My FELA! Experience

Monday, 25 February 2013 15:11 Written by  Iya Bakare

I was introduced to Fela Anikulapo-Kuti’s music as a child before I was acquainted with his ideals as a young adult. Like Fela, the sounds of Frank Sinatra and other artists (including the Yoruba activist) trumpeted through the hallways of our Lakeview apartment in Chicago. I remember there was something different about the mood my Nigerian father was in when he played this music. I remember the dominant sounds of the horns, like in the musician’s hits “Water No Get Enemy” and “Zombie”. This universal language of music was something my American mother was able to comprehend, even when she wasn’t able to understand my father, who migrated to the U.S. a few years prior for medical school. Much like the love story of Fela and Sandra Izsadore, two worlds came together, grasped an understanding of one another and a level of appreciation for each other’s culture.

I’ve haven’t visited Nigeria yet, but my first and second experiences with FELA! on Broadway in Chicago took me home. Produced by Shawn “Jay-Z” Carter, Will and Jada Smith and Ruth and Stephen Hendel, this show evokes all the memories I had from childhood. The production, the cast and the musicians, directed and choreographed by Bill T. Jones, takes the audience to a different place and prolific time in history as it tells the biographical story of the musician, whose music spoke to the corrupt politics in his native Nigeria. In this production, which was at Chicago’s Arie Crown Theater, Adesola Osakalumi portrays the revolutionist and multi-award winning singer and actress Michelle Williams plays the role of Sandra Izsadore, whose influence made a large contribution to Fela’s views on the political unrest in his country and his music. Together, Fela and Sandra created Afrobeat, which blends funk, jazz and African beats, along with prolific lyrics.

The music is just part of the experience. The pulsating beats from the music, the energy from the singers and the dancing won’t let you remain motionless. It engages the crowd and together we participate with the cast as we sing along and move with the beats. As we sing along, read the lyrics to the songs and ingest them, we leave the theater with more than feeling entertained. With the inquisitive seed my father recognized in me as a child, I left my FELA! experience (like last year) wanting to learn more about my culture and its history.

For more information on FELA! on Broadway, visit

Photos courtesy of FELA! on Broadway

Iya Bakare

Iya Bakare

Iya Bakare, GMO's managing editor, earned both her Bachelor and Master of Arts degrees in print journalism. She earned her B.A. from Delta State University with a minor in English and graduated with a M.A. degree from Columbia College Chicago. In her spare time, the Chicago native continues to freelance and ponder ways to both inform and improve her community one story at a time.

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