By Amolu Rimidi
With that daunting headline out of the way, I feel the need to underscore that this ‘review’ is not an attempt to weigh in on the question of whether or not Bolanle Austen Peters’ latest production, ‘Fela and The Kalakuta Queens’ is worth seeing, Without a question, the answer to that is yes; a thousand times yes. There are of course highlights, the nostalgia in the musicality of the production, the sensational costumes and the sheer brilliance of a woman who is putting together ambitious productions that few others are daring to. But I also think we can separate the question of ‘is it worth seeing’ from that of ‘is the experience enjoyable’. Because of course it is not only enjoyable experiences that ought to command your presence.
In the midst of the show’s Easter frenzy, I am once again subsumed by the proclamations of love for the production on social and traditional media. I can’t help but wonder, who actually likes this production? Fela and The Kalakuta Queens is a troubling story told with a nervous insecurity. What on earth do I mean? The best away to explain this overwhelming sentiment of discomfort I felt leaving Terra Kulture Arena is to discuss three simple things I wish I had known going in.
Where are the critics? Have we not matured enough as an art appreciating society to hold a little water?
- This is not a Celebration of Women
Maybe it’s just me, but this musical is being marketed as a story shining a light on the wonderfully strong women in Fela’s life. I couldn’t help but feel as though most lines in the play involved them asking Fela, when next they would sleep with him or bickering among each other for their turn for a night in the ‘kalakondo’. What I expected is some arch for some or at least one of them. Worse than getting no story of the women, what we got was an abysmal ending. SPOILER! In order to ‘save’ their reputations, Fela decides to marry them after acknowledging that marriage is the only thing that affords a woman any respect in society. I can’t think of a less feminist answer to the problem of shame. Now, perhaps this is more a question of the story than it is a critic of the story teller’s methods, but the way it was glossed over at the end, was infuriating, Like being lured to an ice cream truck and given a lump of frozen salt instead.
- This play is not for children,
Not in a casual funny way, seriously do not bring your children to this play. I can’t imagine a more inappropriate way to spend a perfectly good evening. You will have some explaining to do after the awkward rape scene among other not so subtle sexual references. If you insist on bringing your children please be read to explain why Fela consistently thrusts his hips forward or why he ogles the buttockes his women or why these women are so desperate for the Kalakondo! Good luck.
At the first public viewing, Bolanle Austen Peters opened the show thanking Fela’s Estate but also commenting on how she had to walk a fine line between telling the story and respecting the family. The fact that the Estate was involved was both thrilling and deeply troubling. It immediately set off alarm bells in my head. Throughout the Musical I kept wondering, what is she editing? What is she embellishing? How is she changing this story? Indeed the entire play felt like it had been drowned in the kind of timidity known only to a storyteller that has too many masters, in this case her conscience, the audience, and Fela’s Estate. We can imagine the demands of each. Fela’s Estate – hold up Fela’s position as a respected figure of music and history despite his disturbing lifestyle. Her Conscience – Tell this story truthfully. The audience – Give us a good time, and not too many issues to grapple with, She failed in all three imperatives.
I couldn’t help but feel as though most lines in the play involved them asking Fela, when next they would sleep with him or bickering among each other for their turn for a night in the ‘kalakondo’.
Where are the critics? Have we not matured enough as an art appreciating society to hold a little water? My worry is we are all getting swept up in this feverish and fictional admiration for a play that really is not that good. There is certainly a lot to be admired but I must say, I am confused. I am confused and so I will ask again, does anyone actually like Fela and The Kalakuta Queens?