Adesola Osakalumi may travel the country and transform into the legendary musician Fela Kuti every night for the Tony Award-winning musical FELA!, but deep down he’s still just that laid-back guy from The Bronx, New York. Except now, he’s becoming a household name. JETMag.com had the chance to catch up with Adesola and talk to him about Fela Kuti’s legacy and the message behind the musical. We also found out some personal things about Adesola regarding his dating life and the things he does in his free time offstage. And he’s quite a hip-hop head. Who knew?
Congrats on FELA! How does it feel? This is probably one of the biggest roles you’ve had. Do you feel like “Yea, I’ve made it”?
It’s definitely a feeling of accomplishment but I wouldn’t say “I’ve made it” because there are so many other things that are possible to do. But I’m very honored, proud, and happy to be a part of the show. In terms of making it, I’m doing something I love and I’m just pushing on.
What did you learn about Fela Kuti, in playing this role that a lot of people may not know?
Fela…He was a human rights activist. He railed against oppression in all forms. Governmental oppression, economic and corporate…he was across the board and I think that’s why his message resonated so much. His message was universal and the things that he talked about are still relevant today.
Traditionally, Fela was very much a family man. He came from a very prominent family in Nigeria. His mother was the first feminist political rights activist for women in Nigeria. His father was well decorated. His grandfather was a prominent minister. He wasn’t a ragamuffin. He just chose to go the route he did, using his music as a weapon of protest. And he was very educated; highly intelligent. He thought about what he did before he did it. He didn’t just act randomly. He was very much a thinker.
Through this role, did you get a chance to meet any of Fela’s children?
Absolutely. Another responsibility with this role is that this is not a figment of someone’s imagination. Fela existed. And there’s obviously an obligation to portray the role in a way that his family can say: “You portrayed him in a way that we remembered him; you portrayed him honorably, in a way that captured the many facets of his personality.” The fire, the passion, his ironic, sly sense of humor–all of that made him a very complex man. So his family being around was definitely another element of responsibility in terms of playing the role.
What is it like working with your leading lady Michelle Williams? And what type of relationship do you guys have offstage?
I love talking about Michelle. Michelle Williams is so wonderful and so incredible. Her spirit is just so great even with all that she’s accomplished, with all of her accolades and all of her talents. She could really be that “diva,” but Michelle is open and cool and down and real with everybody.
Michelle and I, we joke around. We tweet, we text. Aside from our relationship on stage…we really get along. We really talk. We hang out. It makes for a great working environment. And I think because we’re so cool and close offstage, it reads when we work together. Michelle gets all the props from me.
You’re a dancer, a choreographer, an actor, and a singer. How did all of this come about? As a kid were you always multitalented?
It’s interesting. I always feel like I’m continuing the work my family started. Growing up I was exposed to a lot of music, a lot of dance, a lot of art, a lot of culture. I started dancing…popping and locking and it continued from there. I was in an Off-Broadway show called “Jam on the Groove.” From that, I began to do more choreography. I choreographed the film “School of Rock.” From the choreography, that kind of transitioned into acting. I always knew I wanted to act. My agent at the time recommended a really great studio and I started studying there. It’s been just one thing after the other. I always knew I’d be performing at some point.
Tell us a little about your heritage. Where are you from?
I was born in New York but my family is West Indian American. Father’s from U.S. Virgin Islands, St. Thomas. My mother’s from Jamaica. There’s definitely African ancestry further down the line, as well.
Which would you say is your favorite to do out of dancing, singing, and acting?
It’s really hard to separate them, but if I had to, I’d probably say acting. It’s super close, though. I would say, “Actsingdance.” All in one.
What type of guy are you offstage?
I move around a lot. I’m active, I’m moving, I’m thinking. So when I have my time, I really like to take things easy. I tend to be a little bit of a homebody. I like time at home. I read a lot. I always have my head in a book. I like a good meal; spending time with close friends. I’m passionate about everything I’m into: work, reading, relaxing…and socks!
Do you have a wife, girlfriend, kids?
No, no, no (laughs). But a family is a great thing. I’m very close with my family. They’ve been very much a support system. I definitely believe families are good, so when that happens…it’s not something I’m running away from.
What’s the message you want people to take away from FELA!?
The message behind FELA! is that one man can make a huge change in his life, in his community, and in this world. To stand up for your truth and be relentless in the pursuit and/or defense of your truth. Be committed. Don’t be afraid to go against popular opinion. Take a stand. In FELA!, music is the weapon; arts are a weapon to change lives, to add meaning, to add greater depth, and foster greater communication. I think that’s what Fela Kuti was about. I think that through the power of his music and his activism and his legacy, through his music, he is still affecting lives.
Once FELA! The Musical is over, what’s next for you?
I like performing in every medium but I’m really open to theatre. Theatre has been really great for me. I’m also very open and interested in doing more film and more television. Wherever there’s an opportunity to do good work I’m more than open to it.
What’s in your CD player or iPod?
I have one of DJ Doc’s podcasts on my iPad. It has some old school funk, some pop music, some hip hop, some original compositions, and it has a little Afro beat world music. It’s kind of eclectic.
Being from New York, did you listen to a lot of hip hop growing up?
Who was your favorite rapper? Were you a Biggie fan?
Biggie is incredible. Everybody likes Biggie, whether he’s your favorite or not. It’s Biggie! But I represent the Wu. That was my group back then. Wu Tang!
What about new school rap music?
I like music that moves me. I like a lot of Kanye’s stuff. Some of Drake’s stuff is good. The subject matter has changed but rhyme flow is still rhyme flow. Dope skills are dope skills. Metaphors are metaphors. So, I like that side of it too.
What I liked about the Wu and a lot of the old school stuff is that in some ways it was simple, but sometimes less is more. And that’s why Biggie, to me, was so genius. And Jay-Z is incredible. It’s that flow, the swag, the voice, the delivery. And on the other side, it was Stevie Wonder, Donny Hathaway, Earth, Wind and Fire. So it was all that coupled with the hip hop.
You mentioned that you’re not dating right now. If you were looking for a significant other, what type of qualities would that person have to have?
A good sense of humor. Intelligence. Patience. Takes cares of themselves. The rest is chemistry.
Learn more at www.adesola.com and follow him on Twitter: @AdesolaO.