08 January, 2010


every time i set about writing today, i find myself distracted. i was never the kid who put off writing the paper. i was the cranker who turned it out in one sitting two or three days ahead of time and then coasted into the due date. i dont want to think about my blog as homework, but i am starting to feel that way. i felt the same way the other day when i had to write up a set of comments on net neutrality and my internet usage for the FCC. i kept finding reasons not to write. why? am i really that obstinate these days that any whiff of assignment, even self-imposed, results in intractibility? (by the way, you too can file comments with the FCC. instructions here, due on jan14th)

someone either here or on FB recommended the museum of art and design (thank you!), which has an especially attractive pay-what-you-wish thursday option. i went last night with my friend moose, a gifted producer and composer. we each paid $10 and saw a fabulous exhibit of paper sculpture.

both "paper" and "sculpture" were terms taken loosely by the curators. the show featured so many interpretations of that intersection, it was mind boggling. can you really do that with paper? i kept asking myself over and over. the advent of the laser certainly helped. many of the most detailed sculptures were made using high-tech cutting technology. but as a whole, paper as a material seemed to inspire the very basic aesthetic of accumulation. monstrous stacks were laser cut or lathed; tiny cuts on yards of paper added up to vast scenes; a multitude of quaker oats boxes stretched from floor to ceiling; minuscule paper rolls became a table top size floral mosaic.

here's my favorite, Jane South's Wall:

after grabbing a quick bite in columbus circle with moose, i headed downtown to meet the swede, an old old friend and mentor. the swede has recently been hired to write a broadway musical. what an assignment! i dont even know where you would begin, but if anyone can do it, the swede can.

i feel honored that the swede has shared a little of her process with me, and it's led to some really good conversations on the how and why of musical theater. we were talking last week about how broadway musicals sometimes try to manufacture emotion (or something with the appearance of emotion) via musically complicated songs and flashy stage craft. i've observed that i connect emotionally with music via rhythm. if it doesnt have some type of motion and depth rhythmically, i'm not engaged. this set the swede's mind turning. if this were true for more people than me (which i think it is, whether people are aware of it or not), how can this come to benefit a broadway show?

so the swede is here in NY now doing a version of her own culture week, taking notes on other musicals. she managed to get some tickets to the new musical "Fela!" and invited me to come along. i didnt know too much about the show, but i certainly knew that we'd get plenty of rhythm.

"Fela!" tells the story of the afrobeat pioneer and political agitator fela kuti. it's unusual as modern musicals go- there is no dialogue and there arent any scene changes. all the action takes place on the stage of fela's club "the shrine", and the only spoken words are by fela himself. the music is primarily pre-existing fela songs, with a few new bits thrown in for continuity and plot (warning: this musical has no plot, and i didnt care).

i have always loved afrobeat, specifically the drumming and the horns. you can hear both the influences of afrobeat (funk, jazz, hi-life, cuban) and what it has gone on to influence (modern funk and hip-hop, rock, and beyond). in some ways, afrobeat is a linchpin in 20th century music, everything rotates around it. does anyone agree, disagree?

the music of fela survives broadway-ification surprisingly intact. part of that is because core members of antibalas, the brooklyn based modern afrobeat collective, are the house band. and somehow, the simple explanatory style of fela's music lends itself extraordinarily well to the broad gestures of big-time broadway. broadway composers tie themselves in knots trying and failing to write songs that have as much clarity and emotion as fela's music.

broadway lends itself so well to spectacle because it's the one form that marries dance and song inextricably. most purely musical performance doesnt feature movement and most dance performance either works with musical forms besides song or breaks apart the song form with gestures.
it was invigorating to see music that i love simply reacted to. it was not re-contextualized, not broken apart, not re-interpreted. the dancers moved as you would have thought they should, feeding on the inherent elements of the music and amplifying them physically without commenting on them. perhaps that sounds like a missed opportunity, but i think it's actually the more entertaining and emotionally engaging choice. if the music makes you want to dance, then just. fucking. dance.

if you can find a way to see "fela!" you must. it absolutely blew me away- eye candy and ear candy and heart candy.

1 comment:

  1. Erin, thanks for writing about Fela. I've been a huge fan of his music for years and when I'm not working out to your Lafayette album (hello Swing!), I'm jamming on the elliptical machine to Lady by Fela. Unreal rhythm. I'm dying to see the show. Just waiting for cheaper tickets. I'm glad your culture week has been so fun. I love this city.