By Cameron Lee
September 11, 2023
Afrobeats has taken over the world in recent years with the popularity of artists like Burna Boy, Wizkid, Davido, and Ayra Starr, fusing a danceable blend of various genres like hip-hop, R&B, dancehall, and soca. But long before this wave of West African pop music, there was the late dynamic bandleader, activist, and multi-instrumentalist, Fela Kuti. Kuti pioneered Afrobeat music and incorporated more traditional Yoruba sounds with influences from American funk, jazz, and soul. Kuti was not only the architect of the Afrobeat genre (along with his drummer Tony Allen), he was a musical rebel. Much like Bob Marley was to reggae, Tupac Shukar to hip-hop, and Zach de la Rocha to rock, Kuti used his music and platform to challenge the system.
Kuti’s story has been told through multiple books and documentaries. His legend continues with the Broadway jukebox musical, Fela!, written and choreographed by Billy T. Jones, who won a Tony Award for the production in 2010. Now, a new live show with a ten-piece instrumental band, highly skilled African singers and dancers, and original members of the Tony Award-winning Broadway musical will be coming to Charlotte.
With vibrant costumes set against a canvas of projected images, Fela! The Concert, will be the first show of its kind at the new outdoor venue, The Amp Ballantyne. The Amp is equipped with a state-of-the-art sound system, on-site concessions, food truck lots, pristine grass lawn, and plenty of free parking for a truly unique event experience in Charlotte. This offers showgoers an opportunity to dance to the rhythms of Kuti’s music to vivid light and sound production along with the traditional call-and-response chants. It’s also a fantastic way for many newcomers of the genre to be immersed in the culture and sound.
“It’s no surprise to me that in 2023 Fela is having a whole ‘nother life,” Duain Richmond, who plays Kuti in the production, told OkayAfrica in an interview this year. “His spirit is one that will never die, which is the meaning of his middle name, Anikulapo.”
Including some of Kuti’s biggest hits like “Zombie” and “Water Get No Enemy” with original choreography by Bill T. Jones, the production features a decorated cast starring Richmond as Kuti, along with a dance ensemble whose members have worked with Nas, Jill Scott, Beyonce, and Pharrell Williams. It will be a spectacle never before seen in the community of Ballantyne at the new 3500-capacity outdoor venue.
Fela! The Concert will play for one night only in Charlotte at The Amp Ballantyne on Saturday, September 16 starting at 8:00 p.m.
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