Black Diaspora “Afrofuturizm” Music and Oral History of Activists Fela and Funmilayo Ransome Kuti
With the blessings of the Kuti family, in 2009 FELA produced by Shawn “Jay-Z” Carter and Will & Jada Pinkett-Smith opened at the Eugene O’Neill Theatre. Celebs such as Madonna, Danzel Washington, Sting, Harry Belafonte, Spike Lee, Michele Obama and Jeanne Zierten
attended with a half a million other people the first 15 months on Broadway. The show received 11 Tony nomination and three Tony Awards in 2010 .
What makes this particular diaspora musical play so powerful for me, as well as Greg Tate (“Black Rockers v. Blackies Who Rock, or the Difference between Race and Music”), is the “Afrofuturizm” (p. 19) of Fela’s blend of African and black America music, combined with the weaving of Oral History between Fela and Funmilayo Ransome Kuti, his mother, an aristocrat, nationalist and fiery feminist whose outspoken activism on behalf of the Nigerian anti-colonial movement won her the Lenin Peace Prize. Fela is their story of ‘civil rights’, their ‘oral history’ archived through a Broadway play.
Her political activism, represented throughout the play, would be the greatest influence on Fela, along with the US Black Power movement he discovered in 1969 through Sandra Smith, a partisan of the LA Black Panther Party. The black civil rights experience strongly influenced both his music and political views. He renamed the band Nigeria ’70 during a recording session in LA that would later be released as the 69′ Los Angeles Sessions.
Kuti’s militant and black power music brought down the wrath of the Nigerian government. After his first arrested in 1974, Kuti sought to uplift the poor through creating a society, Kalakuta, based on African traditions rather than the colonialist Western model. His music protested against government corruption, military brutality, and neocolonialism. After 1974, he was arrested by the Nigerian government a number of times and in 1977 one thousand Nigerian soldiers stormed Kalakuta. The soldiers raped the women, threw Kuti’s mother out of a window fatally killing her, and then they burned down the commune, after which Kuti and his followers were exiled to Ghana (Fela Playbill, Fela Photo Play Catalogue, Unreliable Wikipedia).