Tag Archives: Fela Kuti

Film Review: Finding Fela

written by Lee Pinkerton
11/09/14

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

 

Forthcoming Musical Biopics

written by Lee Pinkerton
25/07/14

If you like biographical films about your musical heroes as much as we do here at KushFilmsOnLine, then you’re in for a treat over the next few months. There is not one, or two, but three lined up for release before the end of the year, and three more in production which should hopefully find their way to us next year.

First to get a UK release is a documentary on the controversial inventor of Afro-beat –  Nigeria’s Fela Kuti.

finding_fela_poster_art_pFinding Fela 
There have been literally dozens of documentaries on Jamaica’s reggae ambassador, but virtually nothing on his Nigerian equivalent –Fela Kuti the creator of Afro-beat. A film on this great man’s life is long overdue, especially since the young musical offspring of his creation has enjoyed such success of late.
Whilst drumming up support for his new Broadway musical, FELA! producer Stephen Hendel described Nigerian Afrobeat exponent Kuti as “without question one of the great composers and musicians and activists of the second half of the 20th century.”
Alex Gibney’s Finding Fela  is described as “A soulful ‘Felabration’ of the magnetic Kuti, with archive footage of the snake-hipped lothario interspersed with  live recording of the hugely successful FELA!, the first Broadway show to ever make the journey from New York to the bustling Nigerian capital city of Lagos.”
Gibney’s Finding Fela serves as a long overdue reassessment of a hugely influential artist who – until relatively recently – had been criminally overlooked by those outside of his home nation. The filmmakers have tried to provide as rounded and comprehensive a portrait of the Afrobeat pioneer as was possible given the relatively sparse archive footage available. Gibney flits between Hendel’s simplified stage production and Kuti’s real-life political persona: a man who taught his country that music could be their weapon against oppression.

Finding Fela enjoys a UK release on September 5th.  Look out for it

 

Get On Up get_on_up_large poster
Another musical pioneer who career has been strangely neglected on-screen, given his great musical influence and his iconic status is the ‘Hardest Working man in Showbusiness’, James Brown.  That is set to change with the release this year of Get On Up.  It chronicles the Godfather of Soul’s rise from extreme poverty to become one of the most influential musicians in history.
Chadwick Boseman stars in the title role, and Boseman has form when it comes to bio-pics, having previously played Jackie Robinson in movie 42, (which told the story of the first Black man in to play baseball in America major leagues). It also stars Oscar winner Viola Davis as Susie Brown, Octavia Spencer (who we recently saw in the powerful true story  Fruitvale Station), songstress Jill Scott as DeeDee Brown, and our very own Lennie James as Joe Brown.
If this movie is true to his life story then it should provide a bumpy ride, because as well as creating Funk, dining with Presidents, and (at his peak) owning private jets, a radio station and a record label, Brown’s life was peppered with accusations of wife-beating, drug abuse and imprisonment.

Not long now till we find out, as Get On Up is released in the UK on September 26th

Jimi: All Is By My SideAll-is-by-my-side-movie-poster-295x441
This film stars rapper-turned-actor Andre Benjamin (aka Andre 3000 from rap group Outkast) in the title role of guitar legend Jimi Hendrix in this revealing biopic from Academy Award-winning writer-director John Ridley.
Covering a year in Hendrix’s life from 1966-67 as an unknown backup guitarist playing New York’s Cheetah Club to making his mark in London’s music scene up until his Monterey Pop triumph, the film presents an intimate portrait of the sensitive young musician on the verge of becoming a rock legend.
Benjamin’s previous acting credits include Be Cool, (the disappointing sequel to Get Shorty), and Four Brothers alongside Mark Walberg and Tyrese.  All Is By My Side  is also noteable as it was written and directed by John Ridley who wrote the screenplays for the films Undercover Brother (2002) and Cold Around the Heart (1997) and the story for Three Kings (1999). Ridley is also the author of seven published novels, his first, Stray Dogs, was made into the feature film U Turn (1997) directed by Oliver Stone and starring Sean Penn, Jennifer Lopez, and Nick Nolte. Most recently he was also responsible for the screenplay for the Oscar winning 12 Years A Slave.
All is By My Side is slated for release in the UK on October 10th

That takes us up until the end of the year.  The next three movies have yet to have release dates and two are mired in controversy.

 

Nina!

Revealed - Zoe Saldana as Nina Simone

Revealed – Zoe Saldana as Nina Simone

Nina! is the story of the late jazz musician and classical pianist Nina Simone including her rise to fame and relationship with her manager Clifton Henderson. It is described as ‘a  rare and poignant love story about a tormented genius who eventually finds love and peace’.
In development for at least 5 years, Mary J. Blige was initially attached to star in the film, but she was eventually replaced by Zoe Saldana who brought more international box office gravitas to the production.
But fans weren’t too pleased at news of Saldana’s casting. While her acting may not be an issue, fans and critics say she doesn’t look the part noting her thin frame and fair skin. 
The one constant actor throughout the ordeal is our own David Oyelowo, who plays Simone’s Paris-based manager Clifton HendersonMike Epps plays Richard Pryor in the film.
During a recent interview Saldana discussed the role and took the time to respond to her critics.
” I’m human. I wish I was made of steel and so certain things wouldn’t affect me. So it did affect me, but I couldn’t let that deter me from doing what I needed to do.
Just like everybody else, I feel very strongly about Nina Simone, and that was a story that needed to be told. I do believe that if everybody had more information about how this all came to be, it might help; but then again, I’m not here to get the acceptance of everyone — I’m here to be an artist first. Hopefully, people will enjoy the film and I helped shed some light on this amazing icon.”

According to The Hollywood Reporter, Saldana’s role isn’t the only thing causing a stir with the film.  Cynthia Mort, the director of the film, filed a lawsuit against the film’s producer claiming she was left out of certain key decisions.  Mort says as a result, she is not pleased with the direction of the film.  She is seeking monetary damages as well as “a declaration that the defendants can’t make decisions without her meaningful approval and consultation.”
No word yet on when the film will be released.

 

NWA – Straight Outta Compton

Unveiled by Dr. Dre, Ice Cube & director F. Gary Gray  - three of the cast members of NWA bio-pic

Unveiled by Dr. Dre & Ice Cube – three of the cast members of NWA bio-pic

Any true fan of hip-hop knows the importance of the group NWA.  With their 1988 debut album they put the West Coast of the US on the hip-hop map, and helped define the sub-genre of Gangsta Rap. Last month, Universal announced that Straight Outta Compton, a biopic about the gangsta rap pioneers, will finally get a release date after years in development. Is also worth noting that some 25 years later, two of the groups original members are still major players in the film and music industry.  The men in question, Ice Cube and Dr Dre, who are also producers of the film, tweeted out a photo of the cast.

Since director F. Gary Gray (Friday, Set It Off, The Italian Job) held an open casting call for the film last April, the roles of Ice Cube, Dr Dre and Eazy-E have been cast, mostly with up and coming actors.  Ice Cube’s son, is slated to play his dad, who left the group in 1989 and went on to have an impressive solo career. Relative unknown Jason Mitchell will play role of Eazy-E. Corey Hawkins, who had a bit part in Iron Man 3, will play rapper-turned-headphone-impresario Dr Dre. (The roles of MC Ren and DJ Yella have not yet been cast.)
But this month, the casting of female roles caused major controversy.  A casting call for the movie was posted on the Facebook page of the Sande Alessi Casting company requesting the “hottest of the hottest” girls with “great bodies,” to the “fine” girls who “should be light-skinned,” right down to the girls who are “not in good shape” with “medium to dark skin tone,”
Understandably this request was met with accusations of  colorism and sexism.  Hopefully the production team can put this right, and get filming back on track in time for its scheduled release next year.

 

Don Cheadle as Miles Davis

Don Cheadle as Miles Davis

Miles Ahead
And last but by no means least, filming has just started on a picture that will tell the story of jazz legend Miles Davis. Miles Ahead doesn’t attempt to tell his whole life story, but instead will focus on the time when Davis was ending his 5-year “quiet period” out of the public eye. Most of the movie is set in 1979 New York, when Davis recruits reporter Dave Brill (played by Ewan McGregor) to retrieve a recording stolen from the musician’s home.  It will also feature flashbacks to Davis’s affair with former wife Frances Taylor from 1956 to 1966.

It is a very personal project for Don Cheadle who directs and stars in the title role, and co-wrote the script. It is Cheadle’s directorial debut.  Shooting has just started in Cincinnati, and was years in development due to difficulty raising the finance. Cheadle eventually turned to crowd funding, raising over $343,000 with a campaign on Indiegogo.

No idea when this will get a release, but in the meantime let’s look forward to the release Finding Fela in September.

Lee Pinkerton