The Amazing Fela

Written by
ginger baker
Documentary from Baker’s trip to Africa in 1971 (The original image is no longer available, please contact KCRW if you need access to the original image.)

A friend sent me this video of a 1971 concert of Fela with Cream drummer Ginger Baker. It was most likely lifted from a great documentary, Ginger Baker in Africa, a must-see for any Fela fan. The show overflows with dionysian energy, an African counterpart to love-in shows of the countercultural 1960s. For anybody in LA considering going to the Ahmanson Theater to see the second run of Fela! The Musical, you get a taste of Fela’s spirit in this video.

I recently featured the 1986 interview I did with Fela that you can listen to here. Fela was the son of a stern minister father and a politically active mother. She got Nigerian women the right to vote and the right to drive. She was awarded the Lenin Peace Prize in Moscow. Then she was murdered by government thugs who raided Fela’s Kalakuta Republic compound, army soldiers that Fela sings about in his song “Zombie”.

I once got a ride in a taxi with a Nigerian driver. Naturally I brought up Fela. He turned around in amazement, looking at me, white middle class guy, who knew all about Fela. I asked him if he was at the compound when the army attacked. He pulled the taxi over to the side of the road, pulled back his sleeve to reveal shrapnel wounds he suffered that horrible night. “I was Fela’s road manager”, he told me.

This video really gets the feel of one of those nights with Fela. Also, as Ginger Baker says, a dance with death, performing with microphones and amplifiers and lots of electrical wires in the midst of a downpour.

I know Fela, saw him many times when he came to LA, and was apprehensive about the musical: you know, if you read the book before, you might not enjoy the movie as much as somebody who didn’t.  This proved untrue with the musical. I loved it. And I’ve heard that the return engagement is every bit as good as the first run. But it ends this Sunday, so don’t wait if you haven’t seen it!

Here’s a clip from Ginger Baker in Africa, a 1971 show with Fela and all his troupe at his performance space, The Shrine.