One of the abiding tragedies of Nigerian popular music is the fact that there's so little audiovisual documentation of its development. It kinda hurts my heart when I watch, say, the extensive collection of vintage Congolese music performances on Innosita TV because they remind me so much of similar performances I used to watch of Nigerian music stars of the 1970s and early 80s (back when artists used to make videos for every track on their albums!). Not to mention the numerous TV variety shows like The Bar Beach Show with Art Alade, The Tee-Mac Show, Sir Victor Uwaifo's Expo! and The Bala Miller Show.
Today, I don't know if anybody knows for sure where any of that footage is, thanks laregly to the Nigerian Television Authority's shoddy job of protecting their archives. You see, during the lean days of the late 80s and early 90s, it became fairly standard procedure to dub over old tapes. What are you gonna do? Stuff like that happens from time to time, but it's the indiscriminate nature of it that beggars belief. From what I've heard, corner-cutting producers were sneaking into the tape libraries and snatching not just music videos, but even master copies of important television shows like The Village Headmaster and The Adio Family to tape their shows over. Huge chunks of historically significant popular culture disappear with the push of a "record" button (or rather, the simultaneous pushing of the "record" and "play" buttons for my old school heads).
Still, I remain hopeful that at least some of that footage has survived somewhere out there. Lately iNollywood.com has been streaming classic NTA shows like The New Masquerade and Second Chance, and even vintage TV commercials. I have no clue how they acquired this content--and believe me, I have asked--but if they've got it, maybe someone else has some other stuff too, like some heretofore lost performances by the likes of Bobby Benson, The Sunshine Sisters, and Sir Patrick Idahosa & His African Sound Makers.
Fela has fared a lot better than most Nigerian musicians in this regard because his colorful reputation has made him a subject of fascination for filmmakers across the globe. Even then, there's only so much existing performance footage of the man, and a lot of that can be attributed his abrasive personality as well: I can't remember the name of the European filmmaker who traveled to Lagos to shoot a Fela documentary and had to go home with his dreams crushed after the Chief Priest demanded an exorbitant sum for the rights to film him; former NTA producer Chris Obi-Rapu has revealed that plans were in motion for Fela to get his own TV show in the 1970s but network got scared and pulled the plug; and then there was Fela's self-produced hagiopic, The Black President, whose master print was destroyed when soldiers burned down his house in 1977.
This makes it all the more a joy to behold previously unseen footage, especially when its from the less-documented early periods of Fela's career. I'm talking, of course, about the DVD Ginger Baker in Africa.
For those who don't know the story, here's a quick recap: In 1971, Ginger Baker, the drummer of the legendary rock group Cream, decided to take a trip to Nigeria, traveling across the Sahara desert. Once in Nigeria, he situated himself within the local music scene, built the first multitrack recording studio in West Africa, and planted the seeds for the "Afro-rock" era by forming the band SALT (featuring Berkley Jones, Laolu Akins and Mike Odumosu--who would break off as the power trio BLO--and the Lijadu Sisters).
Apparently, Baker filmed some of his travels but sat on the footage for more than 30 years. Now, finally, he's unveiled it and given us an intriguing (if nebulous) inside look at the Nigerian music scene in the immediate post-Biafra period. To be honest, the film is very clearly a product of its drug-addled times, with incoherent editing reminiscent of the LSD scene from Easy Rider and meandering narration by Baker. But it's worth it all to see the documentary's centerpiece: Baker reunites with his old friend Fela Ransome-Kuti as the rising king of afrobeat performs in a rain-soaked open-air nightclub in Calabar:
Apropos of nothing, I'll mention right off the top that I was rather tickled to see the "Luna Nite Club" sign at the end, because that place was still rocking on Fosbury Road when I was growing up in Calabar in the 80s.
Other than that, while the sound isn't great, but I think it's still a lot of fun to watch what a good time he seems to be having onstage (especially as he playfully "manhandles" his dancers and players). The show seems a lot looser than than his later performance style, and he's still rocking that weird snakeskin vest thing he used to wear before he got into the custom-made embroidered jumpsuits. Ginger Baker has got to have more stuff like this, and I hope he puts it out soon. (Come to think of it, Roy Ayers has said that he's got a boatload of footage from his stay with Fela in 1979/80... Give up the goods, Roy!)