Friday, September 20, 2013

Who Can Play Fela Well? Chiwetel Ejiofor or Dede Mabiaku?

There are words going round that famous British Nigerian actor Chiwetel Ejiofor (12 Years a Slave, Half of a Yellow Sun, Dirty Pretty Things, Serenity, Inside Man, American Gangster, Talk to Me, Children of Men) is being tipped to play late king of Afrobeat Fela Anikulapo Kuti (15 October 1938 – 2 August 1997) in a biopic to be directed by Steve McQueen (12 Years a Slave, Shame, Hunger) or Andrew Dosunmu (Restless City, Mother of George). But I don’t think Ejiofor can play Fela, because I doubt if he would be able to capture the Nigerian street characteristics of Fela and speak the raw Pidgin English of Fela too. The best bet is to use a born and bred in Nigeria actor like Dede Mabiaku, who even acts Fela better than Femi Kuti and Seun, the sons of the enigmatic and iconic musician.

Chiwetel Ejiofor.

Dede Mabiaku epitomizes the art and spirit of “Felasophy” of the legendary King of Afrobeat and was his protégé for more than a decade and bonded with him and Fela’s Egypt 80 band as Dede was on tour with Fela for several years. So, if there is anyone who can really play the role of Fela on stage or cinema, it is Dede Mabiaku who is also a talented award winning actor.

Dede Mabiaku and Fela Anikulapo-Kuti.

Dede Mabiaku in one of his Afrobeat performances.

The guy Sahr Ngaujah who played Fela in the critically acclaimed and successful 2009 Broadway musical “Fela!” is the American version of Fela and even the Afrobeat King would have been more amused than be thrilled, because Sahr Ngaujah could not dance like Fela in “Fela!”. The musical was Off-Broadway for one month in 2008 before it premiered on Broadway on November 23, 2009. The Off-Broadway production won the Lucille Lortel Awards for Best Musical, Outstanding Choreographer for Bill T. Jones, and Outstanding Costume Design for Marina Draghici. The Broadway production received eleven 2010 Tony Award nominations and won Best Choreography, Best Costume Design of a Musical, and Best Sound Design of a Musical. But when it comes to making the biopic, Dede Mabiaku should be the best bet.

~ By Ekenyerengozi Michael Chima

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