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Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Ludacris expands 'business portfolio' with 'Fela!' and Mayor Kasim Reed

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  • Dream Photography Group
When the three-time Tony Award-winning musical "Fela!" returns to Atlanta next week, Atlanta rapper Chris "Ludacris" Bridges' name will be on the show bill - not as a performer but as an associate producer.

He appeared last Friday at a City Hall press conference, alongside Mayor Kasim Reed, to announce his involvement in the four-day run of the Broadway musical, which hits the Fox Theatre, Feb. 28-Mar. 3.

Mayor Reed, who is endorsing "Fela!" and making tickets available to city employees at a $15 discount, framed Ludacris' participation as a win-win opportunity for the city of Atlanta and the rapper/actor and burgeoning businessman, who closed down his Midtown restaurant venture Straits last year after Atlanta's City Council awarded him a concessions contract to open Chicken N Beer at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport. The restaurant is scheduled to open sometime in 2013.

"I know that he's an outstanding businessman," said Mayor Reed. "So for him to take his interest in his success in business and then to move into arts and culture in a way that enriches our city, it's something that we should stand behind, and that's why I'm standing right beside him."

After catching "Fela!" on Broadway last year with his daughter, Ludacris "was extremely inspired," he said when asked why he chose to back it this year. "It feels great to expand my business portfolio and become a part of Atlanta's history," he added. His main function will be to help promote the show and engage the city of Atlanta in the show's return.

The story of the Nigerian musician/activist credited with creating Afrobeat bears an inherent connection to Atlanta's legacy as the home of the civil rights movement, according to Ogugua Iwelu, chief consultant for the Broadway musical. Inspired by the movement while visiting America in 1969, Fela returned to Nigeria with the resolve to fight against political oppression at home by instilling it into his own musical movement. "'Fela!' is a show that's really about the African-American struggle," Iwelu says. "Had it not been for the struggle you guys fought here in Atlanta, Memphis and all parts of this country, we wouldn't have this Fela we're talking about."

As associate producer for the play's second Atlanta stint, Ludacris follows in the footsteps of rappers-turned-moguls Sean "Jay-Z" Carter and Will Smith, who, along with wife Jada Pinkett-Smith, produced the show's original Broadway run.

As for Ludacris and Mayor Reed, it's another collaborative effort. In 2009, Ludacris endorsed and hosted a campaign fundraiser for then-state senator and mayoral candidate Reed. And last year Luda took to Twitter on voting day to show support for the Reed-backed T-SPLOST transportation referendum, though voters ultimately rejected it.

Before Friday's press conference, both the mayor and Ludacris used Twitter and Instagram to begin spreading the word about their involvement in the musical's return to Atlanta.


"You do business at the end of the day with people who you like, all else being equal," Mayor Reed said Friday. "So to the extent that Chris facilitates a cultural exchange - to the extent that we have young business people like Chris who are investing in art and culture that gives people in Atlanta a greater understanding of the African diaspora - I really think we all win. And that's why I think what we're doing here is so important."

Fela! Thu.-Sun., Feb. 28-Mar. 3. Fox Theatre, 660 Peachtree St. FoxATLtix.com.

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