In our society, it is drastically easier to be discouraged, than to be inspired. Current events usually revolve around innocent youth being shot, black faces being incarcerated, education systems failing, and hope being so muddled that many forget about any power we have to organize our communities for change. It is imperative to find narratives that will inspire us to not be content with false promises built into the American Dream. This past week, I was able to see a play titled Fela. I think we can learn from Fela Kuti’s life as a basis to analyze and deconstruct what many want us to think as normative structures that youth and adults in Black communities experience daily.
Fela Kuti was a musician, human rights activist, and community organizer. Through his music he was able to rally people together to fight against imperialism and dictatorship. Fela shows us how to use music as an instrument for social change. Many of his songs spoke out against injustice, inequality, and militaristic governments throughout the 70’s and 80’s. However, his sexual politics are problematic in my opinion (he was a polygamist), and I do not want to condone nor try to hide this aspect of his life. I think many leaders in movements need to be called out for their mishaps and supported for the justice that they fought for.
It is important to be cautious when such a venue (like Broadway) decides to tell the stories of the marginalized, colonized, and disadvantaged. Broadway, like many expensive spaces of art and culture, is usually preserved to tell stories of the European persuasion. This is a space where the middle and upper class bourgeoisie traditionally pay almost 100 dollars for two hours of entertainment. While seeing Fela, I was happy to see many people of color in the audience. But unfortunately, I saw literally no youth present in the theater.
A musical about one of the most important political activist in the 20th century needs to be made available for all people, particularly young men and women of color. Furthermore, while it is essential for us to make available and support the arts when our experiences are reflected, we must also make sure the support we give is towards projects that show the nuances and diversity within the black community. Even though I was initially fearful that the Fela Broadway play had the possibility of bastardizing the story of a great man and essentializing the culture of millions of people, after actually going to see the show, I would recommend it to anyone, but especially to the communities that traditionally have not seen our stories highlighted on such a stage.
The climax at the play comes at the moment of his mothers death. She was killed by the Nigerian government. In response, Fela Kuti demands everyone to pick up their caskets and march to the steps of parliament. The courage, zeal, and honesty that’s reflected through the life of Fela is hard to find in our history books. We need to find a way to share performances and stories like this for those who do not have access to the institution of a Broadway show.