Published on December 29th, 2022

A one-night-only presentation of “Fela! The Concert” at the Kravis Center in January won’t be the whole story of this revolutionary musician and bandleader, but as a live concert that excerpts the Tony-winning “Fela!” musical and features original Broadway cast members, it promises to be a powerful experience of the man and his work.

Fela Kuti was a spokesperson for Africa. He was a Nigerian musician, political activist, frontman and Pan-Africanist in both his politics and his art. He pioneered Afrobeat, a syncopated sound mixing traditional African music with jazz and American funk. The term today is sometimes applied — loosely — to whole decades and categories of musical output from Africa. But Afrobeat at its core is rhythmic, folkloric African and Black diaspora music with Western-style ensemble band set-ups, and Fela was the instigator.

He was born into a political family and used his music as a megaphone to criticize Nigeria’s military juntas and their colonialist allies. Fronting big bands with names that felt like mobilizations — Africa 70, Egypt 80 — he made populist Black Power albums full of galvanizing arrangements and incendiary ideas — “Expensive Shit,” “Coffin for Head of State,” “Original Suffer-Head” and “Beasts of No Nation,” to name just a few. He electrified audiences in Europe, Africa and the United States with rumbling, ecstatic live performances.

He died in 1997 at age 59 of heart complications compounded by AIDS. Surviving family members made two big posthumous developments possible: the global CD reissue of his catalogue in 2000 and the creation of “Fela!” The full-costume, full-cast jukebox musical that made it to Broadway in 2009 was a biography in song and dance. The story centered on Kuti when he was a target of government soldiers out to end his rabble-rousing gigs at his own Shrine nightclub theater in Lagos.

The touring concert version of “Fela!” coming to the Kravis features a 10-piece live instrumental band, nine singers and dancers performing tracks from all across Fela’s discography, and projected visuals to help evoke the surroundings and the spirit of Fela’s performances.

Fela! The Concert is 8pm Saturday, January 14 at Dreyfoos Concert Hall. kravis.org ~ Tim Moffatt