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Moving to His Own Beat - Fela: The Man, The Movement, The Music

January 13, 2012 - March 17, 2013

Created in partnership with Music Hall Center for the Performing Arts to prelude the arrival of the Broadway smash musical, Fela!, to Music Hall in February, 2012, this exhibition celebrates the life and music of Fela Anikulapo-Kuti, a dynamic figure who transcended the boundaries of political expectation and culturally coerced standards of morality. His undying passion for African peoples, understanding of the power of art and politics, and unyielding struggle against the colonial forces in Nigeria during the 1950s and 1960s, solidified his legacy as a shimmering agent of change against the status quo. Born into a family of profound social activists, he observed his parents organize successful social movements, his brothers champion democracy and medicine, and his cousin develop into a Nobel winning author. Thus, Fela's view of politics and social activism was ingrained. He spoke out against the ruling government, returned to African traditions that had been interrupted during Colonialism, and brilliantly used his music as a medium for social change.

Always pushing the envelope, Fela infused traditional African highlife music with classical jazz and funk, which evolved into a unique sound that he called, "Afrobeat." This extra-sonic music, structured for bands composed of up to 50 pieces, was paired with politically challenging lyrics and lengthy, theatrical stage performances. Through his band, whose name evolved from Koola Lobitos, to Africa '70, and Egypt '80, Fela constructed a sound that would become synonymous with pride. The powerful music and social commentary found throughout his vast catalog of recordings is indicative of his desire to help end oppression among African peoples everywhere.

While some considered him recalcitrant, others saw him as a beacon of light and inspiration. What is certain is that the music of "FELA!" will forever be a catalyst of hope for the oppressed and downtrodden.

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