Tag Archives: afrobeat

Film Review: Finding Fela

written by Lee Pinkerton

finding_fela_poster_art_pIn my humble opinion, there are four giants of conscious Black music from the 1970s. James Brown, Stevie Wonder,  Bob Marley, and Fela Kuti.  Stevie Wonder is still with us touring and performing; there is a biopic about the life of James Brown to be released later this year;  and documentaries on Bob Marley are too numerous to mention. Undoubtedly the least well known of these artists in the west is Nigeria’s Fela Kuti.  But for Fela, more than any of the others mentioned, music truly was a revolutionary weapon.  Recently Kuti has started to enjoy a greater international exposure .

In 2009 there was a Broadway play featuring the great man’s music, and now this feature length (all two hours of it) documentary.

These docs always feature interviews with music critics and those who worked with the artist in question, and this film is no exception.  There are interviews with his long-time drummer Tony Allen, artist Lemi Ghariokwu (who illustrated 26 Fela album covers) and Fela’s African American ex-girlfriend and political tutor Sandra Izadore.

What I’d really like to have seen is more archive interviews with the man himself, and footage of him in his pomp in the 1970s, performing at his legendary Shrine nightclub. Unfortunately there is precious little of this, but the filmmakers  they try and make up for it with lots of footage from the Broadway play, and it times it seems more like a documentary on the making of the stage play than on the man himself.

This criticism aside, all the biographical information is here  – his elite family background, his education in London, his consciousness raising visit to the US in the late 60s, his creation of the new genre of Afrobeat, his clashes with the Nigerian government, the setting up of his compound the Kalakuta Republic, his joint wedding to  27 brides, his political activism, his numerous arrests and imprisonments, and his untimely death due to AIDS.

A nice touch is interviews with three of his children Seun, Femi and Yeni.

Though Fela was fearless in his goading of Nigeria’s corrupt military dictatorship, it is revealing to hear how fearful his children were of the trouble he brought on the family with his criticism of the authorities, which resulted in the army assault on his compound and the murder of his mother.

If you are not already familiar with the legend and music of the great man, this doc will help you get familiar.  And even if you are already acquainted with the music of the man, there is still more you can learn here.  Recommended for Afrobeat neophytes and veterans alike.

Lee Pinkerton

Finding Fela is in selected cinemas now