Home * Site Search * Headlines * Events * Pan Global * Message Board * Guest Book * Pan News * Pan Radio * Twitter * Facebook * About Us

The Spirit of Fela! lives on


“....I loved it [playing single tenor]; I really, really enjoyed it;
I wish I had the capability of keeping it up more....”
says Oneika


 Follow When Steel Talks on
Cast members from Fela!
Cast members from Fela!

New York, USA - The hit Broadway play and Tony Award-winning production of Fela! has had a successful, memorable and ground-breaking run and comes to an end in New York on January 2, 2011.  Several members of the cast and one of the producers of the musical, Stephen Hendel, were honored guests at “The Spirit of Fela! Celebration” earlier this month held at the venerable Players club in Grammercy Park.  With honorary hostess Grace Blake on the scene very early in the evening, the gathering was organized by ICAD-FTL (International Caribbean American Diaspora – Film, Theater & Literacy Festival) and its event director, Misani.

The Fela! cast boasts several talented artists from Africa and its Diaspora including five of Caribbean origin.  Nicole Chantal de Weever– St. Maarten,  Gelan Lambert – Haiti, Elasea Douglas- Jamaica, Daniel Soto– Dominican Republic and Oneika Phillips – Grenada have taken the stage nightly along with their fellow cast mates and helped make the production into the successful and unique Broadway story that it has become.  Other cast members were on hand for the celebration, including but not limited to:  Tennessee native Lauren De Veaux, Iris Wilson, Brooklyn’s Corey Baker and Zimbabwe’s Farai Malianga.

Fela’s Oneika Phillips (r) shares her passion for her country of Grenada
Fela’s Oneika Phillips (right) shares her passion for Grenada, while Antigua & Barbuda’s Derede Samuel Whitlock looks on

Oneika Phillips is an articulate and passionate artist who, on behalf of Fela!, introduced steelpan historian, producer, and pan man Dalton Narine’s “Mas Man” at the private October screening of the film - also held at the Players.  She herself played the tenor pan for a few years while still in Grenada and misses playing pan sorely, she says.  Oneika was introduced to pan through a program of activities in her high school in 1992, where noted arranger and musician David “Peck” Edwards was the instructor.  She has also played with Grenada’s Angel Harps Steel Orchestra for panorama.  After about three years however, her academic (CXC - Caribbean Examinations Council) and other commitments (the Grenada National Folk Group and running track) soon demanded much more of her attention.  

Honorary event hostess Grace Blake (left) makes a point
Honorary event hostess Grace Blake (left) makes a point.  At right is Derrick James, Grenada’s Consul General

As fate would have it, Oneika told When Steel Talks (WST), that within earshot of where she lives in Brooklyn, she would sit on her stoop when she returned home from her nightly performances of the Fela! show in the summer time, and listen to an orchestra not far away as they practiced late into the night.  She was not aware of it, but it was New York’s reigning champion steel orchestra, Sonatas Steel Orchestra which captivated her.  “Well they sound like champions!” declared Oneika after learning which orchestra it was.   “I really need to get back into pan!” Oneika says wistfully.  But time, time, time is always an issue for the beautiful, talented and in-demand artist.  Nevertheless, at least one member of her family has managed to keep pan as a passion – her brother Manny Woodruff who is an active pan player.  “My brother is still deeply connected [with pan] and he tries to get home in the summer and play in the panorama with Angel Harps.”

(l-r) John Martello, Grace Blake, Consul General Derrick James, and Misani
(l-r) John Martello, Grace Blake, Consul General Derrick James and Misani

Two of the event’s key sponsors were the tourism departments of both Antigua & Barbuda and Grenada. Representing the latter were Grenada’s Consul General Derrick James and members of his staff.  James himself happily boasted to WST that he had played pan on a tour for five months with David “Peck” Edwards in the group known as City Symphony.  This was in Edwards’ pre-New Dimension Steel Orchestra days, where he is the band’s arranger.  The animated Grenada consul staff included the enthusiastic and former pan player Wilton Thomas, who says of Angel Harps’ veteran David Seales:  “David is like a second father to me.”   And the very calm Trisha Douglas is a proud “Woman on the Bass” who also trained under David ‘Peck’ Edwards, and like Oneika, has also performed in the Grenada Steelband Panorama with Angel Harps Steel Orchestra.  “I’m like, sort of, caught ‘in between’” Trisha said laughingly, referencing Angel Harps, and Edward’s own orchestra, New Dimension.  She is especially passionate about the steelpan musicians in Grenada’s countryside, many of them coming from the country’s high schools.  Fellow staff member Jennie Pascall laughingly played ‘peace-maker’ for the good-natured bantering that went back and forth among her colleagues and their respective band affiliations.  

Poet Mervyn Taylor and sister,Brenda - actress
Poet Mervyn Taylor and sister, Brenda (actress)

Antigua & Barbuda’s own steelpan advocate that evening was personified by David Fenton who, though not a steelpan musician himself, is an ardent supporter of the art form and loves the steel orchestras in general, but is a ‘Halcyon man’ (Antigua’s current panorama champion Halcyon Steel Orchestra) at heart.  And he ensures that the instrument is properly and professionally represented whenever the occasion demands it at events he is connected with while in the USA.

These personages were among several other notables who were on hand for the evening, which was formally opened by Misani.  She relinquished the audience’s attention to the delivery of an apt  poem called “For the Artist at the Start of Day” by Irish poet John O’Donohue, read by Fela! cast member and tap dancer Gelan Lambert and Players’ Executive Director John Martello.

Martello then addressed those present, explaining that he had the opportunity to meet with some members of the Fela! cast at the screening of the documentary film “Mas Man.”  They were taken with the club, wanted to know more about it; he said to them that they should have a reception for the cast of Fela!  “You’re part of Broadway, and it [Fela!] is one of the best shows in New York.  It’s a very exciting show.”  Martello went on to explain that he did not realize that the show was ending its Broadway run so soon [January 2].  As a result he did not have the time, particularly with the holiday season on approach, to really do ‘what he wanted to do’ which, he said, “was to have the whole cast, the production company - to have a dinner to really salute you [Fela!] in the right way.”  Martello finished by saying “So I hope that you understand and appreciate that I am representing the membership of the Club who want to thank you for a superb show, for the creative genius that was put into that show; for brightening – for Broadway badly needs brightening – the whole year, the whole season; and to congratulate you on a spectacular run.  And we’re happy to have you.”

Fela! producer Stephen Hendel (right) talks about the cast
Fela! producer Stephen Hendel (right) talks about the cast

Key invited guests and sponsors for the evening were acknowledged, including the Antigua & Barbuda tourist bureau’s Derede Samuel-Whitlock who was present with members of her staff, and the Grenada Board of Tourism, represented by Grenada’s Consul General Derrick James.  Oneika shared her thoughts and deep passion for her home country of Grenada.  Both Ms. Samuel-Whitlock and Mr. James also took turns in expressing their pleasure in being involved with the evening’s celebration, their admiration of the cast, and briefly shared highlights on the beauty of their respective countries, and why they should be on the itinerary of everyone to visit.  James noted that the Caribbean was one place, regardless of those who tried to divide its peoples and singled out the  Fela! cast as the example of that Caribbean family which had also helped bring the African and Caribbean people together, and declared this [trend] should be continued.

Honorary hostess for the evening was Grace Blake, a well-known trailblazer and mover and shaker within the New York Film diaspora for several years.  Ms. Blake expressed her ‘awe’ for the entire cast of Fela!, their accomplishments and the play’s producers, saying that more of that [Caribbean talent] was needed, while describing the Caribbean as her own “heart and soul” (she was born in Venezuela and grew up in Trinidad).   Fela! cast member Elasea Douglas  took the floor next and shared her love of Jamaica, and appreciation and respect for everyone present.

Then it was the turn of Fela! producer Stephen Hendel as he commended the overall cast of performers and their devotion.  He noted that at the time they were off-Broadway, someone had drawn to his attention that the young cast members were destined to become leaders in their communities.  This had indeed come to pass.  “And now, a year later, they are among the leaders of their communities, and they have established themselves.” said Hendel.  “…I don’t think there has ever been a show in New York that has become so bound up in what takes place in the five boroughs in New York City….”  The five members of the Fela! cast of Caribbean origin have been recognized and even honored by their respective governments, and have themselves become ‘national resources.’  

'Holiday gifts of love' for Haiti's children
‘Holiday gifts of love’ for Haiti’s children

Explaining further, he noted that for the year, the cast was in much demand and routinely showed up in support in their communities and at major corporate events, sometimes individually, but especially as a group for benefits, charities, galas, and the like.  “What has happened in the year that we’ve been on Broadway is that the show has become really known, and thanks to these young people, become part of what happens in New York.  Hendel paid brief but eloquent tribute to each of the cast members in the audience.

Attendees of the Fela! celebration had been invited to walk with ‘holiday gifts of love’ for the children Haiti.  The critically acclaimed Fela! was nominated for eleven Tony awards, including “Best Musical” and “Best Leading Actor In A Musical.”  It subsequently took home three Tonys for “Best Costume Design,” “Best Sound Design” and “Best Choreography.”  It is based on the life and work of legendary Nigerian artist, multi-instrumentalist, political and civil rights activist and revolutionary – the late Fela Kuti, who pioneered the Afrobeat music genre.

Leave a comment in the WST forum

In Pictures



When Steel Talks...
Everybody Listens!!

Get your WST Tee shirt now!
Click for details

  Bookmark and Share
 Follow When Steel Talks on

Get your Steelband Music CDs, DVDs and Exclusive Steelband Artwork here

© 2010 When Steel Talks - All Rights Reserved

 More on Steelpan In Trinidad       
Pan Global Page

Home * Pan News * Headlines * Events * Message Board * Guest Book * Pan Radio * Pan Global * Pan TnT * Pan New York * About Us * Join Mailing List * Contact

Search for Anything Steelpan Music Related