Soyinka evades birthday reception at ‘Fela! on Broadway’

Soyinka evades birthday reception at ‘Fela! on Broadway’

The owners of the popular musical,
‘Fela! on Broadway’, were shocked on Tuesday night when Nobel Laureate,
Wole Soyinka, suddenly slipped away, ignoring the elaborate birthday
reception organised for him in New York.

Mr. Soyinka was at the Eugene O’Neill
Theatre venue in midtown New York to see, for the first time, the
highly entertaining musical woven around the life and music of his
cousin, the late Afrobeat musician and activist, Fela Anikulapo Kuti.

Apparently unaware of the Nobel
Laureate’s dislike for any outward celebration of his birthday, the
show owners had ordered a rectangular gorgeous birthday cake, which
they planned to present to the professor on stage at the end of the

Food, drinks, and tables were also
reserved at the next-door Serafina Hotel, where the 76-year-old writer
was to be hosted to a reception.

But somehow, Mr. Soyinka got wind of the plan, and he sneaked out of the “shrine”, just as the cast was taking their bows.

Unaware that the Nobel Laureate had
left the venue, the talented Sahr Ngaujah, who acted Fela, grabbed the
microphone and announced to the audience,

“This is a very special night for us
because we are visited today by Fela’s cousin, the great Nobel
Laureate, Professor Wole Soyinka. Today also happens to be his

Ngaujah had hardly finished when two
female members of the cast appeared onstage with a rectangular
white-red-blue birthday cake.

The audience clapped and buzzed with
expectation, hoping that the professor would move onstage to make a
brief remark and cut the cake.

But Mr. Soyinka was long gone and the
audience, which had a good number of Nigerians, and scores of
journalists, were disappointed. A birthday song was, nonetheless, sung
for him.

Honour for organisers

Okey Ndibe, a professor of Literature
at Trinity College, who saw Mr. Soyinka hurrying out of the theatre and
waving down a taxi, said the Nobel Laureate told him that he did not
want the performance to be about him, but about Fela.

“He said he did not want to grant
interviews or be celebrated,” Mr. Ndibe explained to Stephen Hendel,
lead producer of the play.

“He said it is a great play, but that
he would come back unannounced to watch the play again and meet the
cast,” Mr. Ndibe said.

Publisher of, a
popular online news website, Omoyele Sowore, who drove Soyinka from his
hotel to the play, also explained that the professor had an early
flight for South Africa on Wednesday and could therefore not wait for
his birthday song.

Mr. Hendel said although the professor
did not wait for the reception, his presence at the “shrine” to watch
the play was an enough honour for him and his team.

“We have so much respect for Professor Wole Soyinka,” he said. “For
us to have one of the greatest men of the world come to see the show is
a great honour for us. It is a thrill for everyone,” he said.

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