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Dr.  Judy Kuriansky
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Dr. Judy Kuriansky:


Fela Kuti

 
Dr. Judy Kuriansky
Dr. Judy Kuriansky
 
 

Black Tie magazine FELA play by Dr Judy Kuriansky

Fearless activist musician FELA
revived in Washington D.C. must-see play

 
Duain Richmond starring as Fela Kuti, with Dr. Judy.
Duain Richmond starring as Fela Kuti, with Dr. Judy.
(Photo credit: Patricia McDougall)
 

The compelling character in Africa’s history, Fela Anikulapo Kuti, is thrilling audiences at Maryland’s Olney Theatre – a must-see
before its final performance August 20.

 

Fela’s life is a profile in courage and controversy, in his frenzied cry for freedom against a corrupt Nigerian regime in his time – even nominating himself for President of Nigeria.  A fearless social justice activist, Fela is best known for creating the 1970s “Afrobeat” fusion of rock, funk, Fuji music, highlife, salsa, calypso, Yoruba drumming, and soul -- even using American instruments. His lyrics are punctuated with Nigerian Pidgin English-based Creole language and Yoruba, ("No be outside Buhari dey ee / na craze man be dat / animal in craze man skini"), to purposefully unite diverse ethnic groups and energize followers while disrupting Nigeria’s military juntas, who pursued and persecuted him and his devotees. 

 
Fela!” Central scenes take place at Fila’s Afkrica’s Shrine, a community center/nightclub with daily diverse activities

Official photo from the play “Fela!” Central scenes take place at Fila’s Afkrica’s Shrine, a community center/nightclub with daily diverse activities. (All official photos of the play are by Teresa Castracane, courtesy of Joshua Ford, Director of Marketing and Communications, Olney Theatre center)

 

Fela’s fame spread outside Nigeria, including performing at Giants Stadium in New Jersey, at an Amnesty International concert with Bono and Carlos Santana. He even released an anti-apartheid album with its cover depicting U.S. President Ronald Reagan, UK Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and South African State President
 Pieter Willem Botha.

On August 3, 1997, his brother announced that Fela died of AIDS (at age 58) though he had been an AIDS denialist. Two of his sons
 carry on his music.

Actor Duain Richmond brings Fela to life with astounding undulating moves and piercing voice, in a production that dazzles in its dancing and song, and directly confronts us as the audience. 

It was propitious that I came to see this show!  In Washington D.C. originally for only a day (August 3) for a book launch of my new co-edited volume on “Psychological Experiences and Adjustment of Migrants- Coming to the U.S.A.” at the American Psychological Association convention, I called my dear friend Jan duPlain, who invited me to the special evening performance of “Fela!” celebrating the 26th anniversary of Afrobeat, being hosted by her good friend Amy Austin, CEO of Theatre Washington, and the Board. 

When I found out that the main actor playing Fela is a native Sierra Leonean, I immediately invited a fearless leader of another kind, the Ambassador of Sierra Leone to the United States, Sidique Wai – for whom I serve as Policy Advisor -- who then did his usual magic, inviting a wonderful collection of friends, African diaspora,
and fellow African Ambassadors.

The night was magic. Between Ambassador Wai, myself, Jan and Amy Austin, President and CEO of Theatre Washington, the gathering of people was fabulous. The staff of the Olney Theatre was wonderful. And the whole cast emerged in ongoing energy at the end
 to take pictures.

 
Ambassador Sidique Wai, me (Dr.Judy Kuriansky), Theatre Washington President and CEO Amy Austin and impresario Jan duPlain, President/CEO of Du Plain Global Enterprises, Inc.

The four hosts of the evening: Chief of Mission of the Embassy of Sierra Leone to the United States, Ambassador Sidique Wai, me (Dr.Judy Kuriansky), Theatre Washington President and CEO Amy Austin and impresario Jan duPlain, President/CEO of Du Plain Global Enterprises, Inc. (a PR firm that works primarily with the diplomatic community) and Embassy Liaison for The World Trade Center, Washington, DC. (All photos of our group by the talented Patricia McDougall).

 
The cast of “FELA!” and invited special guests

The cast of “FELA!” and invited special guests

 

A production of Fela! ran on Broadway in 2009 – with producers including Jay Z and Will and Jada Pinkett Smith -- and returned for a limited run in 2012. The current production’s Artistic Director Jason Loewith and Managing Director Ellen Hollighous made a (wise) choice, called “risk-taking art”, a “sacred elegy unlike anything you’ve ever seen before” consistent with what Fela once said, that “Music must awaken citizens to do their duty and act.”

 
Duain Richmond as the indefatigable Fela Kuti
Duain Richmond as the indefatigable Fela Kuti with the ensemble in
 Olney Theatre Center.
(official photo).
 

I loved learning from artistic director Jason Loewith that the Olney Theatre Center is situated on land of Maryland’s indigenous peoples, following a native tribal custom of “Land Acknowledgement,” honoring examples of Canada and Australia. The non-profit community-based theatre has been (understandably) nominated for many Helen Hayes awards. Lighting director Sherrice Mojgani, director Lili-Anne Brown, choreographer Breon Arzell, costume designer Reuben Echoles, and everyone involved deserves accolades. This production of “Fela!” is co-produced with
the Round House Theatre.

Ambassador Wai invited several of  his good friends from the ECOWAS Group (Economic Community of West African States) of which he is Secretary-General. Included were  Ambassador Fatoumata Kaba of the Embassy of the Republic of Guinea to the United States and Her Excellency Hilda Suka-Mafudze, Ambassador of the African Union to
the United States.  

 
Dr Judy and Her Excellency Hilda Suka-Mafudze
Dr Judy and Her Excellency Hilda Suka-Mafudze, who has served as Ambassador of Zimbabwe to countries including Sudan, South Sudan and Malawi. She specializes in mediation, post-conflict reconstruction, human rights, and humanitarian activities, and has degrees in sociology, gender development and International Relations. Ambassador Suka-Mafudze and I enjoyed a wonderful connection, getting chills at the same time when talking about the play
 
Ambassador Wai congratulates the star of “Fela!” Duain Richmond
Ambassador Wai congratulates the star of “Fela!” Duain Richmond
 
Dr. Judy congratulating the actor Melanie A. Betts,
 

Dr. Judy congratulating the actor Melanie A. Betts, who astounded all of us with her powerful voice and presence, in the role of Fela’s mother, a Nigerian women's rights activist, who dies after being thrown off a balcony. Her death sends Fela into deep mourning, manifesting her for advice about how to go on. Betts told me enthusiastically that she is about to perform in a Broadway-bound tour of The Wiz, the first one in 40 years -- retelling L. Frank Baum's children's novel The Wonderful Wizard of Oz” in a musical twist fusing ballet, jazz and modern pop into contemporary African-American culture.  It should be a winner given the Wizard theme in the Broadway hit “Wicked.” 

 
Fela invokes his mother’s spiritual being. (Official photo)
Fela invokes his mother’s spiritual being. (Official photo)
 
Izmira Aitch, Senior Legislative Assistant for Representative Gwen Moore (D-WI) (left with  friend), who is also the spouse of Ambassador Fredéric Hegbe of the Ambassy of Togo to the United States,
Izmira Aitch, Senior Legislative Assistant for Representative Gwen Moore
 (D-WI),with her arm around her good friend Kim Bey, multitalented poet, playwright, actress and WPFW radio host.
Izmira is the spouse of the wonderful Ambassador, Fredéric Hegbe of the Embassy of Togo to the United States, called the play “vibrant, dynamic and energetic”.  I loved sitting next to each other and sharing gasps at the unfolding tragedies in the story.  Izmira alerted me to the “scandal” of Fela’s notoriously polygamist marriage to 27 women -- dancers, composers, and singers – later reduced to 12, wondering if – and how -- the play would depict that.  It did, as the colorfully dressed and dramatically made-up young wives danced and gyrated around him. The polygamy had a purpose: to mark the anniversary of an attack on his commune compound but also to thwart authorities' claims that Fela was kidnapping women
 
Fela and his harem. (Official photo)
Fela and his harem. (Official photo)
 
Dr. Judy, Ambassador Wai and Aitch_Heghe

Dr. Judy, Ambassador Wai and Aitch-Heghe

 
Chadwick Cook,reginald l. douglas,qmy austin, dr judy

Chadwick Cook, Director, Business and Administration at the Corporation of Public Broadcasting and a friend of Theatre Washington; Reginald L. Douglas, Artistic Director of DC’s Mosaic Theatre; Theatre Washington CEO,
 Amy Austin and Dr Judy

 
Ambassador Wai (center) with good friends Frank Conteh and George Skabardonis
Ambassador Wai (center) with good friends Frank Conteh
and
George Skabardonis
 
Ambassador Hilda Suka-Mafudze and her daughter, a graduate student in public relations

Ambassador Hilda Suka-Mafudze and her adorable daughter,
 Cheryl, a graduate student in public relations

 
Claire Carlin (left) VP of Partnerships and Alliances, Destination DC and Robin McClain, (right) Chief Marketing Office, Destination DC

Claire Carlin (left) VP of Partnerships and Alliances, Destination DC
 and Robin McClain, (right) Chief Marketing Office, Destination DC 

 

Amy Austin, Dr. Judy and Elizabeth Winston, Executive Director
and Editor-in-Chief, Provincetown Arts Press

 
fela Kuti

Dr. Fouad Shariff, M.D., Chief Executive Officer of the Cotton Tree Pharmacy to meet the needs of Sierra Leoneans at home and abroad with his wife.
 

 
Bernadette Sanko Kamara, Ambassador Wai, Dr Judy, Mel Foote, Jan duPlain and Jason Loewith, Artistic Director, Onley Theatre and Chair of Theatre Washington

Bernadette Sanko Kamara, Ambassador Wai, Dr Judy, Mel Foote, Jan duPlain and Jason Loewith, Artistic Director, Onley Theatre and
Chair of Theatre Washington.

 
Ambassador Wai and his lovely wife Millicent

Ambassador Wai and his lovely and his exceptionally talented wife Millicent, Chief Executive Officer at Women Assurance Initiatives (W.A.I) Organization, that empowers women in rural Sierra Leone with skills to design and produce jewelry and accessories to sustain themselves as productive members
of their communities 

 
Bryan Jeffrey Daniels Ambassador Hilda Suka-Mafudze and Ambassador Sidique Wai

Bryan Jeffrey Daniels, Ambassador Hilda Suka-Mafudze
and Ambassador Sidique Wai

 
Post-play gathering of the cast and guests, with main actor Duain Richmond, Ambassador Wai and Dr. Judy in the center

Post-play gathering of the cast and guests, with main actor Duain Richmond, Ambassador Wai and Dr. Judy in the center 

 
Dr. Judy with Kaneysha Williams, ensemble actor and understudy for Sondro

Dr. Judy with Kaneysha Williams, ensemble actor and understudy for Sondro

 

Shruthi Mukund, Olney Theatre Center Director of Community Engagement, holding the mike for Kike Ayodeji who hosted the pre-play festivities

 

Mohamed Kosia , raquel jennings

Sierra Leone Embassy Trade and Investment Liaison Mohamed Kosia
with actress in the “Fela!” play Raquel Jennings.

 

I was delighted to see Jennings in this play, after seeing her in the awesome play “Shoot Sister Shout” (a limited run recently at Fords Theatre in Washington DC). I loved it so much, I told everyone: “Bring this play to Broadway”!  Like “Fela!”, that play was also about a musical giant who changed music history and needs to be known by everyone. The title character, Sister Rosetta Sharpe, emerged from gospel to become a forerunner of rock n’ roll, paving the way for the likes of Donna Summer, Tina Turner, the Temptations (all Broadway shows in which I invested). Sharpe has been cheated out of her place in celebrated music history.

 

Get tickets for the final riveting performances of “Fela!” -- the Tony Award-winning and Grammy-nominated musical that the New York Times says “captures the spirit of rebellion…that dwells within all of us” in the inspiring true story of one man’s fight against corruption and oppression. Limited cabaret seating next to the stage as if you are in Fela’s own throbbing Afrika Shrine nightclub.


 Contact:
https://tickets.olneytheatre.org/events
or the box office at 301-924-3400.

 

A phenomenal post-play celebration

 

fela Kuti
 

On Tuesday, August 8, after our attending the play, Ambassador Wai had a surprise up his sleeve (as is typical of his vision and creativity): to celebrate Duain’s Sierra Leonean heritage at a festive reception at the Sierra Leone Embassy in Washington D.C. Ambassadors, civil society leaders and cast members attended. Jan duPlain said of the event, “Ambassador Wai took us to the mountaintop” of all the amazing events she’s done (and she’s done many) by making magic connections for everyone. Among the special guests was Allyson McKithen, Executive Director of the World Trade Center, Washington, DC and Vice President of International Programs, TCMA, Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center.

 
fela kuti, VAUGHAN rYAN,SHAWNA WILLIAMS, DRUAAI RICHMOND,AMBASSADOR WAI, EMMANUEL KIKONI, MALACHI ALEXANDER, JAMIE bERRY

At the Embassy reception honoring Duain, (left to right) Vaughn Ryan Midder (ensemble); Shawna Williams (swing player); Duain Richmond; Ambassador Wai; Emmanuel Kikoni (ensemble/onstage swing); Malachai Alexander (swing player); and Jamie Berry (Production Stage Manager)
who is interestingly, also a doula)

 
In a surprise, Ambassador Wai appointed Duain as a Goodwill Ambassador of our recently launched project connecting Sierra Leone and Jamaica youth in an entrepreneurship/leadership training program. Duain was moved to tears and announced his own surprise news: his dream to open a theater in his native country of Sierra Leone.
 

Celebration for the Closing Show: You’re invited

Wonderful guests are also invited for the closing matinee performance, hosted by Dr. Judy Kuriansky, Amy Austin, and Ambassador Sidique Wai.

 

Following the show, you are all invited to the Wrap Party, celebrating the incredible journey of this groundbreaking special stage production and the leading actor Duain Richmond, who has been playing the signature role
 for the past 10 years!  

 
Fela Wrap Party
 

The event is is organized by Duain's good friend Daniel Moijueh,  hosted by Reverend David Vandy of Voice of American and Bisi Fannoh of Africa in Demand, and sponsored by Beyond The Carat Foundation, Moijey Fine Jewelry & Diamond, BlackTie Magazine, the International Association of Applied Psychology, and Cool & Cozie Productions. It will be held at the very cool new lounge Citizens & Culture, 8113 Georgia Avenue, Silver Spring, Maryland. Duain and some of the cast of FELA! will perform. And, in keeping with Duain’s aspired venture to open a performance theatre in his home country of Sierra Leone, Russell Daisey will also perform the original anthem “Honor Our Girls” co-written with Dr. Judy Kuriansky for the First Lady of Sierra Leone’s project, and Ambassador Wai will again honor Duain as the Goodwill Ambassador of the Sierra Leone-Jamaica Youth Enterpreneurship and Leadership Program. Come share the joy, sing along, dance, and immerse yourself in the vibrant world of Fela Kuti & Afrobeats.

 

For tickets:

 
https://www.eventbrite.com/e/fela-kuti-musical-it-a-wrap-party-tickets-698727240987?aff=oddtdtcreator
 

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Contact: joyce@blacktiemagazine.com

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