by Ifeanyi Dike Jr
On the 21st of April, a varied crowd of Nigerians – from nobel laureate Professor Wole Soyinka and Lagos state governor Tunde Fashola, to corporate professionals and students – gathered at the New Expo Hall, Eko Hotel Lagos to see the highly acclaimed musical, Fela!
Just before the actors took to the stage, a producer of the show gave a brief prologue and went on to introduce Lagos state Governor, Tunde Fashola and his predecessor Asiwaju Bola Tinubu. The producer spoke about the role the latter played in bringing the musical home, to Lagos. Tinubu took the spotlight next, expressing how he couldn’t contain the joy he felt when he watched the show in New York alongside dignitaries such as Dame Helen Mirren and US first lady Michelle Obama. “This show is a representation of what Fela stood for,” the former governor said, humorously reminding the audience of some of Fela’s famous quotes: “I.T.T (international thief thief)” and “Omi o ni ota (water no get enemy)”.
Fashola of course made the crowd roar with just a wave of his hand. He ended the prologue by first thanking Tinubu, and the youths who worked hard to make sure the show came together. He welcomed the audience to an evening that henceforth signified the Lagos Black Heritage Week. “Welcome to Lagos, the Centre of Excellence,” he said and the crowd chanted with him “Eko o ni baje o!”
And so the show began! With an explosion of several winding behinds, thrilling beats, and powerful notes, Fela (played by Sahr Ngaujah) was ushered onto the stage.
The show comprised of three key parts, which put together, made for the best musical Nigeria has ever seen.
The monologues served to tell the story, addressing such sensitive issues as Fela’s fight against bad leadership, corruption and injustice. From his relationship with his mother to his escapades overseas, the monologues expertly wove a tale that touched the deep aspects of the legend’s personal life in a way that very few knew about.
Then there were the dance routines which exuded an energy and vibrance that seemed to leap off the stage and into the crowd. The cast covered a wide variety of classical and traditional dance genres: ballet, jazz, tap, high life and more, still staying true to the theme with each routine’s distinct Nigerian vibe. Routines like the clock dance and the book dance also added a dash of humour to the very dramatic story line.
The show would have been incomplete without the singing, as there were moments when the audience couldn’t help but sing along to Fela anthems like “Zombie” and “Teacher”. The character of Fela wasn’t the only one in the spotlight; his mother (played by Lillias White) was enjoyable, and even fantastic in her role. Particularly notable was her performance of one of Fela’s most loved singles “Wahala”, to the excitement and cheer of the crowd. Also, Saycon Sengbloh, (in the role of Sandy) excelled in the singing department as she hit lofty notes while touching on cheerless issues such as racism.
Other highlights included the true-to-life portrayal of moments in Fela’s life, such as his relationship with his mother, Funmilayo Ransome Kuti, and his humorous quotes like “never let good igbo (marijuana) go to waste!”
From beginning to end, principal actor Ngaujah, allowed for open dialogue, and there was constant communication with the audience. We couldn’t get enough, as even after nearly three hours and a final “Ke re ke ke di ke ke” performance, the audience gave a resounding applause that went on for minutes.
Fela! in Lagos: a befitting show in honor of a legend!
Photos by Coco for YNaija