Felabration is a week long celebration of the arts and music, held in honour of Nigeria’s most renown musician, Fela Kuti. Fela Kuti was much more than a musician; he was a leader, and a rebel with a cause. He created Afrobeat: a timeless fusion of Jazz, Funk, Rock and traditional West African chants and rhythms to deliver a message of resistance to the oppressive ruling regime of Nigeria in 1970’s and 80’s. Fela is still revered today for his uncompromising stance against European cultural imperialism and his resolve in representing those without a voice.
Staged yearly, the event takes place during the week of Fela’s birthday (October 15), and features acts from across the globe. 2012’s staging of the event saw the presence of rising Jamaican songstress Kelissa on the Felabration stage. With both parents being the original lead vocalists for the Reggae band “Chakula” and brother Keznamdi also making strides in the reggae arena locally and internationally, Kelissa is no stranger to the music scene. The family has become synonymous with positive and uplifting music while having an authentic Afrikan undercurrent. This influence emerges from their experiences living in and visiting numerous countries in the motherland.
Kelissa’s most recent trip saw her working alongside DSE filmmakers Mykal Cushnie and Donisha Prendergast on the documentary 50 Days in Africa (50DNA). The film captures the experiences of the three travelling in six countries across (Ghana, Nigeria, South Africa, Tanzania, Ethiopia and Kenya), as they explore the potential of the creative industries on the continent and in the Diaspora. Kelissa not only performed at Felabration, but also in each country along the journey. Kelissa spoke a little with us about the experience;
1. What did it mean to you to be invited to perform at the Felabaration Festival, an event staged in honor of one of Africa’s greatest musicians and activists?
I grew up listening and dancing to music from Fela Kuti, and being the first Jamaican to be invited to perform at Nigeria’s Felabration meant the world to me. I shared the stage with internationally renowned musicians such as Femi Kuti, Asa, Nneka, which was truly a stepping stone in my musical career. Furthermore, it was also a very significant event for the ’50 days in Afrika’ initiative as it signified the intercultural exchange that we envisioned.
2. What was the experience like for you on stage at the Festival?
I rehearsed for a week with the Lagbaja Band from Nigeria. They grasped reggae music very quickly giving me added confidence on stage. I was bursting with energy from the moment I stepped out and confronted the thousands gathered in ‘New Africa House.’ I remember singing my heart out and immediately felt at home when I noticed a Jamaican flag waving in the audience. I thought it would only be fitting to perform a song from Bob Marley, arguably Jamaica’s equivalent to Fela Kuti. The audience appreciated the connection, which helped to break the ice as an unknown artist. It all happened very quickly, but the natural high lasted for days.
Of all the international performance experiences I have had, Felabration was the most like performing for a Jamaican audience. With my music generally unknown in Nigeria, it was a tough crowd to perform to, and a hard one to read. However, the response I received after my performance ensured me that it was an enjoyable experience. I have had very similar experiences performing to Jamaican audiences. In that moment I appreciated my practice at home more than ever.