When Bill T. Jones signed on to direct and choreograph Fela!, the 2010 Broadway production of the life and essence of Fela Anikulapo Kuti, it was unlikely that anything but brilliance would result. Kuti’s story is one of the greatest in music, right alongside Bob Marley’s—personified proof that music has political power and can band together a people or a nation to fight injustice or stand up for deserved rights.
Born in 1938 in Nigeria, Kuti rightfully earned the mantle of father of Afrobeat—he created it, and it became an extremely powerful sound, both for purposes of sheer aural pleasure and for uniting Africans of a certain mindset. He played the sax like any jazz great, but he turned concerts into services about injustice and revolution. See, over Kuti’s truly unbelievable life, he’s come to stand for, among other things, a uniquely informed sense of politics and the concept of a true Africa. He was deeply suspicious of European and colonial influence and shunned Christianity and Islam: These were foreign influences, and he and his Kalakuta Republic worshipped different gods.
The Nigerian government hated him. He was jailed, he ran for president, and he was at the epicenter of his own Shrine (to Africa, naturally). He fought a militia-protected, two-party militaristic regime and, to a certain extent, was defeated. They hated his radicalism, his revolutionary calls to action and, not insignficantly, his polygamist and compound-like lifestyle. Nearly 100 armed men stormed his community in Nigeria and destroyed it, beating children and pregnant women, burning everything and throwing his monumentally revered mother, Funmilayo, out of a window, killing her. She was 84.
In this national tour of Fela!, Michelle Williams of Destiny’s Child joins the cast as activist Sandra Isadore, Kuti’s American lover, who turned him on to Malcolm X, Eldridge Cleaver and other black nationalist groups that would come to influence his own ideologies. Expect Williams and the other queens of Fela!—about a dozen wives who are also backup singers and dancers—to turn you out with Yoruba mysticism, African dance and vibrant humanity. It’ll be a challenge to stay seated at the Merriam, if not to sway your hips, to raise your fists to the sky and pray to whomever for your salvation. / Bill Chenevert
Through March 17. $20-$85. Merriam Theater, 300 S. Broad St. 215.893.1999. kimmelcenter.org
Davidoff’s schtick is a cross between the mannerisms of a particularly inebriated, yet energetic Keith Richards and your loud friend from New York who feels compelled to tell everyone what he’s thinking all the time. He’s appeared on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, Chappelle’s Show and is a regular on Chelsea Lately. 8pm. $12-$19. Helium Comedy Club, 2031 Sansom St. heliumcomedy.com
P.M. @ Penn Museum: Quizzo
Head inside the Penn Museum to assert your dominance in the dangerous sport of drinking alcoholic beverages and answering odd trivia questions. 6pm. Free. Penn Museum, 3260 South St. penn.museum
The Laboratory for Research on the Structure of Matter will hold court at World Cafe, flexing the frames of their nigh-indestructible glasses, schooling the populace on a form of matter they probably have not considered: liquid crystals. 6:30pm. Free. World Cafe Live, 3025 Walnut St. 215.222.1400. worldcafelive.com
Like a butterfly recently freed from its biogenic prison, Dock Street’s newest doppelbock just wants to fly. Head to the brewery to imbibe this fine beverage along with a specially designed pizza made to commemorate its emergence. 3pm. Pay as you go. Dock Street Brewing Co., 707 S. 50th St. 215.726.2337. dockstreetbeer.com
Amiri Baraka +
Guthrie Ramsey Jr.
Anyone looking for a little culture tonight—free, controversial culture, at that—should head over to World Cafe Live, for a night of poetry and jazz courtesy of artist-in-residence Amiri Baraka and UPenn professor Guthrie Ramsey Jr.
Baraka is the fiery civil rights activist, teacher and noted author who came to prominence during the 1960s (as LeRoi Jones) alongside several other beat and black nationalist scribes, writing from a perspective of violent, armed revolution. He quickly became known for attempting to use his poetry as a weapon and went so far as to condemn the pacifism of the civil rights movement in “Black Art,” written in 1965, which encouraged the establishment of “a black world.”
Baraka’s continued lecturing and writing since then, and has remained just as controversial. In Sept. 2002, he read his 2001 poem “Somebody Blew Up America” at the Geraldine R. Dodge Poetry Festival, a screed with passages pushing the conspiracy theory that Jewish employees of the World Trade Center were given a heads up to stay home on 9/11, and that five Israelis were “filming the explosion/And cracking they sides at the notion.” In response, then-New Jersey Gov. Jim McGreevey tried to remove him from the state’s poet laureate post after the Newark-born Baraka refused to resign. When McGreevey was unsuccessful, the New Jersey Senate eliminated the position altogether.
Baraka will be performing his poetry alongside Ramsey, Jr., a professor, musician and author of Race Music: Black Cultures from Be-Bop to Hip-Hop. Ramsey’s writing has appeared in several publications around the U.S., including The New York Times and The Village Voice. / Randy LoBasso
5pm. Free. World Café Live. 3025 Walnut St. 215.898.4965. africana.sas.upenn.edu
On a world tour in support of her seventh album, Unapologetic, Rihanna delivers a crowd-pleasing affair for the teeny-bopper set. Opening act A$AP Rocky gives hip-hop aficionados a legitimate excuse to attend without embarrassing themselves completely. 7:30pm. $32-$122. Wells Fargo Center, 3601 S. Broad St. 800.298.4200. wellsfargocenterphilly.com
While their moniker came from a joke, the music is no laughing matter. Duo Hezekiah Davis and Tony Whitfield make up Johnny Popcorn, a rock-hip-hop mashup with plenty of soul. 8pm. $8-$10. With Zuzi Anablogue, The Divine Lorraines, Raga De Messenga, Poin Dexter. Trocodero, 1004 Arch St. 215.922.6888. thetroc.com
Andrew’s Video Vault:
The Rotunda presents a screening of two films that share a title and deal with the crises faced by aging starlets. Applause (2009) features Paprika Steen as an actress on a journey to recover from alcoholism and divorce. Applause (1973) is a musical starring Lauren Bacall as an established actress who takes a younger girl under her wing, unaware that she plans to sabotage her career and love life. 8pm. Free. The Rotunda, 4014 Walnut St. therotunda.org
WXPN Musicians On Call Benefit
Featuring an intimate duo performance by blues vocalist Shemekia Copeland and a set from singer/songwriter Joseph Arthur, this concert benefits a nonprofit initiative that brings musicians to local hospitals to perform at patients’ bedsides. 7pm. $25-$100. World Cafe Live, 3025 Walnut St. 215.222.1400. worldcafelive.com
Eco Film Festival
Chestnut Hill College presents an earth-friendly fest featuring five eco-related films, each followed by a brief discussion connected to an issue in the film. Part of the school’s Sustainability Week, the series addresses topics such as deforestation, evolution and energy solutions. 8:30am-5:30pm. Free. East Parlor of Saint Joseph Hall, 9601 Germantown Ave. 215.248.7289. chc.edu
The popular local singer-songwriter’s stellar second LP, Blue Ribbon, could win a prize or two on its own. Lush melodies, haunting lyrical verses—yep, it’s all there. 8pm. $10. With Ayla Brown and Jenn Bostic. Tin Angel, 20 S. Second St. 215.928.0770. tinangel.com
Edith Can Shoot Things And Hit Them
Explore the lives of three teens growing up on an isolated farm in middle America. Director Aaron Cromie weaves a vivid modern tale about growing up, falling in love and the end of innocence. Through March 24. $15-$30. The Power Plant Basement, 233 N. Bread St. 215.592.8775. theatreconfetti.com
It’s the battle of the robots this week in Philadelphia, as 800 students from 33 area schools battle head-to-head in live challenges for the Mid-Atlantic Robotics FIRST® District Competition. The annual tournament helps students discover the excitement of science, technology, engineering and math and the rewards to be found in STEM careers. Participating teams receive a standard kit of parts with no instructions. In six weeks, they must design, build and program life-sized robots ready for the Ultimate Ascent live challenge. The flying-disc and pyramid-scaling nature of this year’s challenge was revealed in January, when nearly 51,000 high-school students in 81 cities around the world joined the 2013 kickoff via a live NASA-TV broadcast and webcast. “This competition will also be similar in many ways to how we designed, built and tested the NASA Mars Curiosity Rover now exploring on the red planet,” explained NASA’s science chief John Grunsfeld at the launch ceremony. “NASA looks forward to seeing the innovative solutions you develop and seeing how your creativity might help inspire development of our future spacecraft systems.” Not only does the day give would-be engineers the opportunity to show off their talents, it also showcases the sharp young minds that will help solve important problems and ensure a brighter future. / Lindsay Kenney
Through Sat., March 16. 8am. Free. Springside Chestnut Hill Academy, 500 W. Willow Grove Ave. 215.247.4700. midatlanticrobotics.com
United Nations Teachers Conference
Chestnut Hill College brings educators from all over the world together to discuss new methods of disseminating human rights education to schools worldwide. 9:30am. $25. Chestnut Hill College, 9601 Germantown Ave. 215.248.1150. gem-ngo.org/UN_Teachers__Conference.html
Immortal: Strictly Funk’s Anniversary Show
UPenn’s hip-hip and jazz dance troupe celebrates its 15th show in 16 years with a spring production based on Greek mythology. Each dance tells a different story with the help of sophisticated lighting and video. 8pm. $12. Iron Gate Theater, 3700 Chestnut St. 215.898.5552. facebook.com/ strictlyfunk
All Aboard For Horror!
Remember the days of drive-in theaters and low-budget horror flicks? Exhumed Films does. Join them tonight for screenings of Terror Train and Honor Express. 8pm $12-$15. The Ibrahim Theater at International House, 3701 Chestnut St. 215.387.5125. ihousephilly.org
The John Byrne Band
and Guests play
and the Pogues
John Byrne will look to inherit the influential past by squeezing songs by the Pogues into his band’s itinerary, seeking to start St. Patrick’s Day weekend with a drunken, politically charged middle finger to the empire of old. 7pm. $11. World Cafe Live, 3025 Walnut St. 215.222.1400. worldcafelive.com
Saturday, March 16
Martha Graham Cracker Cabaret
At this point, Martha Graham Cracker needs very little introduction: She’s one of the most talented and entertaining humans in Philadelphia. When not busy making Pig Iron Theatre one of the most dynamic and successful theater companies in the city, Dito van Reigersberg is getting his groove on in pumps and typically a dress or something that bears his hairy chest. With near-clownish makeup and minimal wig game, Dito becomes Martha—but in his performance of Martha Graham Cracker, it’s way, way beyond tits and ass. Martha’s a lady who likes to sing and vamp. Simple as that. And frankly, Martha can sing like Steven Tyler mixed with Robert Plant plus, ya know, Cher or Carly Simon or Karen Carpenter. That ladyboy’s a real presence.
She towers over most men, but with a wistful innocence that says “I’m just here to sing a few songs and entertain” and then, just as quickly, “Will you buy me a drink?” She’ll bat her long, fake lashes and then rip into a jazzy, lounge-style version of a pop standard from any era. That’s one of the best things about her; she knows good tunes. Ms. Cracker isn’t a pop-obsessed drag queen of the moment. You won’t hear much Britney or Azealia at her shows—tonight’s is hosted by Juliet Hope Wayne—but you’ll almost certainly hear some Liza, Judy or a show tune. Whereas most queens vogue, pose and lip-sync, Martha flirts, enchants, makes you laugh your ass off and then belts out a montage of perfectly-worked-over lounge-friendly classics. Better get there right when the doors open. / B.C.
9:30pm. $15. With Johnny Showcase. Johnny Brenda’s, 1201 Frankford Ave. 215.739.9684. johnnybrendas.com
All But True Fiction Series
Doug Gordon will host a discussion and readings on the topic of young men and women coping with postmodern America. Authors Kevin Grauke and Shaun Haurin read from their respective books, Shadows of Men and Public Displays of Affection. 7pm. Free. Musehouse, 7924 Germantown Ave. 267.331.9552. musehousecenter.com
Giza 3D: Old Pyramids,
Dr. Peter Der Manuelian, director of Harvard University’s Giza Project, talks about the significance of the expeditions to the tombs and temples surrounding the Giza pyramids. He will also discuss new technologies that can bring old dig sites back to life for further, more in-depth study. 3:30pm. $5-$8. Penn Museum, 3260 South St. 215.898.2680. penn.museum
Judy Wicks: Good Morning Beautiful Business
Judy Wicks’ newly published memoir Good Morning Beautiful Business deals with the founding of her own restaurant, the White Dog Cafe, one of the first to serve local organic food and a national model for socially responsible businesses. 2pm. Free. Penn Book Center, 130 S. 34th St. 215.222.7600. pennbookcenter.com
”Be Brave N’ Fly”
for Pediatric Cancer
This national cycling event benefits the Max Cure Foundation and is open to all indoor cycle enthusiasts. Ten studios across the United States will host “Be Brave N’ Fly,” but all participants will start and finish the class together, unified as one national team riding for a cure. 2pm. $75. Flywheel Sports, 1521 Locust St. 215.600.1281. eventbrite.com/event/5442526744/goersville
St. Patty’s Festival
Bar crawl! Come be Irish for the day with an expected 3,000 people, seven DJs, four bands and multiple watering holes providing more than 50 different kinds of craft beer. 11am (bar crawl), 5pm (main event). Piazza at Schmidts, 1050 N. Hancock St. 484.424.9247. stpattysphilly.com
Behind the Lenz
Clifton Powell, known for his roles in Friday, Menace II Society, Norbit and many other notable films, hosts a seminar on marketing yourself in the acting world. He’ll teach you to brand yourself, obtain agents, get more auditions, use social media to your advantage—and make a smart checklist before moving to Hollywood. 11am. $65. Temple University, Howard Gittis Student Center, 1755 N. 13th St. 877.935.3666. cliftonpowells actingworkshop.eventbrite.com
Black Love Lives
This conference features interactive workshops designed to help sharpen relationship skills, heal from emotional wounds and improve physical health, vitality and sexuality. There will also be a screening of the documentary Black Love Lives, which is the film that inspired both the name and focus of this gathering, and an awards reception honoring inspirational area couples. 9am. $25-$49. University of Pennsylvania Houston Hall, 3417 Spruce St. 215.898.5552. blacklovelives.com
Spring into Scrabble
The After School Activities Partnerships presents a Scrabble competition for children and adults rounded out with Bananagrams, Boggle and general arts and crafts. There will be a professional Scrabble player in attendance offering tricks and tips; listen up, and you can finally beat your pals in Words With Friends! 1pm. Free. Free Library of Philadelphia, 1901 Vine St. 215.545.2727. phillyasap.org
These New Jersey bluegrass-rockers mix things up by adding drums and amps to craft a unique sound. 8:30pm. $20-$24. Union Transfer, 1026 Spring Garden St. 215.232.2100. utphilly.com
One of our most commercially successful local heroes has come so damn far, from bouncing around clubs in Philadelphia in her mid-teens to a stuttering but ultimately legit solo deal with L.A. Reid to opening for N’Sync to No. 1 hits. And yet she’s still not a hugely famous pop star when compared to the divas she is so often compared to—Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera. Of the three, she’s certainly the most unique, punk and emotionally intuitive. With last year’s outstanding The Truth About Love, she confirmed what most fans knew all along: She’s better than everyone else, amassing new followers with each record. She’s multi-faceted and deeper than most pop musicians would even attempt.
The erstwhile Alecia Beth Moore’s been doing us right since 2000’s slightly hood Can’t Take Me Home, featuring the singles “There You Go” and “Most Girls,” songs that are still as tight as ever 13 years later. In 2001 she exploded, due in large part to her appearance on that hilarious time capsule of a moment, “Lady Marmalade,” featuring Mya, Lil’ Kim and XTina. But Missundaztood is so excellent, an underrated pop masterpiece that’s as durable as ever more than a decade later. She’s toured the daylights out of pretty much every record and turns in breathtaking performances at each music-awards ceremony where she’s invited to perform. That intoxicating blend of punk Philly chick, gymnast-trained athleticism, killer pipes and snarling sense of humor is enough to make Pink the now-and-forever Queen of PA Pop. / B.C.
7:30pm. $39.50-$99.50. With City and Colour. Wells Fargo Center, 1301 S. Broad St. 800.298.4200. wellsfargocenterphilly.com
Gershman Y gathers up locally-based talent to celebrate the sprit of Passover. This year features performances by master storyteller Charlotte Blake Alston, magician Ran D Shine, singer/songwriter Ross Levy and nationally acclaimed dance company Ballet X. 5pm. $60-$80. Hyatt at the Bellvue, 200 S. Broad St. 215.545.4400. gershmany.org
Missionary in Manhattan
The Ukulele Orchestra of Great Brooklyn brings their show, Missionary in Manhattan, to town. This musical comedy deals with the fundamentals of big hair, blind faith and just how plural a marriage can be. 3pm. $20. Playground at the Adrienne, 2030 Sansom St. 215.567.2848. greatuke.com
Calendar: March 25-April 1
PW's 2015 Philly Spring Guide