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Kalakuta Republik review at Royal Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh – ‘exploration without elucidation’

The cast of Kalakuta Republik at Royal Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh. Photo: Sophie Garcia The cast of Kalakuta Republik at Royal Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh. Photo: Sophie Garcia
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Fela Kuti, the revolutionary Nigerian band leader who invented Afrobeat, was imprisoned for his anti-authoritarian music but had a decidedly dodgy attitude to women, is the inspiration for this enthralling but infuriatingly unfocused production from French company Faso Dance Theatre.

The first half – subtitled Without a Story We Would Go Mad – opens with a half-hour remix of Kuti’s music from Ivan Talbot. With no discernible narrative, the angular movements of six dancers are brought into a sometimes coherent form by a seventh, the sharp thrust of their upper bodies contrasting with the lugubrious funk of the music, that threatens to break out into one of Kuti’s polemics.

A smooth change of pace brings a delta blues feel to the music with a change in Eve Martin’s visuals from pictures of fleeing people as seen from a military drone to a river of people in flight. There is, it seems to suggest, a merging of the US American and the African histories of struggle.

For the second half – You Always Need A Poet – the stage has been transformed into a shebeen after the drinkers have long gone. It is dominated by a lone woman, who initially writhes a sensual dance-come-striptease on a podium.

The music, initially electronic but later morphing into wailing saxophone solo, is more insistent, but the choreography looser as it moves from chaos into a unison, with three of the dancers carrying their newfound partners out through the audience.

This is a thrilling response to Kuti’s musical work, but it is a rather less perspicacious reflection of his revolutionary message than it is trying to be.

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An exploration without elucidation of Afrobeat pioneer Fela Kuti's musical heritage