On general release from Fri 05 Sep
Alex Gibney / USA / 2014 / 119 mins
Musician, revolutionary, lover: Fela Anikulapo Kuti is a cultural colossus in sub-Saharan African music and politics, the creator of Afrobeat and a prophet of the people, yet he remains relatively unknown in the West. Alex Gibney’s new feature documentary Finding Fela redresses the balance, bringing this impressive man and his captivating story to a wider audience.
Inspired by Bill T. Jones’ 2009 musical Fela!, Gibney’s film looks at Kuti’s politics, social values and creative practices. Footage from the rehearsal process of Fela! sits alongside interviews with family and friends, and archive footage of Kuti, providing a dynamic range of perspectives.
Gibney begins by examining Kuti’s music, going into great technical detail to unpack his mysterious creative processes. Next we are introduced to the political revolutionary: fearless and eccentric. Kuti’s unconventional sex life is touched upon, although Gibney noticeably brushes over the instances of misogyny. The film’s initial portrait is of a passionate musical genius – a force to be reckoned with.
The third act watches as Kuti engages with his spirituality, going further than the musical by addressing the issues that surround the singer’s complicated relationship with AIDS, including his denial of the disease that would eventually kill him. Gibney treats this with a sensitivity that resists stereotyping Kuti as a victim.
As with Kuti himself, Gibney’s film always returns to the music, coming full circle to focus on Kuti’s resurgence through the revival of his songs. Finding Fela finds Kuti’s voice once more, giving us a fascinating glimpse of the man and the world he created. In his own words: ‘As far as Africa is concerned music cannot be for enjoyment, it must be for revolution. Music is the weapon…it is the weapon of the future.’