Fuse & Fela

New York's finest visual strategist helps to bring the Fela Kuti story to life on Broadway

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Presented by Jay-Z, Will Smith and Jada Pinkett, Fela! is the electric new Broadway show portraying the life and times of Afrobeat legend Fela Kuti, and if nothing else, it looks incredible. The dramatic art for the show was all made by the celebrated NYC Fuse. Known for his work with Mos Def, Lauryn Hill and Q-Tip, Fuse’s original styles are as integral to hip hop as beats. In his recent project with the talented producer 9th Wonder entitled The Planet ink, collage, paint and digital illustration all come together to create a surreal world, which 9th Wonder's soul-charged production provides the perfect soundtrack to.

Dazed Digital: How do you describe your art to the uninitiated?
Fuse: It’s definitely funk mixed with fantasy. Lots of things I do are influenced by music, so the subject matter in my work usually reflects that.

DD: What similarities do you see in the London and New York art scenes?Fuse: Well, the large population of West Indians in both places is first. There’s also a common political conscience among artist in both places. Brooklyn has its own unique problems on the street, and there is also a lot of global-political art coming out of London.

DD: Can you talk about the creative process involved in Fela?
Fuse: Although I’m very familiar with Fela’s music and story, my friend Sahr, who plays Fela on Broadway gave me a real insight into who he was. He gave me crazy mental pictures with Fela’s back story. Also, Fab 5 Freddy recently showed me some of his personal footage from The Shrine in Nigeria. I can’t tell you how powerful that shit was!
I was sketching ideas as I was watching it.

DD: And how about the Spike Lee MJ joint you worked on?
Fuse: Michael’s passing inspired a lot of artist to create works with his image.I had done a handful of MJ designs one day just sitting around listening to his music. The funny thing is that I wanted to make a t-shirt, but I felt guilty about exploiting him. I really wanted it to be for charity. The next day Spike asked if I had anything for Mike for his birthday tribute in Brooklyn. That one was meant to be.

DD: What's your favorite piece of album art?
Fuse: Miles Davis, Bitches Brew. Mati Klarwein is one of the greatest artists to ever walk the earth. Most of my favorite covers are by him: Last Poets, This Is Madness, Santanta!  The list goes on...

DD: How about working with 9th Wonder?
Fuse: The way he makes beats is the same way I make art. It’s heavy and layered like soul food. He knows how to chop his beats just at the right place to make your head nod. He’s an old soul like myself. We’re both from North Carolina so we speak that same southern slang and have that country in our blood.
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