By: Chioma Onyewuchi
I am quite excited that Fela!, the hugely successful Broadway show, is making its way from the theaters of New York to his place of origin, Lagos, Nigeria. Not only has the show garnered several awards, it boasts of the backing of such global megastars as Shawn “Jay-Z” Carter and Will and Jada Smith. Several friends of mine have had the opportunity to watch the show and they proclaim that it is the show of a lifetime.
However, my thoughts run in a different direction today. I am wondering why it took “Westerners”, people who are neither from Fela’s birthplace nor truly privy to the political and humanitarian issues he stood for, to make this hugely successful show. The creators of this show undoubtedly took a huge risk when they decided that the life and legacy of a Nigerian man would be entertaining enough to draw audiences who had probably heard little to nothing about him before. They believed in this man’s legacy. I am left wondering why they were able to believe enough in this, while we weren’t.
Since this show has made its huge impact on the Broadway stage, so many of us have come out of the wood works to hail its subject, Fela. This, to me, seems like another case of Africans waiting to have our stories validated by the Western world before we can accept them for what they really are-legendary! For me, Fela Anikulapo Kuti was of a completely different era in Nigerian history. Though I have several misgivings about his personal life, I cannot deny that he played a very significant role in the cultural, political and musical history of Nigeria, Africa and the world at large. For good or bad, this man shaped Afrobeat in a way that no one before him had done before. Fela was one of ours! His was our story to tell, but we either couldn’t or didn’t.
Even as I wish Fela! much success as it makes its way to Lagos, I hope that this will be a lesson to us, especially to the younger generation. I hope it will be a lesson to us to validate our own historical legends. I hope it will be a lesson to us to tell our own stories. I hope it will be a lesson to us that we have such a plethora of beautiful stories in our own backyard that it would be a shame not to share them.
Let us tell our stories and validate ourselves. We don’t need anyone else to do it for us!