Fela Kuti

Music Is the Weapon [DVD]

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Filmed in Lagos, Nigeria, in 1982 (and issued on DVD two decades later), this 53-minute documentary mixes footage of Fela Anikulapo Kuti performing at his Shrine nightclub, interviews with the controversial musician, glimpses of life at his not-so-palatial Kalakuta Republic compound, and scenes of Lagos street life. Some voice-over narration gives viewers basic information on Fela's musical career and Nigerian politics, but for the most part the images are left to speak for themselves. Well shot in color, it's an important historical document capturing Fela in the stage and home environments that were most crucial to his life and work. It's not all you need to get a solid idea of what Fela did and what he meant in Nigeria, with basic but not extremely in-depth details of his career arc, paying more attention to his politics (which are admittedly interesting) than the development of his music. The highlights are the scenes at the Shrine, where Fela and his band perform "ITT," "Army Arrangement," "Power Show," and "Authority Stealing," the lithe frontman decked out in various colorful suits (or, sometimes, with nothing but briefs, and at others with gaudy face paint). It would have been nice if more of Fela's keyboard and sax work were included, but these are good snapshots of his live persona. The interview segments cover his resistance to the Nigerian regime, his controversial polygamous lifestyle, and his arrests and beatings, though the accents (particularly when other members of his extended family are interviewed) are sometimes hard for North Americans to understand. Unusually, this documentary was produced in both English-language and French-language versions, each containing some footage not in the other. Both versions are on this DVD, though the differences aren't major, to a large degree being a matter of different sequencing and editing. Unfortunately for English speakers, there are no English subtitles for the French voice-over narration in the French version, though that's not a huge handicap since the interviews and songs that comprise most of the film are in English.

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