Chicago Honors the Life and Music of Fela Kuti with a “Felabration”

Fela Kuti

The Shrine, located in the South Loop area of Chicago, hosted a “Felabration” to commemorate the life and music of Nigerian AfroBeat pioneer, Fela Kuti.  For the world music novices, AfroBeat is a fusion of jazz, funk, highlife and other classical African rhythms.  Horns, lengthy melodic riffs,call-and-response, chanting and other complex rhythms are underlying components of Fela’s music, and AfroBeat at large.

Aside from its complexity, Fela Kuti’s music is highly political, especially given the immense disillusionment felt by many Africans after gaining independence.  The 1970s marked a time of unfulfilled freedom for many Africans, but Fela’s strong messages encouraged his people to be resilient, proud, and maintain their cultural roots.  Fela was often critical of  capitalism, colonialism, racism, and other Western ways that only threatened the advancement of his people.  Nothing about Kuti was conventional, be it his preference for minimal clothing, chastising the repressive structures that remained, or his progressive ideology that he spread in the name of his beloved Africa.  However, regardless of his controversial nature, it cannot be denied that Fela Kuti has had a lasting impact in the social, political and musical realms.

Upon entry into the venue, patrons curiously gathered around the various vendors, artists and designers displaying a variety of “irie” and cultural items.  The majority of the works of art, jewelry, fashion designs and other items were of African influence. The crowd’s beauty, diversity and  livelihood could not be ignored either. The celebratory tone was already set as DJ Rich Medina spun rhythmic AfroBeat and other fresh tunes from the decks getting the crowd warmed up for performances by  Hypnotic Brass Ensemble and Yasiin Bey (Mos Def).  The dancing had already begun long before any musicians graced the stage.

Hypnotic Brass Ensemble

On the main stage, female dancers in African inspired garb combined funk, hip-hop and African movements as the crowd excitedly waited for Chicago’s own Hypnotic Brass Ensemble (HBE).  The eight-piece band from South Side of Chicago is comprised of four trumpets, two trombones, a sousaphone and a baritone.  What is even more fascinating is that all eight men are brothers! The talented family rocked the house with an energy that caused a dancing frenzy inside The Shrine. It should be no surprise that the group has performed with the likes of Mos Def and Erykah Badu in the past, as evidenced by their hip-hop vibes and funky flavor.

Yasiin Bey aka Mos Def

Not long after an explosive and hypnotizing performance, Yasiin Bey joined HBE and added to the fire. Patrons were more than ecstatic to be in the presence of such an ingenious hip-hop artist, only to be backed up by a brilliantly talented ensemble.  Though Yasiin Bey’s actual performance was brief, it was clear that he and the Hypnotic Brass Ensemble came together to pay homage to the legendary Fela Kuti.  The overall “Felabration” concept and the talent that came together at The Shrine on Friday truly captured a special night of culture, dance, and music that celebrated the gift of AfroBeat that was bestowed upon the world by the great Fela Kuti. ~Gabriela Barbosa

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