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'Finding Fela: 'Review of Documentary on Afrobeat Master




Fela Anikulapo-Kuti (1938 - 1997) needs no introduction as he remains one of the most popular and celebrated musicians to come out of Nigeria and Africa.  Against that backdrop, Alex Gibney's Finding Fela is a riveting unmasking of the life,music, politics, controversies and spirituality of Fela in motion picture.
 Gibney stopped at nothing in sourcing and employing relevant footage on the icon, including footage from Music is the Weapon, a 1982 documentary on Fela's music by Jean-Jacques Flori and Stephane Tchal-Gadjieff. In Finding Fela, 19 individuals, including Fela's three most popular children - Yemi, Femi and Seun - are interviewed.  The others are: Bill T. Jones, Director and Choreographer - FELA! (on Broadway); Michael E. Veal, author Fela: Life and Times of an African Musical Icon; Rikki Stein (Fela's manager/friend); Ahmir (Questlove) Thompson - musician/producer; Lemmy Ghariokwu (artist);
John Darnton (former foreign correspondent for The New York Times); Sir Paul McCartney (musician); Dele Sosimi (musician, Egypt '80); J. K. Braimah (Fela's childhood friend); Tony Allen (drummer); Sandra Izsadore (musician); Abdul Okwechime (journalist); Carlos Moore (writer of of Fela's authorized biography - Fela: This Bitch of a Life); Ogugua Iwelu (music producer); Queen Kewe (Fela's former wife) and Francis Kertekain (Fela's former manager).   Lenny Pickett, Director of Music, FELA! (on Broadway) and Jim Lewis, co-writer FELA! (on Broadway), who were not directly interviewed, also make statements on the legend during the rehearsal for the musical.
 The overriding fact about Finding Fela is that we see the man, warts and all; no attempt is made to hide Fela's shortcomings.  The raids of Fela's home, in 1977 and 1981 by the military government of the day, are depicted with all the gory details.
 It will be recalled that it was in the 1977 raid that Fela's mum, Mrs. Funmilayo Ransome Kuti, was thrown down from a window on the second floor at the Kalakuta Republic by the 'unknown soldier'! One of the highlights of this film is the press conference by Prof. Olikoye Ransome Kuti, where he announced that Fela was dying of AIDS, warning people to stop living in denial because AIDS is real and everyone is at risk of contracting the disease.  It reminds one of the controversy that surrounded HIV/AIDS for several years, one of the reasons countless people lost their lives to the malady.
 Fela, in reacting to his abhorrence to orthodox medicine said, 'European medicine has very low spiritual wavelength, African medicine has a very high spiritual wavelength.'   Anyone who sees Finding Fela will undoubtedly be shocked by one of Professor Hindu's (Fela's personal guru's) magical exhibitions! There is a very sad development in the film.  A judge, who sentenced Fela to a five-year jail term, confessed to have been under enormous pressure by the military government in delivering his judgment.
 This was after he visited Fela in prison and was concerned by the man's deteriorating condition.  The judge was sacked while Fela was released 18 months after he was sentenced!  One hopes that this unseemly and disappointing perversion of justice stopped with military regimes.
It is enlightening to see this seminal documentary on the Afrobeat maestro, Fela.  Everyone needs to watch this two-hour film, where Seun, in a tribute to his dad (while he lay in-state at the Tafawa-Balewa Square, Lagos) reminded us that FELA means 'For Ever Lives Africa'.
'Finding Fela: 'Review of Documentary on Afrobeat Master Reviewed by Jisieike Samuel on October 30, 2014 Rating: 5

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