Jim Carroll

Music, Life and everything else

Fela time goes on and on

A new film about Fela Kuti is the latest installment in the ongoing coverage of the colourful and controversial Afrobeat pioneer

Fela Kuti

Fri, Aug 29, 2014, 09:50


It’s Fela time again. Indeed, it’s fair to say that Fela Kuti has never quite gone away. The Afrobeat pioneer, Africa ’70 band leader and Nigerian political activist may have died in 1997, but his artistic legacy is greatly embellished with every passing year thanks to various events and projects.

There have been regular reissues and re-evaluations of his back-catalogue, which brings new fans to albums like “Zombie” and “Expensive Shit” year after year in search of explosive funk. There’s also been Fela!, the musical based on Carlos Moore’s book “Fela, Fela! This Bitch of A Life” which became a huge success on Broadway.

The latest addition to the files is Finding Fela, a documentary on his life and times by Alex Gibney, the award-winning director of documentaries on Lance Armstrong, Enron, Wikileaks, the Catholic Church and Eliot Spitzer.

It’s quite an undertaking when you look at the span and scope of Kuti’s life. Even focusing solely on just the music, his personal life (especially his questionable behaviour when it came to women, his compulsive polygamy and his attitude to AIDS) or political activism would provide a director with enough to be going on with. There’s probably a blockbuster alone, for instance, in the story of Kuti’s Kalakuta Republic commune and the various attempts by the authorities to close it down.

Kuti was a colourful, fascinating cat and the job of reflecting all his foibles and eccentricities is one which would tax any film-maker. Indeed, there was talk for a long time of a project with Steve McQueen and Chiwetel Ejiofor lined up as director and lead star, but that film now appears to have been nixed.

No doubt others will try again but, for now, we’ll have to make do with Gibney’s portrayal of the man via archive footage and interviews with various talking heads.

The Irish premiere of Finding Fela takes place at The Sugar Club, Dublin on September 6