The Fela Kuti revival–lawsuits and all–in New York City rolls on. This time it’s a documentary about a mid-1980s visit Kuti–then in his prime–made to New York City. “Fela–NYC: Fresh from Africa” is a 97-minute film directed by Jaheed Ashley “… filled with rare footage of Fela that remained unseen for two decades.” The film first came out in 2006. This was Fela’s first visit to New York City after a 17 year absence.
We don’t more about the film.
In the mid-1980s, Fela was at the height of his powers and not just considered a musical genius, but also a political figure. In this November 1986 preview of a concert he was playing in Manhattan (at The Felt Forum is at Eighth Avenue at 33d Street), Kuti talks to The New York Times’s Jon Pareles. Parales reminds us that Kuti’s last visit to the US was canceled when he was arrested for currency smuggling as he was boarding a plane to New York. He ended up in prison for 20 months. The US visit followed a tour of Europe. Kuti alleged the arrest was politically motivated. Nigeria was a military dictatorship and Kuti was an outspoken opponent of the regime. A sample quote shows why the military and Nigeria’s corrupt elites hated him at the time:
I will be president of my country one day. There is no doubt about that. My country will be a symbol of free human society. Now, there is a lot of violence between the armed forces, the police and the citizens. If I became president now I would immediately pass a law that makes every citizen a policeman or a soldier. Today’s society has so many laws and so many institutions, but Africa needs a different approach before it can develop as a continent.
He also talks about his creative process to Pareles:
I wanted to conquer the bottom. Now, my mind is cleared up better, I am more spiritually aware, and I can face tragic things with less fear. My analysis of things I want to express is deeper.
Here‘s a link to the trailer.
The film is doing the rounds in New York City now.