Art, Culture & Events Food for Thought

Fela & The Kalakuti Queens – A Seminal Work in Nigerian History & Culture

January 14, 2018

Wow. Wow. What an amazing night. What an amazing show!! Fela & The KalaKuti Queens is a must watch for anyone who can.

Last night, I went to THE most amazing performance I’ve been too in a long while – and it was right here in Nigeria!! How’s that for sh*thole country<link to CNN coverage>? Major side Eye. Won’t even comment on that right now.

When I got home from the show, I had to quickly write down all the thoughts running through my mind. There was just so much in that show to digest – I would definitely need to go a 2nd time to pick up on everything. For now, here is my review and take-aways from this amazing show and why It’s a must watch for anyone in the Lagos area – but I hope they take it on tour all around the world.

And it was actually just by chance that I got to go to the show. I chose this weekend to visit my aunt – it was going to be last weekend but I was too exhausted (post coming soon about why). I postponed to this weekend, and it turned out she was going with a friend, she got me a ticket as well and off we went. The show was actually sold out, and this weekend was an extended weekend from popular demand but it has sold out as well (read on to know when you can catch it again.

So what’s all the hype for this show about – read on!


The Show, the Cast & the Crew

Everything from the cast, crew, décor, songs, lights, dances etc. was just top notch! From where I was seated (front row on the left hand side) it was a flawless performance. The show highlighted Fela’s life, but particularly the role of the Queens and the trials and tribulations they suffered because of that life choice. (Read below for a little more of the back story). Some of Fela’s best hits and 4 original songs were placed artistically throughout the story to really bring it to life!

The music and chirography were top notch! Every single person had so much energy and moved effortlessly across the stage. The actor who played Fela was a jazz musician and singer and the director picked him just like that and trained to act just for the show and he killed it!! Everyone agreed that he truly captured the essence of Fela himself. And the Kalakuti Queens, of course, were just mesmerizing to watch!

All of this was augmented by the amazing costumes, make-up, stage design, lights and every little thing that went into the production. The Kalakuti Queens’ make-up and costumes in particular were awe-inspiring! Ankara-strip skirts that caught every shake of their body, colorful flowing gowns that accentuated their sensuality, glorious fros, braids and head scarves that crowned their heads, and other worldy make-up and body markings that pulled the whole look together.

In general, the women who played the Kalakuti queens were just some of the best dancing, singing and acting I’ve never seen. The woman who sang the solo after the soldiers attacked them – wow….what pipes!! And that whole attack scene – from the choreography, the lights, the music – just so moving.

This is a quick description I go from their IG page that I think sums it up well: “they are warriors ready to go to war anyday for their king and the Evergreen Empire, they won’t stand by and watch an outsider disrespect or humiliate their king, they are true queens with a beautiful smile that radiates through it all. – 27 strong black queens, 1 king, 1 epic story, 1 evergreen empire 1 city, 14 days of 22 pulsating show.”


The Inspiration & back story

The show was at the Terra Kulture Arena which is known for putting together amazing Afro-centric productions, and they also have a great restaurant and gallery area. This was my first time coming to their location and I applaud them and all they are doing there. In fact, their establishment, and particularly the director, have been featured on CNN , BBC and many more!

At the end of the show I went to, the director, Bolane Austen-Peters, came and spoke and that gave us a lot of insight into how the show came to be. She of course thanked the sponsors (tickets were just 5000 for general, 10k for VIP and 20k for VVIP, so I knew sponsorships had to have been involved otherwise, they should charge way more – it was THAT good). Bolane told us how she came around to creating the story: “we often hear the story of Fela but hardly hear the story of the Queens.” So she went about doing her research and was actually in conversation with 2 of the queens, one of whom ended up coming on stage and speaking. For my aunt who took me, it was that moment that really hit the story home for her – these things really happened to these women. I saw another comment on Instagram that said the production humanized the story of the Kalakuti Queens and made it relatable.

One of the actual Queens kneeling in yellow) came to speak on stage at the invitation of the director in red).

For me, I actually didn’t know much about the Kalakuti Queens at all – I knew Fela had amazing performances and was known for his “love” of women, but I had no idea about the structure of their lifestyle. Essentially Fela had 27 women who were his back-up singers and dancers, but they all lived together in his house with him. The women faced many abuses from the outside world being part of his crew – their families rejected them and they were name called throughout (prostitutes, loose women, drug addicts, and the like). Yet the women were resilient and stayed by Fela throughout. He eventually married them – all 27 of them. The show highlighted some of the history and things that happened to their Afrika Shine (what they called their home), how they stuck by his side, the dynamics between the women and insights into their thoughts and feelings. Everything else that happened in between – you’ll just have to go watch the show for that.
It was such a beautiful masterpiece and you got a sense that you really knew what was going on in the girls’ heads and what it was like to live their lives. And what a life it was.

Take Aways

Like I’ve already said, the show was amazing from top to bottom. The songs took me back to growing up in my house. My dad was a huge music fan so he loved blasting Fela’s tunes and the works of other great musicians. It was a chance to see the story of someone who I had only known from the speakers’ of my house and snippets here and there from the conversations of the generations before me – and see it in such a beautiful and artistic way. It gave me a glimpse of what it must have been like to witness one of Fela’s shows.

There is no Fela without the queens.

But mostly, in addition to getting to know the back story of Fela the Legend a bit more, it was the fact that this show highlighted the women who made him who he is…because like they said in the show: “there is no Fela without the queens.” From what I know about Fela’s shows, they were an EXPERIENCE and I know for a fact these women were an essential part of that experience – so it was quite powerful to hear and watch their story being front and center stage like that. The production, I felt, truly did justice to their legacy as the true Queens that they were. And an actual KalaKuti Queen gave the show her seal of approval? How is that for centering women’s stories in Nigerian history and culture? These people that society rejected and looked down upon are literally being put center stage to be celebrated – I love it!

From the quality of the production, to the importance of the story that was told and the way it was told – we need more productions like this in Nigeria and throughout the continent. 100% Nigerian. It just doesn’t get much better than this. I’m so extremely proud that this was created by Nigerians, in Nigeria, for Nigerians about Nigerians (and one Ghanaian queen!).

created by Nigerians, in Nigeria, for Nigerians about Nigerians

Essentially this show is a must see. It’s a seminal show in the history of Nigerian music and culture and should not be missed by anyone! I certainly feel like I got to witness a part of history. And if you missed the show, luckily they are bringing it back again during Easter season, so make sure you head to their website and get tickets if you’re in Lagos. But mostly I hope they take this show on the road because the world needs to see this!

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