In 1984, Fela Kuti was the biggest star Africa had ever seen. Adored by his own people, coveted by the international audience, stanned by global superstars – and hated by the authorities – Fela and the Egypt 80s were the hottest ticket in any town they were in.
There are few hotter towns than Somerset, England in mid-June, as they host their iconic Glastonbury Festival. The 140,000 person celebration of music is the most coveted stage for many performing artists – headliners this century have included Adele, Beyonce, Jay-Z, Coldplay, Ed Sheeran and more. It has long since been seen as the holy grail of festivals – imitated but rarely duplicated (Coachella are doing an alright job).
On Sunday, June 24th 1984, Fela graced the famed Pyramid Stage to close out the festival weekend, performing his seminal hit “Teacher Don’t Teach Me Nonsense.” Speaking to a crowd of predominantly white British people, Fela introduced the song with some undoubtedly uncomfortable truths stating that “Europeans taught us everything we know about democracy”.
“Teacher Don’t Teach Me Nonsense” 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 electoral inconsistencies 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. This was the soundtrack to some of the most riveting but turbulent times in the life of Kuti, leading up to his most publicised public persecution that led to an 18-month long jail term began.
Launching into an epic 35-minute performance, Fela overshadowed the previous headliners that weekend, and solidified himself at the top of the Pyramid.