A self-acclaimed Republic complete with a President and loyal Queens. Wait? Ought it not to be a King and a Queen? But in this case, it is a black President and the KK Queens because this is no ordinary man. This is the legendary Fela Anikulapo Kuti, hailed as one of Africa’s most challenging and charismatic music performers.
In the 70s, a new sound of music began to gain popularity across Nigeria. This music genre will come to be known as Afrobeats pioneered by the legendary Fela. Every Friday night, throngs of young and old people would gather at the “African Shrine”, a place where musical genius met with humanity, using the art of music to speak against societal ills. Fela along with the gyrating Kalakuta Queens & his Egypt 80 band were the stars of the show. The impact of his music grew so much the government in power sort to curtail him through continuous harassment and detentions (He was alleged to have been detained over 200 times in various cells). This only served to make his music louder and his lyrics bolder! These trials served as fuel for Fela’s creativity. He may have died in 1997 but of recent, his legend continues to live on via the musical “Fela and the Kalakuta Queens.”
Fela and the Kalakuta Queens
A lot is known about Fela and his personality but little is known about the numerous women that surrounded him and how they influenced his music. This musical produced by Bolanle Austen Peters brings to the limelight a side of Fela that the world may not have had a glimpse into previously. It shines a light on his daily life, his music writing, daily squabbles between him and the queens, his record label and the government.
Fela is played by the amazing Patrick Diabua and oh boy, this guy was so in character that Fela would have been pleased to watch him all night long. Patrick offered a convincing insight into Fela’s life so much so that even if this was your first time hearing about Fela, you would be so captivated and intrigued by his life.
Bolanle Austen Peters’ “Fela and the Kalakuta Queens” attempts to shine the spotlight on the Kalakutu Queens. Fela was always in the spotlight no thanks to his constant run-ins with the government of the day but little was known about the KK Queens apart from the supporting cast they provided for his music. The musical delves into the everyday life of Fela and the KK Queens. A particular scene portrays how the KK Queens provided a hostile welcome to a lady named Malaika who was trying to warm her way into Fela’s heart. When she couldn’t stand the heat anymore and had to leave, a nice song was sung for her “If you try us Maliaka, we go show you pepper…Make nobody joke with KK Queens or we go treat you like Malaika.”
Another vivid scene that comes to mind was the shakara of one of the KK Queens towards Fela and that was the background for one of Fela’s songs called “Lady.” There were also moments that showed the constant bickering and fights that happened in Kalakuta Republic between the Queens ranging from whose turn it was to go into Kalakondo (this was the name given to spending intimate time with Fela. There was actually a timetable for all the Queens) to the shaming of a particular KK Queen who tried to bleach her skin and another Queen whose make-up kit was always missing.
It certainly was a republic filled with lots of daily drama but the plug that held all together was Fela and his music. There was a certain pull that the Queens could not resist whenever he showed up! Bolanle Austen Peters confirmed at the end of the show that all the events portrayed were real life accounts with details gotten from some of the Queens who are still alive and Fela’s relatives.
BAP’s production team was something else! From the band to stage management, it was just a sheer delight to see one of the greatest musical productions out of Nigeria flow so seamlessly. The band played music that stirred the heart and left you tapping your feet all night long. Their musicianmanship and transitions between different sets and songs is one of the best you will ever hear in your life. The sound was pristine and crystal clear. It felt like you were in a studio with headphones on and you could hear all the instruments including the shekere (a tiny calabash with beads around it that gives a shrill sound when shaken).
The video effects team had the right backdrop on the screen for every song connecting what was been sang with the right images/video so as to create a lasting impression in your mind. The stage lightening was electrifying! It provided the right ambience for the production from start to finish and it added to the elements of the production that kept everyone spellbound as the black president and his Queens dished out tune after tune.
What next for the black President & the KK Queens?
Bolanle Austen Peters intends to take the show outside the shores of Nigeria to offer the international audience a glimpse into the life of a man whose works spread far beyond the reach of Africa. She already has plans in the works to showcase the musical in leading cities in Europe and America.
If you are ever in Nigeria or you hear that “Fela and the Kalakuta Queens” is showing in your city, please do all you can to be there. It will be an experience of a lifetime that you will never forget. I promise you! This article attempts to highlight the magic moments of the musical but there is no greater feeling than physically enjoying such a magnificent performance. I still get chills just watching the videos I made on my phone. Massive thanks to Bolanle Austen Peters and the entire cast & crew for giving us art in its purest form. Generations yet unborn will thank you for laying the foundation for some to continue building on.