“This show hasn’t just made me better, it’s made me smarter,” she says. “We can get so caught up in what’s going on celebrity-wise. But I was getting to the age where I have to see for myself … what’s happening in politics, what will affect my future. It sounds cliché, but the message is we have to keep standing, keep fighting.”
Hendel and Jones hopes those messages, and the African and Afro-Caribbean dance and music (tour director and associate choreographer is Maija Garcia, who is Cuban-American and has family in South Florida) will resonate strongly in Miami. One draw could be Gelan Lambert, a Miami-raised Haitian-American dancer who graduated from the New World School of the Arts and created a unique style of tap dancing for the role of J.K., Fela’s best friend. (The New York Times called him “brilliant” and “sui generis”).
Lambert, who is hosting a reception and teaching a class at the Little Haiti Cultural Center, thinks Fela’s struggles against a repressive government will inspire many in Miami.
“To me what resonates in the story is overcoming those kind of obstacles — to me that’s similar to the Haitian story,” Lambert says. “That’s something anyone from the Caribbean can relate to. So at the end you leave with a sense of urgency and resolve.”
The show’s teachings have been endorsed by none other than Fela’s son Femi Kuti, a musician who leads his father’s band. Kuti saw the show on Broadway and subsequently hosted a performance at his father’s rebuilt compound in Lagos, where he now lives. The show drew thousands of people and helped revitalize Fela’s legacy and reputation in Nigeria.
“I was very impressed — I cried,” Kuti told The Miami Herald last November. “They felt the story, they played it like it was their story. It was overwhelming for me.”
Although his father was dedicated to African identity and autonomy, Kuti says Fela’s story is better brought to Western audiences by Americans. “If the story was told by a Nigerian or an African you would not understand,” he says. “And this story is too important for you not to understand.”
A previous version of this article incorrectly stated the year in which the Nigerian government invaded Fela’s compound.