Adapted from the full-scale stage production, Fela! The Concert is a high-energy, constantly moving concert documenting the life and music of Nigerian musician and activist, Fela Kuti, and his invention of AfroBeat music. Though the songs themselves feel a little bare without the rest of the production to accompany them, the production is lively, fun, and adds some much-needed colour to the Festival calendar.
The traditional, upper-crust Adelaide Festival audience receive a shock to the system as the show starts, and the audience are pulled from their seats in order to receive a lesson in gyrating, AfroBeat style. Being a loud spectator and a proud dancer is highly encouraged in this show; I thoroughly recommend a drink or two beforehand.
AfroBeat music combines traditional Ghanaian and Nigerian influences with Western ones such as jazz and funk, producing frenetic, rhythmically complex and often very fast performances. In a concert format, with one song following another without much dialogue or action to break it up, the show seems to lack dynamics; it’s all light and no shade.
However the songs themselves are interesting, and a welcome break from the often-mundane topic choices of Western popular musicians. Fela’s music tackles the issues that were prevalent in Nigeria during his career in the 70s, discussing topics ranging from inequality to inflation. The colourful and lively backdrop is sometimes used as a canvas for subtitles, which, with such fast-paced lyrics, really helps the political content hit home.
[pull_left]From the songs to the sets, Fela! The Concert screams colour and excitement[/pull_left]
Adesola Osakalumi plays Fela with a confidence and a passion that reminds us that many of the issues faced by Fela and his peers are still present and important today. Osakalumi’s role is a difficult one, having to maintain the challenging vocals, choreography, and Fela’s unique use of Pidgin English, but he seems to have no trouble, performing with an unshakeable enthusiasm.
The choreography walks the tricky line between unison and individual expression – even when the dancers are dancing together, they each perform with a style that is thoroughly their own. Particularly in Australia, where we are so rarely exposed to it, it is easy to forget the intense strength and musicality that is required for modern African dance. However, any illusions you may have about the difficulty of the medium will be shattered when you watch Fela’s dancers hop across the room while in the splits.
The same can be said for the musicians; if you haven’t seen saxophonist Alex Harding play the keyboard with his saxophone hanging from his neck, and then switching to the saxophone in a fraction of a second, it should go on your bucket list.
From the songs to the sets, Fela! The Concert screams colour and excitement. It’s fun and uncomplicated, and is a rare, important opportunity to hear about the issues facing African people from the perspective of African people. Though it’s a shame that the Adelaide Festival didn’t present the entire Fela! production, this is certainly a taste that will leave you wanting more.