and I met because of Fela. He was a huge fan of the show and saw it several times. We officially met for the first time at a Fela Queen Concert I performed in after the show ended on Broadway and we’ve been musically inseparable ever since. Obviously there’s a lot more to the story like me forcing him to end his ten year retirement from playing and demanding that he drive to Philadelphia and retrieve his bass but if I told you everything, you would have no reason to come back and read more of our posts!
To sum this up, Acute Inflections wouldn’t exist if it wasn’t for Fela and the incredible life that he lived. Thank you Fela Kuti. We fully intend on carrying on your legacy!
PS – And go see the film TODAY!