Fela and The Kalakuta Queens: A resonance of Fela and his 27 ladies

Fela and the Kalakuta Queens. Photo credit: Nightlife NG

Here have been variations of Fela on stage but non, has really pay attention to the women behind him, as they were literarily seen as dancers.

But during the just ended Easter celebration the Bolanle Austeen-Peters Production (BAP), again staged the musical showpiece, FELA and the Kalakuta Queens, a stage performance that chronicles the life afrobeat legend, Fela Anikulapo Kuti and the Kalakuta Queens.

Staged at the state-of-the-art Terra Kulture Arena on Tiamiyu Salvage, Victoria Island, the musical, showcases different phases that culminated in Fela’s marriage to 27 ladies, who were a source of strength and inspirational support to him, having endured intimidation and torture from the Police and various of abuse from general public. 

The musical showpiece, tells a story about the young women, who left their families and friends to live with the Abami Eda (weird one) and help popularize his music, which were more of political songs and negotiate power.

The women, helped play significant role in making the afrobeat progenitor and his music a matter for public interest.

They collaborated with him in fight against political injustice and social ills, and with their exotic costume and makeup, they made a profound impact on the society and culture, which is still being felt today.

Through the military ransacking and bulldozing, these women remained with Fela from Kalakuta Republic to Dodan Barracks. Sadly, they were not recognized by the society for their role in the music legend’s life.

Strong, brave, bold and loyal; they stood with Fela throughout all. Their roles cannot be ignored and neither their story not told; hence, having raised the bar with the local and international success of Saro and Wakaa — the musical, BAP decided to stage the musical extravaganza with supports from MTN Foundation .

The performance, for many was more of hearing the women’s own side of the story; how they were mocked and called all manner of names, the police battery, ostracized by society, disowned by their family and all the woes.

Despite all these, they stuck to Fela like the bees to the honeycomb. Having gotten a full dose of bitter pills from following one man they adored, respected and believed in, they decided to seek their rights to be called responsible women.

After heated argument, shouting and throwing of tantrums with Fela within the Kalakuta, they said to him, “we are not happy.

It is only you that people recognise in this place. Everybody call us prostitutes and runaway ladies. Some say you kidnapped
us; we don’t even have honour in the eyes of people.”

But like a loving gentleman that loves and cherishes the love of his life, Fela replied: “Who dey tell una dat one, abi dem no get sense?”

“Don’t you see how police de treat you? Everybody for street dey call us ashawo. We followed you from Ojuelegba to Mushin and down to Ikeja. Even sef, we no fit go back home again. It is only you we know,” the ladies retorted.

Having been left alone, Fela in his closet muttered: “They are the pillar of my struggle, success and inspiration. They have laboured with me through thick and thin and I cannot abandon them at this crucial time.”

He reasoned that the women made him, hence he agreed to legalise his relationship with them by wedding all them (27 women that clustered around him) in one day.

They worked while they were living in Kalakuta; many of them were dancers and singers contributing one way or the other to Fela’s empire.

“We are married to Fela, we are not prostitutes. Anybody wey no get sense, call us Ashawo, Fela go deal with am…” the ladies all chorused all.

With Adeniji Heavywinds playing Fela, from mannerisms to looks and even voice, one could see Fela in the arena. Osas Ighodaro was on point with her role as Malika, who came all the way from ‘abroad’ to see Fela and help his wives gain the public’s respect, but in actuality she was there for only Fela.

There was Bunmi Olunloyo, a fierce dancer, who played Lamile, one of the Kalakuta Queens originally from Ghana. Her character was funny, mainly because of her accent and how she was often referred to as Omo Ghana by ther other queens. She nailed her character especially the Ghanaian accent.
 
Linda Nwanneka, who played Ihase caught the attention of most audience as she made some cry with her sultry voice. When she cried for help after the police had destroyed their house and abused them, many felt it in their soul as her voice gave me goose bumps. A good singer, she was on the first season of The Voice Nigeria.

Like the real Funmilayo in Kalakuta, Inna Erizia was on also point with the character. Always ready to fight for and with Fela, she made all laugh.
 
First previewed by media personnel on Friday, March 29, the musical, a spectacular juxtapose to Fela on Broadway, will run throughout the month of April at the ultra-modern Terrakulture Arena.

Speaking with some journalist after the show, the founder and CEO, BAP Production, Bolanle Austen-Peters said: “I am happy that this production is a success. This is the second outing of Fela and the Kalakuta Queens. It’s been wonderful, and the reception has been great too.”

“I am excited that people’s response gives validation to our works including the support and encouragement I get. We are telling our own stories and that’s what I like doing, harping on interesting and quality stories like this,” she added.

Fela’s lifetime manager, Rikki Stein, in a chat with The Guardian after the command performance said: “The interpretation is quite fascinating; I acknowledge the energy and passion put into this but there is something I had a bit of trouble with, which is interpretation of the queens as pussy cats instead of the real tigers that lived with Fela then. But all the same, it is a very enjoyable performance and a decent effort.”

“I am happy that gradually, Fela’s story is still spreading round the world after he’s been long gone. The message should have talked more about the real issues back then rather than more of entertainment. For me, Fela’s music was a wonderful chariot he created in which he drives his message and it is relevant not just only here in Nigeria but worldwide and I think people are slowly appreciating who he was, what he stood for,” Stein added.

For the Executive Secretary, MTN Foundation, Nonny Ugboma, sponsoring Fela and the Kalakuta Queens show is crucial to promoting the culture and diversity of Nigeria.

“Producing theatrical shows such as Fela and Kalakuta Queens is not a walk in the park. The production must seek the right mix of talents and the more talented and experienced they are, the more expensive they are,” she said.

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FelaThe Kalakuta Queens


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