NEW YORK — After having Los Angeles singing about their “Empire State of Mind” at the American Music Awards on Sunday, [artist id=”1269″]Jay-Z[/artist] returned home on Monday evening to share in a different kind of celebration. Along with celebs like Ben Stiller, Harry Belafonte and Gayle King, Jay attended the Broadway opening of “Fela!,” a musical celebrating the work of another great man, the late Nigerian superstar Fela Anikulapo Kuti.
Jay said that he jumped onboard the project as a producer for its Broadway (along with Will and Jada Pinkett Smith) run because he was inspired by the power of Kuti’s music and life story.
“It’s an inspiration, about the power of music. Here’s a guy that’s on the other side of the world who was influenced by James Brown, who takes this thing and makes his own sort of genre of music,” Hov told MTV News. “I just think it’s fascinating.”
“Fela!” focuses on the life and music of the Afrobeat pioneer and political activist, who first broke out on the international scene in the 1970s. It was written by Jim Lewis and Bill T. Jones, who also choreographed the musical, and features Kuti’s music, arranged and performed by members of the Brooklyn Afrobeat orchestra Antibalas.
Jones, a world-renowned dancer and choreographer, said that musical wouldn’t have been possible without another producer, Stephen Hendel.
“This was one man’s dream, Stephen Hendel — a very sweet man who loved Fela’s music and was determined it would be on Broadway,” Jones said. “It was because of that one man’s dream and love, something that I really appreciate and love and something that I know Fela stands for.” Jones said that the music translates so well onto the stage because of its genius and uncontrollable energy.
“Fela’s music is unwieldy, but it is brilliant and it is music that really wants groups of people to come together and enjoy.”
Jay-Z was one of those people who enjoyed Kuti’s music. He became involved the play after seeing it during its Off-Broadway run. That might never have happened, however, without the prompting of another hip-hop heavyweight, ?uestlove of the Roots. ?uestlove attended a very early show and sent an e-mail blast declaring “Fela!” to be the best musical ever. Once he saw the play, he said he was instantly moved.
“Moved to the point that I blogged about it for hours, and then when the producers read my blog, they so graciously asked me to go out and bat for them and grab any of my friends that make over nine to 10 figures a year to come and lend their ’muscle,’ ” ?uestlove told us.
For eight weeks, he begged people, bought tickets and even the balcony out, so that the message would get out there. Pointing to Jay, the drummer added, “As you can see, the right man finally came.”