Music Is The Weapon In Collinwood
April 25, 2011 by gyroscopethattakesyouplaces
FEMI KUTI COMES TO BEACHLAND; ROCK HALL ASKS, CAN MUSIC BE CLEVELAND’S WEAPON?
While he was running for president, Nigerian Afro pop founder and heavyweight champion Fela Kuti declared the neighborhood around his Lagos nightclub to be independent of the rest of Nigeria. He called his neighborhood the Kalakuta Republic.
The familiar-in-Cleveland phrase “arts district” is way out of its league, here, but bear with me if you can stand it. The tiny nation was anchored both spiritually and economically by Kuti’s nightclub, The Shrine, the de facto religious shrine where Kuti performed each night. According to the documentary Music Is The Weapon, The band would start playing late at night, break for sacred ritual at one or two in the morning, and then continue the party until dawn.
Every aspect of Fela Kuti’s life, it seems, was extreme. He was charismatic like Elvis. He founded a political party (Movement Of the People) in response to government corruption and a general failure to lead in Nigeria. The government responded to his political ambition by sending 1000 solders to raid the Shrine. They brutally beat people, including women and children. They threw his mother –a political figure in her own right–out a second story window. Days later she would die of injuries. Afterward Kuti took 27 women under his care by marrying them all in a single ceremony. They were his “queens” –the singers of his choir who gave his music a mighty rhythmic punch. The music of the Kalakuta republic and its nightclub shrine employed hundreds of Nigerians. When Fela Kuti died of AIDS in 1997, more than a million people attended his funeral.
North Collinwood is going to feel a little like the Kalakuta Republic this week as Femi Kuti, son of Fela, brings his band Positive Force to the Beachland Ballroom. His sound is a little more western than his father’s, a little more hip hop, and – he has said—a little more jazz.
Femi Kuti is not to be missed. Buy your tickets here: http://www.beachlandballroom.com/calendar.asp?Page=1
And if you haven’t seen the video Music is the Weapon (Stephane Tchall-Godjieff and Jean Jacques Flori’s landmark documentary about Fela Kuti) check that out, too.
I’ll wager that more than one Cleveland music fan has already referred to the Beachland as a shrine. The former social is a mainstay not only on Cleveland’s music scene, but also for the economy of the Waterloo neighborhood. It’s the main attraction, bringing people and new investment into the neighborhood.
Indeed, up and down Waterloo, new shops have popped up, drawn by the neighborhood’s independent musical vibe, and adding to it. Even the Northeast Shores CDC is trying to leverage the attraction, by marketing the neighborhood’s low-cost houses to musicians.
Meanwhile, Beachland co-owner Cindy Barber will explore the question of whether rock and roll can revive neighborhoods the following week as part of a panel discussion hosted by the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Changing Gears, the public radio collaboration between NPR stations in rustbelt cities struggling to re-invent themselves.
Can music be the weapon for Cleveland? Check out the Rock Hall’s Living for the City forum: http://rockhall.com/event/living-for-the-city/