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Finding Fela at Art Village Gallery

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Skin is a political expression, and Fela Kuti used to show a lot of it in the 1960s and '70s. First, he wore open shirts. Then no shirt. Then, eventually, the revolutionary singer, bandleader, multi-instrumentalist, and pioneer of Afrobeat wore nothing but the briefest briefs and the disfiguring map of scars he collected at the hands of Nigerian authorities. Fela was a complicated and tireless agent of change, pushing back against government corruption. The vibrant music he made — a pan-African fusion with a twist of James Brown — brought Fela money and fame. It also brought soldiers to the door of his nearly autonomous compound. He was arrested more than 200 times, and beaten even more frequently as he fought his multi-front battle against colonialism, corruption, poverty, and personal demons.

Fela Kuti
  • Fela Kuti

Finding Fela, showing at South Main's Art Village Gallery Friday, July 14th, is a tightly packed documentary by Academy Award-winning filmmaker Alex Gibney. It's built around the creation of the Tony-winning musical Fela!, a challenging live show that seemed to defy all conventions of the typical Broadway musical. Twenty-minute, primarily instrumental songs and Pan-Africanist politics weren't the sort of things audiences were accustomed to seeing on the Great White Way, even in 2010. The show would have to be as innovative and unconventional as the man it portrayed.

Finding Fela uses the Broadway show as a framing tool as it digs deep to tell the multifaceted story of musical and conventional revolution, with the aid of interviews and fantastic archival footage.

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