Gelan Lambert was 12-years-old when he made his way to Dance Xchang in North Miami. He told the owner he wanted to learn how to dance like Michael Jackson. Lambert didn’t grow up to become the next King of Pop. Today, he tours with the Broadway musical Fela, which comes to the Adrienne Arsht Center on March 19th -24th. It will be a homecoming for Lambert, a Haitian american who was born in Miami and raised in Little Haiti. The musical, which is co-produced by Rapper Jay Z and Actors Will and Jada Pinkett Smith, tells the tragic and triumphant tale of the late Nigerian Musician and Human Rights and political Activist Fela Anikulapo Kuti whose music inspired a nation. The musical is directed and choreographed by Tony-Award winner Bill T. Jones.
Kuti, the originator of Afrobeat music − a combination of traditional Yoruba music, jazz, highlife, funk, and chanted vocals, rose to international fame in 1977 after releasing several politically charged hit albums including Zombie, an attack on the Nigerian government. The album led to Kuti being severely beaten. He would go on to complete successful tours in the United States and Europe and share a stage with fellow singer and humanitarian Bono, Grammy-Awarding winning artistt Carlos Santana and R&B Soul Group The Neville Brothers. In 1997, the 58-year-old, who once had 27 wives at the same time, died of Aids.
Lambert, who plays two roles in Fela: J.K. and Egungun, says that he is honored to be a part of the production as he compared Kuti’s legacy to his own Haitian culture.
“Kuti was brutalized and beaten up because of what he believed and throughout Haitian history we’ve had a government that has been broken and government that has been corrupt,” Lambert says, “and Fela spoke about that through his music.”
“People want success and access to natural resources that are distributed to all,” he adds. “That’s what Haitians want – the right to have a decent life.”
Lambert, who graduated from New World School of the Arts in 1995, won first place in the National Foundation for the Advancement of the Arts (NFAA) now called YoungArts; received the National Presidential Scholar Award from President Bill Clinton at the White House and won first place in the National Society of Arts & Letters Dance Competition. He went on to study at The Julliard School in New York, NY.
Lambert says he looks up to his mentor Full Bright Scholar to Ghana and Guggenheim Award Winner Reginald Yates who helped shape his career.
“He’s a world class scholar and he’s been able to bestow upon me knowledge that goes beyond four walls,” he says. “He showed me that I have an option as an artist to make decisions that are positive and life affirming. oThat is really remarkable on his part because I’m Haitian-American and there was no bias on his part it was all about my knowledge, my talent and my skills.”
The Harlem resident said there are several nuances that distinguish Fela from other musical productions.
“Fela’s music speaks to all people in terms of nationalities and cultures,” he says. “What makes this production so unique is that it is an Americanized theatre piece that gives homage to Fela Kuti in that it represents the African diaspora.”