As we celebrate June being Black Music Month.. We wanted to focus our attention on Fela Kuti… This Nigerian born singer is celebrated all over the world for his infectious rhythms which many like to call Afro-Beats, but its important to note that to Fela music was not just a commodity to be brought and sold and judged by its position on Billboard Pop charts.. In the tradition of African culture, music took on a lot more weight. It was a form of communication. It was a way to excite, to inform and to heal.. For Fela music was a weapon and throughout his life he used it effectively…
The Broadway Play Fela is back in the Bay Area doing its last week run and we sat down and talk to the lead actor Adesola Osakalumi about his extensive award-winning background in dance, theater and Hip Hop and the Fela role is excellently executes. We talked to him about what it takes to transform into Fela Kuti every night..
Adesola explained that it’s a process where he spends a lot of time preparing.. He firmly believes in the age-old adage.. ‘If you stay Ready, You don’t have to get ready‘.. So Adesola stays physically and mentally sharp. For him, preparing for Fela was not just about memorizing lines or song and dance routines. It’s about being fully versed about Fela’s life and deeply understanding his political ideology which is Pan Africanism. It’s about knowing the type of commitment and love Fela had for his people resulting in him shunning lucrative recording deals from companies based in London and the US so he can stay in Lagos and go hard against an oppressive government.
In our sit-down with Adesola, he gives us a thorough breakdown on Fela, one that all of us should know.. He talks about how Fela’s home was constantly being raided by the the Nigerian Army especially after he did the song Zombie which was scathing critique of the Nigerian military.. In response over 1000 soldiers raided his home..They threw his elderly mother out a window killing her and severly beat him to within an inch of his life.
This horrific raid and killing of his mother didn’t stop Fela, Adesola explained. He continued to record and kick up dust, Adesola explained.In our interview it was noted that Fela’s music enraged multi-national corporations because he would name check them and let the world know how they were pillaging African resources. Songs like ITT (international Thief Thief) really set things off.
With respect to Adesola himself, he’s no joke. As mentioned earlier his roots are deep in Hip Hop.. His return to the Bay Area was received with enthusiasm especially among some of the regions pioneering figures in the Hip Hop dance world. For them Adesola is not just an actor playing lead in Fela, he’s a ground breaker in Hip Hop. In our interview Adesola talks about meeting and teaming up with Hip Hop dance legends from around the country like Pop Master Fabel, Rocksteady Crew, Electric Boogaloos, Demons of the Mind, Shabadoo and Boogaloo Shrimp to name few and them kicking off Ghettoriginal Productions which brought to life a landmark theater piece called Jam on the Groove..
That production was a building block for what we know today as Hip Hop theater, as it showcased the awe-inspiring street dances from coast to coast that are foundations for Hip Hop culture. In the clip below you can see one of their signature routines as well as folks talking specifically how Hip Hop and culture are weapons against oppression… You also see Adesola doing his thing with the other legends.
In our interview Adesola explains the important connection that Hip Hop has to Fela and why anyone who is into the this art needs to know the history. He notes that Fela was a human rights activist first and foremost who dedicated himself to fighting oppression. At its core that’s what Hip Hop was about. It was a response to oppressive conditions that sadly over the years has seen a lot of it commercialized and redirected.
We also talked about how many in today’s generation are rediscovering Fela resulting in a lot of stifling industry created walls, categories and barriers being broken down. Fela and music in general rooted in Black/African self-expression is not to be relegated to 3.45 seconds with immense pressure to make first weeks sales. It’s refreshing to see and hear Fela as regular part of the music offerings by popular deejays like Rich Medina, Bobbito and Questlove of the Roots to name a few. Years before they hit the scene, Hip Hop founding fathers like Afrika Bambaataa would rock Fela at early park jams..Later,ground breaking groups like X-Clan would sample Fela.. ‘Grand Verbalizer’ is one such song..
As Adesola notes in our interview Fela’s music is timeless and serves a deeper purpose. In addition we are now seeing a lot of contemporary artists re connecting with music and musicians from the continent.. Adesola breaks all this down.. Peep our Hard Knock Radio interview below..
Here’s some food for thought as we leave out… His remarks and insight are timeless..