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Adesola clings to Ja roots

BY RICHARD JOHNSON Observer senior writer

Friday, March 23, 2012

THERE is an oft-repeated saying, 'If a Jamaican is not involved, then it hasn't been invented'.

This refers to the presence of Jamaicans in almost every sphere of life.

The achievements of second-generation Jamaicans in the world of the arts cannot be underestimated. Supermodels Naomi Campbell and Tyson Beckford, actors Sheryl Lee Ralph and Harry Belafonte and hip hop star Sean Kingston, have set the stage for many, who though born in foreign lands, still identify with their roots.

The latest addition to this list is Broadway actor/dancer Adesola Osakalumi, a member of the hit musical FELA!

Born in the Bronx, New York, Osakalumi has roots in Glengoffe, the small St Catherine community where his mother, Elaine Chambers, grew up.

"I have visited Jamaica more than 20 times. My last time was for some family and vacation time. It was very relaxing," he tells Splash.

It is the wisdom of his mother that constantly guides him.

"She taught me so much but one thing that stands out the most was this: 'Always listen to me because I'll always tell you the truth and by the time you go outside, people will try to get you to change your mind, by their words or their deeds,'" he said.

These words have served Osakalumi very well as he navigates the turbulent world of showbiz in New York City.

He first heard of FELA! — the Tony Award-winning musical produced for Broadway by entertainment's power couple Will Smith and Jada Pinkett-Smith — while doing his first Broadway play, Equus.

FELA! is based on the life of Nigerian composer and activist Fela Kuti.

" I had three auditions. For the first one, it was with the casting director and I read two scenes and sang two songs," he recalled. "The first call back was much more intense. The writers, the band, the producers were all there. I knew the stakes were much higher then. And for the last audition, I danced, sang, and did some improvisation."

One month later, he was cast in the production. He did not get the lead role, but instead was cast as a dancer. However, there was redemption. He was also the understudy for Fela, the lead.

During the Broadway run, he went on as the lead four times. Now that the show has ended its Broadway run and has been taken on the road, he stars as Fela.

Any similarities between he and the character?

"Yes there are because, like Fela, family and tradition are very important to me. Like him, I'm not willing to put anything above my family and the traditional values that were instilled in me," Osakalumi explained. "And I too fight for what I believe is right. Few can match to Fela's conviction, but principally, we are aligned."

And, what's next for Adesola Osakalume? He says he wants to grow as an artiste in television, film, theatre, writing, and choreography.

"My openness and versatility is what got me to where I am today in this groundbreaking role and I believe that is what will continue to expand my career."