Last week saw the release of Fela: Live In Detroit 1986. In some ways, it’s what you would expect from a Fela album: propulsive, politically charged Afrobeat that stretch into extended stompdowns. In fact, the three CDs only contain four (4) songs!
The album was recorded live at Detroit’s Fox Theater and marked a triumphant return for Fela and his band Egypt 80. He’d spent two years in a Nigerian jail on trumped up charges of “currency trafficking”. Amnesty International waged a campaign that finally saw him freed in April of 1986, and he was performing in Detroit as part of the human rights organization’s Conspiracy of Hope tour two months later.
From the press release:
The Detroit concert was part of Fela’s debut US tour with his Egypt 80 band and the recording ﬁnds them on strident form, showcasing all-new material in free-ﬂowing extended workouts: “Just Like That” recalls Fela’s memories of the Nigerian Civil War; “Confusion Break Bones” (an update of his earlier track, “Confusion”), compares the present African situation to a permanent trafﬁc jam at a town center crossroads; “Teacher Don’t Teach Me Nonsense” swipes at the oyinbos (white men) forcing sham versions of democracy on Africa and allowing “democratic” rulers to line their own pockets at the expense of the people while foreign-owned multi-nationals are allowed to freely strip the continent of its natural resources; “Beasts Of No Nation” reﬂects on Fela’s recent court case and imprisonment in Nigeria and, more widely, on the issues around Apartheid. The messages here resonate as powerfully as anything from Fela’s career.
Bob Teagan, the audio engineer who recorded the album, recalls the show: “Coming into the Fox Theater, Fela was well aware that it was the same venue that birthed the careers of Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder, and it was the epicenter of Motown. These were all profound inﬂuences on Fela and he did those artists justice with his performance, dancing all across the massive stage and inciting the crowd to move with him.”