MANHATTAN (CN) – “Fela!”, the Broadway hit show, violates copyright on the authorized biography of Fela Kuti, the late King of Afrobeat, the book’s author says. He demands millions of dollars in damages from the show’s producers, and wants performances of the show stopped on Broadway and in London, where the show is slated to open next week.
Charles Moore Wedderburn aka Carlos Moore is the author of “Fela Fela: Cette Putain de Vie,” which was translated into English as, “Fela This Bitch of a Life.” Moore claims the book is the only authorized biography of the Nigerian singer and political activist.
Fela Anikulapo Kuti died in 1997 at 58. Known as the King of Afrobeat, he was wildly popular in Nigeria and throughout Africa; the political themes of his songs often enraged the Nigerian government.
“Fela!”, written by defendants Bill T. Jones and Jim Lewis, was nominated for a Tony Award for best musical in 2009. Moore claims that “entire portions were simply copied from Moore’s book and inserted into the script of the musical”.
Moore claims that these portions include invented characters that he used as a novelistic device.
Most egregiously, Moore claims, the defendants incorporated a character based on Afa Ojo (She Who Commands Rain), a stand-in for Fela’s deceased mother, who the musician said he continued to commune with and receive instructions from.
Moore claims representatives of the defendants contacted him in 2007 about acquiring rights to his book.
“Although an offer was made, adequate compensation was never proposed,” the complaint states. “Negotiations failed, however, due to the defendants’ failure to negotiate in good faith.”
“Fela!” opened on Broadway in July 2008, and the producers twice invited Moore to attend. By then, he says, he had been embittered by the production, particularly after October 2009, when one of the producers told him they had looked at his book, but didn’t feel the need to credit him.
Moore claims that though the defendants advertise their show as “the most original new musical on Broadway,” a lot of it was swiped from his books.
He seeks an injunction and punitive damages for copyright violations, deceptive trade, unjust enrichment, false advertising and other charges.
Defendants include Fela Broadway LLC, Fela Kuti NY LLC, Jim Lewis, Bill T. Jones, Stephen Hendel, Knitting Factory Records, and The Fela Cast Album.
Moore is represented in Federal Court by J. Ryan Smith, with Zuber & Taillieu York.