Tag Archives: Fela!

Fela! visits Brooklyn

Sahr Ngaujah inhabits the character of Fela Ankiulapo Kuti, backed up by five Queens and a super-hot big band. (Photos copyright 2010, Steven P. Marsh)

Cast of Broadway Afrobeat musical thrills crowd in free concert at St. Ann’s Warehouse

Sahr Ngaujah

Sahr Ngaujah and the cast and band of the smash-hit Broadway musical Fela! didn’t let the rain dampen their spirits on Monday night, Oct. 4. And the appealing bunch didn’t even seem to be bothered that they were working on what would normally be their night off for the week, since Broadway theaters are dark on Mondays.

Fela! The Music of Fela Kuti, was a gift to Brooklyn and the city from St. Ann’s Warehouse, a cutting-edge performance organization in Dumbo. It was supposed to draw crowds to Brooklyn Bridge Park nearby, but the rains forced it inside the St. Ann’s space at 38 Water Street. The people at St. Ann’s handled the transition nicely, opening everything up quickly and accommodating a huge crowd with ease.

The show’s hot band and great Afrobeat dancers and backup singers — representing the many wives of Fela Anikulapo Kuti, the Nigerian creator of Afrobeat whose life story the musical tells in broad brushstrokes — locked in perfectly with  Ngaujah to deliver 90 minutes of music.

Click through to the jump for more photos.

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Fela! storms Lincoln Center’s Midsummer Night Swing — and Femi Kuti plays, too!

Sahr Ngaujah, star of the Broadway musical Fela!, leads Midsummer Night Swing dance lessons on Monday night. (Photos copyright 2010, Steven P. Marsh)

Femi Kuti & The Positive Force may have been the headline act at tonight’s special Monday night edition of Midsummer Night Swing, but the cast members from Fela! on Broadway who taught the preshow dance lesson were just as big a draw — and equally exciting — for many in the audience.

Jill Vallery (in blue T-shirt, left), the dance captain from Fela!, worked hard to keep the crowd dancing.

Sahr Ngaujah, who created the title role of Fela Anikulapo Kuti off-Broadway, and shares the role on Broadway with Kevin Mambo, joined Fela! dance captain Jill Vallery and a host of dancers from the stage spectacle as they whipped the wannabe Afrobeat dancers into a frenzy. Many of the people in the audience, like yours truly, ably demonstrated that they had two left feet when it came to following the athletic and intricate steps involved. But that didn’t deter many from trying. But the real test came later, when the real dance party started. Click through for more photos. Continue reading

Femi Kuti kicks off the final week of Midsummer Night Swing at Lincoln Center Out of Doors

Femi Kuti

Will You Miss Me When I’m Gone? has been distracted this summer. There’s been a lot going on, musically speaking, around NYC and environs so far. As a result, we’ve neglected our friends at Midsummer Night Swing at Lincoln Center.

But on Monday night, the start of MNS’s final week  for 2010 — hard to believe — Femi Kuti & The Positive Force are taking over Damrosch Park. And we can’t fail you this time. Even if you think you can’t dance, you should be at this show. It’s hard not to at least feel like you can dance when Femi Kuti takes the stage. His version of Afrobeat — he’s one of Fela Anikulapo Kuti’s two musical sons, the other being Seun Kuti who inherited his father’s band Egypt 80 — has an insistent beat and a joyous feel that can get anyone to dance. (Fela Kuti, you may recall, is the subject of the fantastic Broadway musical, Fela!, directed by Bill T. Jones.)

The fun starts at 6:30 p.m. with a dance lesson with Sahr Ngaujah, star Fela!, and the music starts at 7. Tickets are $17 and available at Damrosch Park, at West 62nd Street and Amsterdam Avenue, or online. And there are more shows throughout the week: Catherine Russell and Cat & The Hounds Swing Band on Wednesday, Loser’s Lounge Ladies Night on Thursday, La Exelencia on Friday and, wrapping up this year’s dance season, a kids’ dance party at 3 p.m. Saturday followed by the Harlem Renaissance Orchestra on Saturday evening.

Dance to Afrobeat at Midsummer Night Swing

Lincoln Center (Copyright 2010, Steven P. Marsh)

If the smash Broadway musical Fela! gave you the itch to hear more Afrobeat music, Lincoln Center’s Midsummer Night Swing lineup for this summer, announced today, will help you scratch it. Fela Kuti’s son Femi and his band Positive Force are scheduled to perform on July 12, with a a lesson in how to dance to the driving African beat taught by Maija Garcia, associate choreographer of the musical and a DJ set by Sahr Ngaujah, the actor who created the title role in Fela!

Femi Kuti

And if Afrobeat’s not your cup of tea, there are plenty of other styles of music and dance on offer during the 15 nights of performances at Lincoln Center’s Damrosch Park.

The cutting-edge programming by Lincoln Center Director of Public Programming Bill Bragin features the New York debuts of four bands: narcotango from Argentina, The Time Jumpers from Nashville, New Orleans’ Moonshiners, and Salsa Band La-33 from Columbia.

Bragin says: “The series offers an array of dance music styles including salsa, swing, disco, and tango.  For the first time this summer we are presenting a night of bhangra, the frenetic, hypnotic dance music from India by way of London and New York.  Famed DJ Rekha will spin bhangra and Bollywood beats with her special guest Red Baraat for a dance party like no other on July 8th.  Another highlight will be an appearance by Femi Kuti & Positive Force on July 12th.  Kuti, the son of Fela Anikulapo Kuti of FELA! on Broadway fame, extends the tradition with his contemporary Afrobeat sound.”

The shows start at 6:30 pm with a dance lesson, followed by live music and dancing from 7:30-10.

Tickets and passes are on sale now. Multi-evening Swing Passes are priced at $90 for six nights, and $160 for the full season.  Tickets for individual evening events are $17.

The Swing box office is located in the lobby of Avery Fisher Hall, Broadway and 65th Street. Tickets for individual events and passes can be purchased in advance or on the night of the event at a box office in Damrosch Park.  Tickets and passes can also be purchased through CenterCharge at (212) 721-6500, or online. Twitter users can follow Midsummer Night Swing  @LCSwing for ongoing news and updates.

Click through to the jump for more info and the full lineup: Continue reading

Two chances to see Stew and Heidi live in NYC before Passing Strange hits the big and small screens

Heidi Rodewald and Stew

Heidi Rodewald and Stew

Next week is a big week for Strange Freaks.

First, on Tuesday, Stew and Heidi Rodewald, the creators of the musical Passing Strange and longtime collaborators in the rock band The Negro Problem, are making a public appearance to talk about their artistic partnership joys and concerns of their longtime artistic partnership Summer Scoops Live with The Wall Street Journal. wsj_header_events

On a porgram titled pARTners, They’ll talk with WSJ reporter Wendy Bounds before an audience at the Walter Reade Theater at Lincoln Center. Also involved in the conversation are the creative team behind the Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company, Artistic Director Bill T. Jones — who’s bringing his own musical, Fela!, to Broadway this fall — Associate Artistic Director Janet Wong and Creative Director Bjorn Amelan. The talk starts at 7 pm on Tuesday, Aug. 18, at the Walter Reade, 165 West 65th Street, Manhattan. General admission tickets are still available and cost $25. Buy them here.

Then, on the following night, Stew and Heidi return to make music at Lincoln Center Out of Doors as Stew and Heidi Present: The Broadway Problem. The show in Damrosch Park, at the southwest corner of the Lincoln Center Campus at West 62nd Street and Amsterdam Avenue, opens with a set by Nunavit throat singer Tanya Tagaq. Admission to the outdoor concert is free and starts at 7 pm.

Keep reading for even more news about Stew and Heidi.

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Where does Fela! go from here?

Sahr Ngaujah onstage as Fela Anikulapo-Kuti.

Sahr Ngaujah onstage as Fela Anikulapo-Kuti.

The off-Broadway smash muscical focusing on the life and music of Afrobeat originator Fela is inching toward a future run. Auditions were held on Monday for the three principal roles in Fela! — Fela Anikulapo-Kuti, the title character, Funmilayo, his mother, and Sandra Isidore, the love interest who changes Fela’s life.

The show, conceived, directed and choreographed by Bill T. Jones, will audition dancers, singers and percussionists next week.

There are still more questions than answers about the future of Fela. The contract period for this Fela! developmental project runs from June 15 to July 3, with the expectation of a move to a Broadway house or similar venue in the fall.

But for now, the show’s production team is playing things close to the vest. Asked by Will You Miss Me When I’m Gone? about the future of the show, a spokesman says:

“At this date, there is nothing to report about the future Fela! If/when anything becomes official, I’ll let you know.”

One key question is there’s a chance that the fantastic Sahr Ngaujah (say it Sah EN-gow-jah) will reprise his spectacular performance in the title role. Sahr talks about playing the larger-than-life Fela in this interview:

Fela! may finally be bound for Broadway

felaplaybill1Well before the short run of the sweaty-and-wonderful Fela! ended at 37 Arts theater last year, there was talk it would move to Broadway as early as this Spring. Well, that didn’t happen. But Bill T. Jones clearly hasn’t given up hope he’ll be able to move the show — which tells the story of the creator of Afrobeat music, Fela Anikulapo Kuti, through his music — to the Great White Way.

Equity chorus calls have been announced for May 4 and 5. They’re looking for dancers, drummers and such for a development project over the summer that is expected to lead to Broadway this fall. (Thanks to @activecultures for spotting this!)

The off-Broadway cast was spectacular, with fine dancing, drumming and singing (Ismael “Bon Fils” Kouyate of Brooklyn’s Mandingo Ambassadors was particularly memorable) with tremendous support from an onstage band consisting of members of Brooklyn’s Afrobeat band Antibalas.

Here’s hoping the auditions yield a great crop of talented performers for the Broadway run. With luck, Antibalas will return in some form as well.

But what about Sahr Ngaujah, who channeled the master so well and picked up a best-actor nomination in the Lucille Lortel Awards because of it? Will he be back? It’s hard to imagine anyone else in the role, so pitch-perfect was Sahr’s portrayal.

Stay tuned for more.