Finding Fela

The only CD or record I own by Fela Kuti is a ‘Best Of’, so I’m no expert on the pioneering Nigerian musician, and welcomed the chance to find out more about his life (albeit in, y’know, handily-packaged-streaming-on-Netflix format). Alex Gibney’s documentary does give the uninitiated some insight: two thirds of it is comprised of live footage, still photography, tales of activism and other anecdotes, but infuriatingly the director seems just as interested in the Broadway musical about Kuti’s life, called Fela!, and he repeatedly shifts his focus onto the show’s rehearsals and performances. It was a well-received, vibrant musical that was successfully exported outside the US a few years ago, and one that attempted to achieve a high amount of cultural and political credibility, but you just get clips here; though this modern footage is interesting enough in its own right, its presence here is constantly irritating and drags the viewer away from the main subject: the man himself. (**½)