My first interaction with Fela was a couple of years ago when the video of the West African Idol contestant went viral. For weeks to follow turning to a friend and saying "I be no gentleman at all... ah" was cue to fits of laughter. In those years it was the humour of this character who had created instrumentals of a song with his voice that got to me. I never bothered to find out who Fela was and what it was that had inspired a grown man to walk on stage on national television in his underwear.
It wasn't until an interest in the African culture especially music, fashion and art that I finally did some research about who Fela was. Of course naturally the first song I listened to by Fela was gentleman, I struggled to understand the meaning of the song but I enjoyed the beat. When that interest in African music continued and was further ignited by an exploration of various platforms for social justice, I begun to understand Fela's agenda. To say I was in awe of his quest for justice and his fearlessness is an understatement.
Yesterday, we sat down and watched Finding Fela as we prepared for Fela! The Concert happening tonight as part of Auckland Arts Festival. In the opening scenes a question was posed "Was Fela a saint or a crazy man". What follows next is pure gold and an insight into the man that Fela was and the reasons as to why he ignited a whole generation and continues to be a legendary figure in music and aspects of West African history.
The documentary is an explanation of the rational behind Fela! The concert and why the final broadway production is executed and presented the way it is. It also provided an insight into Fela's rockstar lifestyle and how overall he kept it real. In the first scenes he had us screaming you tell em and he continued to find a spot deeper in our hearts when he said "99% of the information you get about Africa is wrong".
Literally, Finding Fela is about finding out who Fela was. From the documentary I learnt about his mother and how she inspired him. I also learnt about Sandra the African-American woman who added fuel to his black power movement and aided in adding substance to his music. Watching the documentary reinforced our belief in the creative industry as a catalyst for social justice and community development.
In the documentary we see interviews with his sons Femi and Seun, his friends that he played in Africa 70 with, his daughter Yeni and live footage of his shows. I cannot believe his songs could last up to 40 minutes, that there is pure genius!
Apart from learning more about the growth of his movement and how he used music as a platform to disseminate messages about the Nigerian government, the documentary also had us swooning over Fela's fashion choices. He was always looking dapper, even in his underwear!
Overall, we award the documentary a 10/10 as it covered aspects of Fela's life and enabled us to understand his growth as a musician and how his personal life and experiences shaped his music.
Thanks to Finding Fela, I now understand why and what is was that inspired a grown man to walk on stage on national television in his underwear.