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19 Sep 2014 00:00
Fela Kuti's larger-than-life character made him the centre of attention, whether performing on stage or playing some table tennis. (Leni Sinclair)
Finding Fela, Alex Gibney’s documentary, celebrates the life of the visionary Nigerian musician and social activist, Fela Kuti.
It comes as the latest in a posthumous outpouring that is proving relentless. Albums are being re-released, FELA! the musical is in full swing and, perhaps most importantly, Fela’s self- proclaimed Kalakuta Republic in the heart of Lagos has been resurrected as the New Afrika Shrine.
Fela’s home/studio/nightclub was burned down by the Nigerian army in response to his 1977 Zombie album, the title song of which, performed here by the FELA! band, features on Finding Fela as one of three tracks that isn’t a Fela Kuti original.
A big question arises here: Can you respectfully edit a Fela Kuti track for a compilation when the majority weigh in at around 10 minutes? Somewhat tactfully, shorter tracks such as Jeun Ko Ku and Viva Nigeria have been included on the two-disc set.
Tracks that have been edited may indeed be frustrating for fans, but an unobvious selection – the excellent female-led Upside Down, for example – will probably reset the balance by reliving some forgotten Afrobeat favourites.
As an all-encompassing closer, Fela’s son Femi, backed by the FELA! band, play Colonial Mentality live at the New Afrika Shrine.
As you’d hope, the energy is infectious.
Finding Fela premieres in Nigeria next month at Felabration (felabration.net) the 13th annual music and arts festival celebrating the musical icon from October 13 to 19.
To view a slideshow go to mg.co.za/Fela
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