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‘fela and kalakuta queens’ is an african musical revelation

May 2, 2019

Fela Anikulapo Kuti is a giant amongst men and an African icon whose activism and musical legacy as the pioneer of Afrobeats has been retold on almost every medium you can think of. His parents were influential political forces and his cousin is Nigerian playwright Wole Sonyika. Kuti’s activism-filled life is thick with compelling narratives that span from his music to his activism or both. What is rarely explored is the relative infamy garnered from that day in 1978 when he married 27 women, all at once.

The story goes that Fela had sent a note out to his back-up singers/dancers, asking if any of them would be willing to marry him — 27 women replied in excitement. Nigeria’s theater impresario, Bolanle Austen-Peters, brought the story of the figure and his wives to the stage in a musical called Fela and the Kalakuta Queens, which premiered in Lagos last year, according to CNN. The musical just finished its run at the State Theatre in Pretoria, making it the first Nigerian play to have a run in South Africa. “The reception has been phenomenal, and as a strong advocate of us Africans telling our own stories, this is a step in the right direction,” said Austen-Peters.

Under the direction of Austen-Peters’, Fela and the Kalakuta Queens manages to transform an often sensationalized part of Fela’s life into a vibrant story that touches on themes of gender-based violence, greed and poor governance. The musician used his art to fight back against discrimination and corruption; his message is more important today than ever as an example of the power artists have when using their art as a vehicle for change. His life also serves as a vehicle for wisdom relating to current struggles and the story of Fela’s Kalakuta Queens adds a dimension of gender awareness to the storytelling inspired by his life.

The names of 23 out of 27 of the Kalakuta Queens: Fehintola Kayode, Damiregba, Keuwe Oghomienor, Folake Oladeinde, Folake Oladejo, Ronke Edason, Laide, Emaruagheru Osawe, Ihase, Shade Shodeinde, Suru Eriomola, Tejumade Adebiyi, Omolola Osaeti, Tokunbo Akran, Ronke, Adejonwo, Lamiley, Funmilayo, Adunni, Remilekun, Kikelomo, Lara and Bose.