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Fela Kuti - Music Is the Weapon
Fela Kuti - Music Is the Weapon
Actor: Fela Anikulapo Kuti
Directors: Jean-Jacques Flori, Stephane Tchalgadjieff
Genres: Music Video & Concerts, Documentary
NR     2004     0hr 53min

Music Is the Weapon may be short, but it's essential viewing for Fela fans. Filmed in 1982, the 53-minute documentary captures the late Nigerian musician/activist at his peak. (There are slight differences between the Engl...  more »


Movie Details

Actor: Fela Anikulapo Kuti
Directors: Jean-Jacques Flori, Stephane Tchalgadjieff
Genres: Music Video & Concerts, Documentary
Sub-Genres: Pop, International, Biography
Studio: Universal Import
Format: DVD - Color
DVD Release Date: 03/30/2004
Release Year: 2004
Run Time: 0hr 53min
Screens: Color
Number of Discs: 1
SwapaDVD Credits: 1
Total Copies: 0
Members Wishing: 2
Edition: Import
MPAA Rating: NR (Not Rated)
Languages: English, French

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Movie Reviews

An What A Sharp Weapon it Can Be...
Jeff Hodges | Denton, TX United States | 11/29/2004
(5 out of 5 stars)

"Nigerian musician and activist Fela Kuti can be a perplexing figure. While his passion, activism, and musicianship are inspiring, his chauvinism, narcissism, and anarchism may not sit well with the modern western observer. However, the 1982 documentary Music is the Weapon by Stephane Tchal-Gadjieff sets the stage for a greater understanding of the time and place that Fela found himself, thereby giving the outside observer a better appreciation of the space in which the man created his political and musical identity.

The film's aim is not biographic. Although the first ten of its fifty minutes is spent on discussing Fela's beginnings as the child of a middle-class Yoruba family as well as his travels to England and the US, his life is described within the context of the relevant histories of those places. As much, if not more, is said about Martin Luther King, the assassination of Kennedy, and the Biafra war than is said about specific events in Fela's life. Approaching his life story from this standpoint serves to outline the influences on his emerging political philosophy quickly and effectively, but tends to downplay his musical growth and influences.

Place is described from the global down to the local. Nigeria is described in the context of Africa, and the city of Lagos is described in the context of Nigeria. In conjunction with the previous history of the Biafra war, the images and descriptions of Lagos are particularly effective in conveying the political climate of the city. The brutality and poverty of this city is palpable, especially with Fela's music and lyrics as the backdrop. Finally the sphere tightens onto The Shrine, his nightclub, and we are treated to fantastic footage of him playing and preaching here to a diverse cross-section of the Nigerian public.

After the time and place are set, we follow Fela home to Kalukuta, which is a nearby suburb that he has transformed into what could only be called a temporary autonomous zone. About 100 people lived there: his 15 wives, his musicians, and his bodyguards. Kalukuta was a self-proclaimed republic, and there he was viewed as a tribal chief. Here, we begin to look the metaphors that make up his politics and, consequently, his music.

It must be understood that Fela longed for a return to tribal Africa. He viewed both Christianity and Islam as non-African, so his nightclub was a Shrine not just in name, but in function. Monogamous marriage was an affectation of the West, so he married 27 women (apparently 12 left him before the time of filming). He viewed musicianship as a gift from the Gods, to be used for the good of mankind. People who misuse it will "die young". Fela attributed his youthful appearance and energy to this philosophy.

Once we get an idea of Fela's space, we take a step back and see his place in the national level. He had serious interest in running for Nigerian presidency, but was opposed by the incumbent system. The Nigerian government's reaction to this resulted in several attempts to discourage and discredit him, not the least of which was the invasion of Kalukuta by Nigerian police on two occasions. The first resulted in the death of his mother. The second (which occurred at the time of filming), resulted in imprisonment and torture.

To describe Fela as a musician without taking into consideration his political philosophy is to sell him short. Fela viewed music as a gift to be used for the good of mankind. With political injustice and human suffering around him, he sharpened the blade on his music and used it, like the title states, as a weapon to at least alleviate, if not ameliorate the means of that suffering. When seen outside of that context, one's initial reactions to Fela's philosophy may be one of surprise. Within it, however, one reaction will most likely be one of admiration.
A Rarity !
Eddie Landsberg | Tokyo, Japan | 11/18/2004
(4 out of 5 stars)

"This film does a great job at capturing the socio-political backround behind Fela's message and movement. If you're expecting lot's of concert footage, more insight into Fela personally, or even a balanced unbiased look at the legend (for example, Nigerians famous and non-famous offering their insight on him), it definitely falls short... the film is more about Fela and his bid for the presidency of Nigeria.- - but what makes it worth the purchase is getting to step inside the Africa Shrine and Kalakuta Republic and see Fela in action on his home turf, to get to hear him expressing his beliefs candidly - - as well as the political realities behind the message in his music.

Containing both the French and American version, I like the French version better, as it focuses more on Fela and his music and message, whereas the American version seems to go as far as possible in capturing the poverty and squalor of Lagos. - - Incidentally, if you remember the BLUES-mobile from the BLUES BROTHERS, wait until you see Fela's own VW version..."
Interesting soul...fascinating historical biopic..
A. Ort | Youngstown, Ohio | 03/17/2005
(4 out of 5 stars)

"I had no idea who Fela was. A documentary junkie, I just thought it sounded interesting. That it was.

Fela has been described as an African Bob Marley, father of Afrobeat music. More than that, though, he was politically active and a threat to the establishment. This is what makes him so much more interesting than just a musician.

Born in Africa, given a Western educated by Anglicized parents, having lived in America during the Watts riots and greatly influenced by Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X, Fela returned to Africa with a new purpose.

While his music is what he is mostly known for, his political activity is what is captivating. The documentary puts his life in a large political context, that of Nigeria during the 70s and early 80s, when this documentary was filmed. We get to see the inner workings of the Nigerian government through his eyes. It provides the backdrop for his life at this time.

Part musician, part politician, part prophet, Fela is an intriguing character. Perhaps what is most relevant about this film is how he takes the influence of Westernized ideas - musically and ideologically - and applies them to the problems he returned to in Nigeria."