Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Seun Kuti Rocks Out With Santana, As His Father Fela Kuti Did Briefly In 1986... And The Shameful Story of How MTV Nearly Prevented Fela From Performing At All At Amnesty International's Conspiracy Of Hope Concert

                                                              (Photo: Seun Kuti/Sony Music Masterworks)

Nigeria's Seun Kuti, youngest son of Afro Beat legend Fela Kuti, recently teamed up with another legend, Carlos Santana, to produce the song "Black Times".

 Seun, speaking about "Black Times", says:

"Black Times is a true reflection of my political and social beliefs. It is an album for anybody who believes in change and understands the duty we have to rise up and come together.
The elites always try to divide the working class and the poor people of the world. The same oppression felt by workers in Flint, Michigan is felt by workers in Lagos and Johannesburg.
We are all capable of change, us iron people, us workers. Black Times is the sound of the people and a weapon of the future. The big picture needs more colour."

Interestingly, Fela Kuti played onstage with Santana at Amnesty International's Conspiracy Of Hope Concert at New Jersey's Giant's Stadium on Sunday, June 15, 1986. Fela was meant to play a full set, but the bigwigs at MTV, who were broadcasting the concert live, thought he had no draw in America and didn't want him to perform at all. Santana saved the day by graciously offering to have Fela perform during his segment with Panamanian singer and activist Ruben Blades.

The Wikipedia entry for "Conspiracy of Hope":

The final show at Giants Stadium was an all-day event, running from noon until 11 p.m.

The following additional artists performed at this concert (in order): John Eddie (with guests Max Weinberg and 14 Karat Soul), Third WorldThe HootersPeter Paul & MaryLittle Steven (with guests Darlene Love and John Waite), Bob Geldof (also with guests Darlene LovePaul Schaeffer, and John Waite), Stanley JordanJoan ArmatradingJackson BrowneRubén Blades (with Fela and Carlos Santana), Nona HendryxYoko OnoHoward Jones, and Miles Davis

The show then continued with the regular performers (in order) of The Neville BrothersJoan Baez (Baez and the Nevilles also performed a number of songs together), Lou ReedPeter GabrielBryan AdamsJoni MitchellU2The Police (with Bono during the song Invisible Sun) and finally everyone came out together to perform "I Shall Be Released".

                                                 Fela with Lou Reed at "Conspiracy" Press Conference

Fela Promo For Amnesty Fundraising Campaign During Concert Broadcast on MTV

                Fela Onstage at Giants Stadium with the Ensemble after the finale of "I Shall Be Released"

The "Conspiracy Of Hope" concert was inspired by the "Secret Policeman's Ball" series of concerts and films in the UK featuring comedy and music to raise funds and awareness for Amnesty International. Amnesty supports human rights around the globe and became well-known for letter-writing campaigns to pressure authoritarian regimes to release political prisoners.

Fela had long been a thorn in the side of corrupt Nigerian politicians who he often called out by name in his 20 - 30 minute-long jazz-enfused journeys. He had just been released from prison and was able for the concert. Organizers realized what a coup it would be to have Fela at the concert. Not only would he add some much needed ethnic diversity to the line-up but he also neatly encapsulated exactly what Amnesty was about. Amnesty had worked on his case and he was freed, unharmed, rather than "disappeared" forever.

Massive hoops were jumped through, both in Nigeria and the U.S. to make the travel and visa arrangements for Fela and his band. Miraculously, it all worked out. Fela and band made it to the U.S. in time for the concert.

But there was a problem.

MTV had paid a hefty licensing fee to broadcast the concert live. Amnesty was counting on the money and exposure MTV promised to a young generation ready to be educated and become activists.

Fela is beloved in Nigeria and throughout Africa and the world to this day. Fans of world music have long boosted him as a true original, but it seemed that the staff at MTV literally had no idea who Fela was and how important he was. One participant joked that to the MTV staffers, "Fela" only meant the first four letters of what they were looking for that day.

Fela and his band were prepared to play a full 45-minute set but MTV insisted there was no room for him in the busy line-up. MTV was looking for "Live Aid, Part II" and a ratings bonanza. They didn't seem to be overly concerned about the politics of the situation or common decency toward Fela, a true prince of the African music scene.

In the end, Fela played with Santana and Ruben Blades and was introduced to the crowd.

It was amazing that he appeared at all, but it could have been so much more. The insult of the narrow-minded, ratings-minded MTV staffers wasn't known by most at the time who were simply blown away by the power of the performances on stage. But it is an insult that still stings. Looking at the sunny side... How wonderful it was for Santana to reach out to Fela back in '86, and now, over 30 years later, for him to reunite with the Kuti family in "Black Times"!

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