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By Shaun Ajamu Hutchinson

Monday, December 27, 2010.

Of the scores of mainstream and underground festivals, exhibitions, cinema, music and theatre, two events stand out in 2010. Ending this final year of the first decade of this century, two radically different artists who made their names in the last century showcased their enduring and enormous impact. Chris Ofili’s springtime retrospective at Tate Britain and Bill T Jones’ Fela! ongoing production at The National Theatre in London, placed two manifestations of entertaining, thought-provoking and Afrocentric art in the heart of the British establishment. Both utilising fusion and challenging styles with deep introspective contents to convey progressive messages.

With pieces drawn from each phase of a prolific and creative career, Chris Ofili’s retrospective at The Tate Britain showcased the artist's career over the past two decades. On a prestigious scale (and with the attention and merit ), this intriguing and award-laden work  reflected the direction and evolution of the globetrotting Ofili’s  innovative and stereotype-challenging career. The Trinidad based artist’s early work fuses hip hop and Blaxploitation styles with radical substance, while his later and contemporary work displays considerably more serene creativity, but no less impressive in scale or ingenuity.

With superstars Shawn ‘JayZ’ Carter, Will Smith,  Jada Pinkett-Smith, and Ahmir ‘Questlove’ Thompson’ giving the stamp of approval – and the crucial financial backing to a musical based on the life of a Pan-African legend,  Fela! at The National really raised the level of musical theatre. The biography of Afrobeat pioneer Fela Anikulapo-Kuti gives the audience a fantastic and transforming set, superb design, and costumes performances. And there’s the excellent choreography, elegant and powerful dancers and nearly three hours of pulsating live music by the Antilabas Band.

Topped by Sahr Ngoujah’s amazingly charismatic performance, this superb production mixes political rally, spiritual experience and a dramatic story of redemption, willpower, political courage and determination with party like 1999 style blowout. The quality of this award-winning show makes the current crop of musical theatre – not to disparage them in any way - seem like your everyday Sesame Street. And with rumours of Nigerian and further US tours, the story of the late Nigerian musician is set to soar to even greater heights.

Catch Fela!  The National until 23 January 2011 or take in the nationwide live cinema screenings of the show on 13 January 2011.

Shaun Ajamu Hutchinson is The New Black Magazine's arts editor and a London-based freelance journalist.

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