This video of Fela performing “Teacher Don’t Teach Me Nonsense” off his album of the same name at the Zenith, Paris, did not exist until recently. Rikki Stein and Francis Kertekian, Fela’s former managers, shared the video via Fela’s label-managed Facebook page to celebrate the of the re-issue of Fela’s entire catalogue by Knitting Factor Records five years ago, tagging it as “previously unreleased”. But beyond that, this particular performance at Zenith is an important piece of the late Afrobeat king’s rich musical history for a few reasons.
The venue, Zenith Paris, was formerly the same grounds that housed, Pavillon de Paris, a concert arena that hosted legendary artists like, Bob Marley, Queen, David Bowie, Aretha Franklin during its operational years. The Zenith de Paris was completed in 1983 but opened officially in 1984, the same year Fela headlined a show at the 9000-people capacity arena.
“Teacher Don’t Teach Me Nonsense” , the song Fela is performing, came as a response to the emergence and collapse of Nigeria’s brief democratic state. After thirteen years of military rule (1966-1979), Nigeria witnessed a few years of civilian rule that lasted from the late 1970s through the early 80s, under the leadership of Shehu Shagari. However, the election that brought Shagari into office was reportedly marred by a series of inaccuracies that raised tensions across the country. By 1984 the military had taken full control of the country again, but from Fela’s mind’s eye, that was merely a reaction to the inherent problems that plagued the colonial underlining of democracy itself.
The core message of Fela’s Teacher Don’t Teach Me Nonsense era was a rejection of all forms of unquestionable authority. And Inadvertently, this was the Fela song in circulation in the months leading up to September 1984, when his most publicised public persecution that led to an 18-month long jail term began.
See Fela performing at The Zenith, France below