Fela Kuti’s biographer sues over musical

Fela Anikulapo Kuti has been hailed as the Muhammad Ali, James Brown and Bob Dylan of Africa, all wrapped into one.

And modern hip-hop wouldn’t exist without the late Afrobeat star. But Kuti, the African revolutionary, musical visionary and polygamist, who married 27 women on the same day in 1978, is turning out to be as controversial in death as he was in life.

An award-winning American musical based on his life, reported in Friday in the Mail & Guardian‘s October 29 edition, has been lavishly praised. But the production has been hit with a $5-million lawsuit.

Carlos Moore, the musician’s only official biographer, claims that the producers of Fela! breached his copyright by failing to credit his book, Fela: This Bitch of a Life, as a source.

“I felt hurt and humiliated. It was a slap in the face,” Moore, a highly respected African-Cuban scholar, told The-Latest.com.

In a Manhattan federal court filing Moore says he was approached in 2007 and offered a “grossly insufficient” sum of $4 000 for the rights to his authorised biography, which was published in 1982 during Kuti’s lifetime and reissued last year.

Rejecting the offer, Moore demanded “an advance and participation in the royalty pool”. But, he says, no further offer was ever made.

In his writ, Moore says after his refusal the playwright, Jim Lewis, and director, Bill T Jones, went on to use his book to develop their musical without the author’s “knowledge, authorisation or consent”. Fela!, which opened on Broadway less than a year ago to ecstatic reviews, has won three 2010 Tony awards.

By the time it closes later this year, more than 400 000 people will have bought tickets to it. It is a success the producers hope to repeat later this month when the show opens on London’s South Bank.

Richard Kornberg, a spokesperson for Fela!, told the New York Post he was “shocked” by the suit, pointing out that Moore took part in publicity efforts for the show, including a film clip on YouTube in which he praises the musical for its “tremendous accuracy”. —

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Amelia Hill
Amelia Hill works from London. Senior Reporter at The Guardian, with specific interest in ageing issues. Amelia Hill has over 7937 followers on Twitter.

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