Archspace and Nightspot Cinema presented an eclectic and intimate screening of Alex Gibney’s Finding Fela, sandwiched between a funky African score courtesy of Omah. Archspace used its sound systems perfectly to engross the audience into Gibney’s afrobeat-laced film, arresting those present in a wide-ranging analysis of Nigeria’s bizarre and legendary musician – Fela Kuti.
Finding Fela revolves uses the Jay-Z and Will Smith co-produced Fela! On Broadway music as the spine of the narrative of the film, supplementing unrecorded tales of Fela with theatrical mimicry. This medium acts as an avatar for the audience and also presents us with questions about the subject: Who was Fela? What was Fela? Why was Fela?
The film attacks these questions with a consistent and honest account from those who knew him personally, who were there from his religious beginnings to his megalomaniacal end. Born into a paradox of a family: son of a feminist activist and Anglican minister headteacher – Fela’s sound borrowed from a global level of influences (jazz, highlife, the black power movement) to create and continuously re-create something entirely unique.
The documentary doesn’t shy away from Fela’s context, successfully exploring the history of Nigeria and consequently the content of his later songs – detailing the country’s brutal civil war following its independence and the proclaiming of Fela’s own self-styled (mostly playful) compound state: Kalakuta Republic.
Kuti himself is presented as both a freedom fighter and a delusional madman – one who emanates the people but also falls short courtesy of human hubris. This is made clear following the death of his Mother (who Fela blames the Nigerian government for) and the descent down the rabbit hole of madness we witness Fela dive into.
Gibney’s two-hour documentary leaves no stone unturned, is natural in its delivery and impactful with its roster of influential and witty witnesses throughout. Archspace created a cosy space for creative and intelligent film. Buy the DVD: https://www.amazon.com/Finding-Fela-Kuti/dp/B00P0DMZ14