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Nigerian Rhapsody

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Dance and music propel Jones's production of Fela!  

Fela! is as much about music as dance. Afrobeat devotees Antibalas jam exuberantly onstage, and Sahr Ngaujah, in the title role, is a near-perfect vocal match for Kuti. But with Jones, it’s the dance that makes the story. Fela’s angry recollection of his grandfather’s taste for colonial-style music, for example, is an emotional knockout thanks to the solemnity of the accompanying Yoruba processional. Toward the end of Fela!, Kuti marches on the capital carrying the coffin of his mother, thrown from a window by Nigerian soldiers during a raid of Kuti’s compound. “Could I do it?” Jones says, staring out the window of his house. “Whose coffin are you willing to carry? It’s a big question.”

With such challenges to work through, Jones hopes to evade “the ennui of middle age.” He’s reached a point in his life where he is as famous for the present as he is for the past. Few people who work with him knew Arnie Zane; he now lives with Bjorn Amelan, a sculptor and frequent collaborator. And he’s already at work on a set of dance portraits of another mythic warrior: Abraham Lincoln. “A generation ago, I might have said it doesn’t matter if the work is getting seen, ‘This is my letter to the world undelivered,’ ” says Jones. “But you have to find a way to complete the conversation.” He pauses a moment. “Or at least start the conversation.”


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