Okay, again SOOO much to say, but first lemme say thank you to Oberlin for the one good deed of not putting an expiration date on my student ID, the student rush prices thank my pocket sincerely. And the “obstructed view” seat was HILARIOUS because it was in the orchestra to the left right smack dab in front of the side runway part of the stage and a thin pole about 8 feet away was the obstruction. HA! Great seats for $27 and a few seats away somebody paid $79.
[spoiler alert!] Anyway, THE SHOW WAS GRRRRREEEAT!!! I’m going to start with the dancers because they were more or less right up in my face the whole night. These women’s legs were insane, straight up total muscle. And they’d have to be for how much dancing they were doing, literally nonstop West African for the whole 2 or so hours. (and ladies and gentlemen not the baby stuff of dance diaspora, I’m talking whole body moving 100% ALL the time, knees high, lord I was tired watching them, AND singing full out). The men were great dancers, especially the tap dancer, but I have to give this one to the ladies for the nonstop energy.
The singing and music was on point as well. It was funny because the only non-black faces on stage were the musicians, but it didn’t take away from the feeling of being in Nigeria with Fela and his Queens. There was one male (besides Fela) who sang his face off in what I can, idk, best describe as singing in a traditional language…yea not a great description, but he sang his face off. As did Patti LaBelle (which is to be expected) who played Funmilayo Kuti, who (I didn’t really know before tonight) was an amazing ass activist—look her up!
The set design made you feel like you were right there in Fela’s shrine with him at a concert; 4th wall down the whole night. The entire theater was decorated, and the way they played with light and film—imposing the film pieces all over the theater on top of different pieces of art or through the art, was just incredible. Plus they would put the lyrics to the songs on the back wall on top of whatever other images/films were being featured. Not to mention their use of light and UV light with the paint and the screens, and the film on the screens—CRAZY! I have to say visually my favorite scene of the night was when Fela called on the Orixas so that he could speak to his mother: all in UV light with the dancers in reflective skirts, whole bodies covered in white paint designs, the background scenery illuminated in designs, and the 2 drop down screens with the moving pictures displayed on it. It was just too good.
But even beyond the thrill of a concert like performance, the amazing dancers, music, stunts, lighting, use of technology—was the social commentary throughout. I mean you’d really have to be totally dense or vapid to walk away from Fela not thinking critically about the acts of human cruelty going on right now–government corruption, and oppression. Even though they kept comical relief throughout in ironic and sarcastic statements, they were really dark comments that made you laugh out loud because of how they were phrased, but in reality weren’t that funny.
They could have kept it in time by only referencing things in the 60s/70s, but they made it relevant. In one of the pieces on international thieves the dancers held up all these signs of different international/multinational companies that are just f*ing the world up and there were many I didn’t recognize, but appearing on the list was Monsanto, BP, IMF, and the WTO among many.
Then when the Shrine was attacked, it turned quickly from—oh look at how cool this nameless, faceless dancer moves—to—each dancer one by one having graphic details posted of them on the wall with their mugshot of how they were abused, raped, assaulted, attacked, what have you, by the “police.” And the end was incredibly powerful with the coffins and all the different issues/names painted on them piled up literally to the ceiling. As soon as a dancer would put one down they’d disappear and come back with more. The words/phrases painted on these coffins ranged from topics such as the disproportionate rate of AIDS infected people in Africa, to tradition, common sense, Haiti, corruption, fear=death, rape, Fela, and so on…there was even a box featured that said “I am Sean Bell.”
They took it from just a Nigerian context and made it relevant to an international struggle, mostly of African and African descended people, but of oppressed peoples in general. It was a really powerful show—phenomenal—and I’m so happy I got to see it before it closes.