If you have ever read the biography Fela: This Bitch of a Life by Carlos Moore, you get an unfiltered view into the mind of one of Nigeria’s most iconic musical exports, Fela Anikulapo Kuti, better known as Fela Kuti.
In his eccentric life, which was fuelled by his passion for social justice, wokism that was woke before woke was a thing and the power of music, one fact that is often treated as something of an urban legend is the relationship with his 27 wives, or the queens as they were called. In the above-mentioned book, you would have been introduced to them.
However, if reading is not your strong suit, then perhaps the musical Fela and The Kalakuta Queens, which will be showing at the State Theatre, until April 7, could be the solution.
Written and directed by Bolanle Austen Peters, the show highlights the importance of the queens in Fela’s life and music.
Chatting to producer Joseph Umoibom, he said the creation of the show was assisted, in part, by interviews with the queens and one of Fela’s children.
“We have the support of the estate of Fela Kuti and the family. In fact, one of the daughters of Fela will also be joining us in South Africa as part of the run of the show.
“Most of what is in the show is based on a true story, because we had interviews with two of his wives, who gave us stories about what used to happen in the Kalakuta Republic – which is what he used to call his house – and how they lived,” he said.
“The intention was to celebrate the legend that is Fela and his unique form of music. But also to celebrate the women that were an integral part of his life and music,” Umoibom said.
The production has been in existence for two years and has enjoyed sold-out shows and rave reviews in Cairo, Lagos and Abuja.
The show, which has some of Fela’s music in it, is presented by a cast of 36 men and women, led by Laitan “Heavywind” Adeniji and Patrick Diabuah, who will both portray Fela.
They are accompanied by a 15-piece band in the ensemble.
One of its strengths is that the production is directed by a woman, who has a keen eye for authentically representing the lives of the Kalakuta Queens.
“All over Africa we enjoy productions when they come from the West End or Broadway, and we think it has to be something from the UK or the US for it to be quality. This is where we believe we as Africans need to collaborate more because we have such thrilling stories to tell, that drive our cultures and who we are, and we shouldn’t wait for them to be told by other people,” Umoibom said.
“People should expect a highly energetic and entertaining show. It’s also an opportunity to get to understand the intimate goings-on of
Fela’s Kalakuta Republic.
To introduce the things that were not in the public domain about their lives. But we also want to showcase the importance of the queens in Fela’s life because they are not often celebrated and we think they should be,” Umoibom concluded.
Tickets for the Fela and The Kalakuta Queens are R150 - R350 at Webtickets.
* The productions carries an age restriction of 13.