‘When the concert is finished were done with it’ and that’s one of the reasons the band didn’t mind the live-recordings by its audience. And that makes the Grateful Dead one of the best documentated band in history. For me the favoriete songs change with age.
For example ‘Stella Blue’. It took me years to learn to appreciate the song. Now it is with ‘China Doll’ one of my most liked Grateful Dead songs. Goose bumps every time again! This is what Jerry Garcia said about the song:
“We present to you today, the greatest thing that ever came out of Africa… Fela and the Afrika 70… an experience of real African music…you will see something very original politically, religiously, and musically.”
It was 1978, in the evening. A little bored so nothing left to do but zapp a little on the TV. And suddenly I fell into a live concert of Fela and Africa ’70. My first experience of Fela’s music was the LP Zombie, and now I saw him for the first time live in action. Mesmerized ! What a powerful music, what a band, and the dancers…! And now, decades later, i finally found video-footage of that famous concert.
Live in Berlin 1978
Surfacing mysteriously after over 30 years, the video footage of Fela and African 70’s set at the Berlin Jazz Festival (Berliner Jazztage) in 1978 is a true gift to lovers of Fela and Afrobeat, marking the best quality video/audio and musical performance of Fela to date. In November (or September according to some sources), Fela & Afrika 70 headlined the Berlin Jazz Festival, while back home in Nigeria, government forces demolished the Kalakuta compound. Shortly thereafter, Afrika 70 disbanded.
Berlin Jazz 1978 was a landmark concert for Fela: a rare, high-quality, professionally recorded document of Afrika 70’s final show! The venue is in the round, and although there are few camera angles, close-ups and smart democratic focus on most band members is satisfying. Musically, the band is tight, vocals are solidly accurate, and the groove is a stunning demonstration of the highest level of musicianship, control, and stage presence. The band is animated, engaging, and amusing.
After a Black Power salute the band plays four songs, lasting almost 90 minutes in total. The video and audio quality is the best I have ever seen for a Fela concert. The mix is remarkable for the era and enormity of the band. The video is crisp and well lit, with white stage lights always on. Fela’s Dancing Queens, who appear during the last song, move their bodies to Fela’s sax solo’s and Tony Allen’s drum solo’s is sensational. Every one of the seven dancers featured has her own unique style of dancing. It was broadcasted both on German television as well as live on Nigerian television.
The songs on the Fela live in Berlin (1978) DVD :
1. V.I.P (Vagabonds In Power) (16:29) Fela introduces V.I.P., “Look at me as something new, something you have never seen before…99.9% of the information you get about Africa in wrong…V.I.P.means ‘Very Important Personality’…but you see, when these VIP get too rich, they do not want to see the ordinary man on the street who is poor.” Fela chastises audience members for talking while he is introducing the song.
2. Power Show (17:46) Introduction- “I am going to stand for presidency of my country next year… Somebody ask me, ‘how can a musician be a president’, and I ask him how can a lawyer be a politician?… The big man, like to use power to strike you down… the African concept of music, where jazz originated…” This performance is quite a rollicking rock version.
3. Pansa Pansa (15:15) Introduction- “You see when you are a revolutionary and you talk the truth… people will come and slap you down… then you talk again, they put you in jail… and when you are very strong, and you talk again, they may kill you, they may even burn your house down…. African people are afraid for life… they say, ‘do not talk again’…. but they no hear at all, they going to hear Pansa Pansa (more and more…) because the truth can never die”. Pansa Pansa is a wicked fast Afrobeat groove. The bass guitar is a little low in the mix here- crank your bass settings for maximum funk. Watch for the percussionist helping the guitarist adjust his settings mid song! Pansa Pansa recounts some of Fela’s revolutionary hits, then directs some audience participation. Look for Fela’s organ solo surrounded by his percussionists and guitarists striking photogenic poses around him.
4. Cross Examination (19:34) Cross Examination imagines putting the “African colonial soldier” on trial (Nkruma as judge, Fela as prosecutor, JK Braimah as defense). Cross Examination contains extended masterful solo work by drummer Tony Allen- leading Fela’s wives/ dancers in provocative displays!
Some songs of the Grateful Dead will take time and several listenings to appreciate. Other songs of them give you the goose-bumps at first listening… Wharf Rat is such a song. The band never released a studio version and the song featured here is from a beautiful cd bootleg called Floating Celestial. It’s the complete recording of the new year’s eve concert of 1991 in Oakland in crisp and crystal clear soundboard quality. The first (and only) new years concert without famous rock-promoter Bill Graham who died that year in a tragic helicopter accident.
It’s these lines that make this song work so good for me:
… I know the life I’m livin’s no good I’ll get a new start live the life I should …
When Bob Mayes and myself followed the band on the german and english concerts in the ninetees, I still remember the gig in the International Congress Halle in Berlin. There were a lot of US DeadHeads present at that concert. Maybe even more americans than european fans. It was a great concert and when the first notes of Wharf Rat emerged I was thrilled! But american fans react very different at the dead’s music and I was really pissed off when they began shouting and yelling at the song’s most sensitive moment…! Now, twenty years further along the way, i realise it’s the same emotion. It’s just another way of showing it… Above is a picture of August West by Jerry Garcia. Below is the YouTube video I made of the song from the ‘Floating Celestial’bootleg, lyrics included.