Nigeria’s Fela Anikulapo Kuti legacy is one of the most stridently political paths ever walked in the history of music. This world is now given new access into the live vaults of the Fela legacy with the 3 disc release Live In Detroit 1986, a show that almost runs three hours and leaves nothing behind in the pursuit of the message Fela brought from the beginning of his career until the end. In the beginning of his career, Fela wasted no time setting up an independent state of living from the Nigerian government he opposed. It was his Kalakuta Republic that became the epicenter for all political activity after Fela returned from his break through in the States in 1970. The Kalakuta Republic was located at 14 Agege Motor Road, Idi-Oro, Mushin, Lagos, Nigeria and was a communal compound, recording studio and free health clinic. It was here that Fela Kuti, Tony Allen and the healthy number of their supportive cast created the movement that is popularly known as afro-beat.This was a movement that went far outside of the confinements of just being music and became a voice for the voiceless.
With over 40 albums released on the French based imprint Barclay Records, Fela has contributed the most important and timeless collection of African music for the world to understand and live by. His lyrics, messages and ways of living is stil a standard people are striving and reaching for. It was this path that led to the Nigerian government sending in over a 1000 military troops to raid his Kalakuta Republic compound in 1977. His mother would be tossed out of a window in this incident, something that would only charge Fela’s political insistence to fight stronger for the people who could not voice themselves in a public spectrum.
With the cross emergence of Cream’s Ginger Baker into the afro-beat scene and collaborative festival events in popular venues around the world, the 70′s became a time of exponential growth in awareness around the world for Fela and his trusted brothers and sisters in sound. As Fela’s affect on the masses took more control, his government fought even harder to suppress this power Fela was gaining, much like was seen with Jimi Hendrix and Bob Marley. With attempts on his life, false imprisonment and every other means of interfering with his mission in life, Fela still fought valiantly to stay clear from these traps and gave the world album after album of the most sublime afro-beat ever created. By the 80′s Fela had changed bands and was still as active as ever. His new band Egypt ’80 was just as eclectic and wild as the Africa ’70 band Fela had built the foundation of his legacy on.
1986 would prove to be a pivotal year for Fela and his Egpyt ’80 as they would take part in the six concert series of the 25th year celebration of Amnesty International’s A Conspiracy of Hope held in various cities around the States. The last event was held June 15, 1986 at Giants Stadium in New Jersey and was a sold out all day event, housing an impressive list of talent that included John Eddie with Max Weinberg, Third World, The Hooters, Peter Paul & Mary, Little Steven with Bob Geldof, Stanley Jordan, Joan Armatrading, Jackson Browne, Rubén Blades with Fela and Carlos Santana, Nona Hendryx, Yoko Ono, Howard Jones, Miles Davis, and Joni Mitchell. Sixteen years after the arrival of Fela onto the international scene and the Egypt ’80 would extend their touring in the States in the fall of 1986. It is this period that is being examined further with the latest live album release on Knitting Factory Records, Live In Detroit 1986. Recorded in pristine quality on November 7, 1989, Fela Kuti and Egypt ’80 turn the Fox Theatre in Detroit inside out. The live recording starts with Fela speaking to the crowd and ultimately getting them ready for the thirty minute work out of ‘Just Like That’. Fela would never perform songs live after they were released on album, so the crowd for this evening was hearing completely new material never heard on record before. The keyboard comes through beautifully with the crowd clapping in perfect rhythm inside the groove that builds right away. Once the band starts to cook, you can hear the crowds response and the overall open feeling inside the concert hall. Only a few minutes into the show and everyone is on their feet and into the rhythms of the afro-beat sound Fela had pioneered.
Fela was a well versed multi-instrumentalist and his keyboard, sax, percussion, trumpet and vocal work separates the music from any other afro-beat ever made. The horn line of the Egypt ’80 is just as towering, just as ferocious and ominous as Fela’s 70′s bands. The vocal tandem among the female and male singers is euphoric, sending chills up my spine as the keyboard runs get heavier and heavier. When the horn section cuts out, the percussion is given special attention along with Fela’s keyboard work. The trumpet solo section is one of my favorite areas on this first song of the set, showing a tone reminiscent of jazz luminaries Miles Davis and Freddie Hubbard. Saxophone is then given main line and is just as passion filled and exploratory of the political power this band carried with them at all times as any period in his legacy. As Fela pushes through note after note on his sax, you can hear a human pouring out every ounce of his soul. The pain of his people and the determination and strength it would take to get over all this strife is felt in every note. One of the best things about the source of this recording is how much of the crowd you can hear bleed into the stage mics, something really reflective of how much Fela was able to create a community at his performances and not just a spectacle.
The second of four songs to come into the Live In Detroit 1986 set is ‘Confusion Break Bones’ and is as Fela mentions in the recording, “is some deep African sounds”. The guitar, keys, bass and percussive groove that builds is intoxicating, leaving a trance like movement inside of me every time I hear this song. Fusion jazz of the 70′s was building heavily on the afro-beat world Fela was bringing and the calm yet vibrant approach this song gives is reflective of how that influence spread to artists like Herbie Hancock and Miles Davis. This song wouldn’t be released in album form for another four years from the date of this recording and would serve as a crucial vehicle for the live shows during this era of Fela’s career. ‘Confusion Break Bones’ has one of the most intense horn and vocal tandem sections, leading the slow burning groove into a heated and powerful stance. The drum and percussion break down is phenomenal, something that can’t be put into words how personal and unreal it must have been to experience the band bring back the song to a full band crescendo inside of the Fox Theatre that evening. When Fela picks up his sax, the band moves back into a really relaxed state with Fela streaming a thousand feet into flight.
‘Teacher Don’t Teach Me Nonsense’ and ‘Beast of No Nation” close out the remaining hour of the Live In Detroit 1986 concert, showing the same cyclical pull and release euphoria that builds on almost all of Fela’s works. Build ups, break downs and Fela’s unmistakable voice and you are left with something so powerful and dance inducing that you would be a zombie to not move to this live album. Live In Detroit 1986 solidifies the fact that Fela’s 80′s period was just as fruitful, emblazoned, glowing and brightly lit as the Africa ’70 in which most fans of his works have commonly come to identify with. Knitting Factory Records took a professional made recording and made sure all the levels were right to bring the closest picture of the atmosphere and aura you could expect from the Egypt ’80. Live In Detroit 1986, already one of the best of the year for us.
Fela Kuti Live in Detroit 1986
Knitting Factory Records
- Just Like That
- Confusion Break Bones
- Teach Don’t Teach Me No Nonsense
- Beast Of No Nation