One of the most incredible bandleaders to escape notice out of music geek circles is Fela Kuti. The Nigerian multi-instrumentalist created Afrobeat, a politically charged, madly dancable style that incorporated jazz, funk and circling, driving rhthyms. (The latter often courtesy of the amazing drummer Tony Allen.)
Now Focus Features is complementing their upcoming biopic of Serge Gainsbourg with a film about Fela based on the book Fela: The Life and Times of an African Musical Icon. The middle-class son of a minister, Kuti became a political activist, eventually attacking the Nigerian government through music. (The record Zombie targeted the military; Expensive Shit described his arrest after an illegal raid on his home, and how Kuti swallowed drugs, then traded shit with another inmate so the police wouldn’t find traces of the contraband in his feces.)
Kuti was arrested multiple times, often on charges he deemed to be trumped up. Over time his musical reach across Africa was massive, thanks in part to the fact that he sang in a basic English to cross regional language boundaries.
The big question is: who to cast? The actor will have to caputre Kuti’s firebrand stage presence, among many other things. I’m hoping for an African unknown, but I expect we’ll be faced with someone more obvious than that. Djimon Hounsou’s probably taking calls even as I write.