Fela's Kalakuta Queens set the record straight

The untold side of the icon is explored.
The untold side of the icon is explored.

Fela Kuti is a world-renowned musical icon who is still celebrated widely in musical circles today after his death at 58, in 1997.

The names and the stories of his 27 wives, however, are largely unknown and this is where the musical, Fela and the Kalakuta Queens tries to set the record straight.

Currently showing at The South African State Theatre in Pretoria, the play is a burst of frenetic dancing and singing that captures the defiant voice of Fela and his anti-corruption stance through music.

It also tries to showcase the unconventional relationship he had with his wives, many of whom were much younger women who defied social stereotypes when they chose to stay with him.

The play goes through several segments of Fela's persecution and activism and lets the women speak out against a society that ostracised them for their unusual union with the music star.

Their life in Fela's compound, Kalakuta Republic, is laid bare on stage, both the good and bad times.

The women, whom Fela named "Queens" when he married all 27, demand the dignity they say society stripped them of by vilifying them about their choices to love and stay with him.

Fela Kuti on stage
Fela Kuti on stage

For the first time on stage, the women tell their individual stories and insist they were not in some harem that the media and society at large perceived of their lifestyle with Fela.

While Fela struts the stage in his signature colourful outifts, of matching suits and shoes, the women remind us that they were a source of power who played a significant role in propping up and inspiring Fela to his great musical heights.

Fela became a thorn to the Nigerian government when he questioned corrupt leaders who failed the masses and was jailed and persecuted regularly by the state.

Kalakuta was both his literal and figurative symbol of defiance as he built a private clinic in the compound to divorce himself from what he called a failed Nigerian state. The compound was razed to the ground by the military in 1977 to silence him.

His popular songs included Lady, Beasts of No Nation, Teacher Don't Teach Me, Yellow Fever, Shakara, and Colonial Mentality.

The play runs at the Opera Theatre and ends today.

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