By Donna Marbury
Trying to keep still during one of Fela Kuti’s percolating Afro Beat fiestas is a feat. If the clinking percussion doesn’t get your shoulders shimmying, the groove of the rhythm guitar will surely induce a head nod. By the time Fela’s voice arises from the festival of sounds, you may find yourself in a full-body rhythm tsunami.
The Fela Kuti experience continues to be celebrated 16 years after his death, most notably through the touring Broadway production, Fela!, that draws thousands of his fans, new and old. The Fulcrum Point New Music Project, a new music collective that uses multimedia and audience participation for three dimensional performances, is presenting Fela Kuti’s joie de vivre with Afro Beats II on March 23 at the Logan Center for the Arts, 915 E. 60 St. in Chicago.
Afro-Beats celebrates the music of Fela Kuti. Photo by Paul Natkin
Fulcrum Point conductor Stephen Burns, who is also a trumpeter with the group, says Afro Beat II is an example of the his effort to blend music, poetry, dance and art for something he likes to call, “a dramatic, sonic journey.” Below, Burns gives is some insight on how Fulcrum Point’s 15 years in Chicago has been not only a musical experiment, but an initiative to bring people from across many cultures to the party.
What is it about Fela Kuti’s music that resonates with so many people across cultures and time?
Fela’s music has infectious rhythm, metaphoric content and hypnotic melodies. The straightforward harmonic structure is a perfect foil for modal Jazz improvisations.
What can audiences expect from Afro Beats II?
American music is greatly influenced by West African traditional music. The concert will celebrate the direct connection between Mandingo & Malinke music with Jazz greats Paquito d’Rivera, Thelonius Monk, and the founder of Afro Beat, Fela Kuti. Rather than using a Jazz rhythm section, the ensemble will be anchored by traditional African drums djembe, tama and dundun. In addition, kora master Morikeba Kouyate will be guest artist singing the lore of West African tribes. Dance master Idy Ciss will be featured in a dynamic African dance, inviting the audience to participate in song, drum and dance.
The Fulcrum Point has a very diverse schedule. How do you select the type of programming for the season?
I try to present the complete spectrum of new art music each season. Then I contextualize the works in the most appropriate setting inspired by peace and interfaith/intercultural dialogue; poetry and literature; and traditional music for world cultures, film, dance and art. The next step is to weave a narrative from the various styles.
Why is important that Fulcrum Point has a connection with the immigrant community in Chicago?
Often art music is considered a Western European invention. In reality, every culture embodies a rich tradition and immigrant communities bring their own ‘new art music’ to Chicago. It is essential that our culture build an appreciation for new elements that are introduced, respecting the history and traditions of all, and find inspiration in common themes.
Afro-Beats puts rhythm and dance at the heart of this family-friendly Fulcrum Point concert on Saturday. Photo by Paul Natkin
What can audiences look forward to for the rest of the season at Fulcrum Point?
This is our 15th anniversary season. Highlights include a celebration of American composer John Corigliano on his 75th birthday. We will screen Ken Russell’s cult film Altered States, for which Corigliano wrote the music in 1981. We continue our Discoveries series of music by young and emerging composers. We also have Fulcrum Point Goes Ivy League with music and poetry from Princeton at the Poetry Foundation, our 15th Annual Concert for Peace with guest artists sarod virtuoso Soumik Datta, tabla master Kalyan Pathak, Chicago Public School students with the Peace School, Zamin, and the Chicago Children’s Choir. The season concludes with a 15-year retrospective of music and dance with Thodos Dance Chicago and our year-end annual benefit featuring Swedish trumpet sensation Håkan Hardenberger.
How do you balance your career as a trumpeter with the responsibilities at Fulcrum?
Dream, meditate, practice, study, organize, perform, repeat. I try to make my outside activity happen in between Fulcrum Point events, and only be out of town five to seven days per month. The important part: enjoy my family, fine food, world cultures and relax with good exercise.
For more information on Afro Beats II, visit www.fulcrumpoint.org.