KCRW Sundance Showcase: Matisyahu and the Fela! Band

Written by

The Fela! Band by Madison Parker

Matisyahu by Duston Todd
Matisyahu by Duston Todd

I would dare to guess that chance run ins at Sundance have kickstarted a lot of projects and brought a lot of creative people together over the years.

After all, that is one of the main benefits of a festival such as this — a large number of people with common interests squeezed into a small mountain town over the course of a week or so.

On the KCRW crew’s first venture into town, Matisyahu – dressed in snowboarding gear and about to hit the slopes — stopped Jason Bentley on the street.

Turns out he’s a huge fan of the station (he moved to LA two years ago) and was in town for a few shows as he puts the finishing touches on his new record.

We asked him on the spot to open our showcase the next night with an acoustic set and he said yes.

He was the world’s first Hasidic rapper reggae superstar, but in recent years has transitioned into more of a singer-songwriter. He played an acoustic set with guitarist and a bassist (Stu Brooks, who happens to be producing his album) but can still beatbox with the best of them – including on the new track Watch the Walls Melt Down

Hard Way” was a brand new track that he played in public for the first time at our showcase and he even included a Marley cover (“Running Away”).

The Fela! Band by Madison Parker

The 14-piece Fela! Band followed with a set that got every single person moving.

The band is part of the touring musical about the life of Afrobeat legend Fela Kuti and a documentary on the man (and the musical) called “Finding Fela”, which premiered at the festival.

Singer Sahr Ngaujah embodies the powerful spirit of Fela, who truly changed the world through his music, which was often political and always danceable.

With three dancers at the front of the stage and an excellent group of musicians behind him, they played over an hour — the crowd wouldn’t let them off the stage! And at one point, Fela’s daughter Yenny jumped on stage to dance, an endorsement that meant the world to the band members.

Sahr and documentary director Alex Gibney also dropped by our live radio broadcasts for an interview about the film, which got a very positive reception at the fest.

“Lady” — Fela! Band

Sahr and Alex Gibney by Duston Todd
Sahr and Alex Gibney by Duston Todd