Nigerian Afro-beat star Fela Anikulapo Kuti, who spent more than 20 months in prison after receiving a five-year sentence for currency smuggling, was released recently after the judge who had convicted him -- without a jury and with no appeal -- confessed to the current military regime of Gen. Ibrahim Babangida that he had done so under pressure from the previous military regime. The judge has since been retired.
The leading pop musician in Africa, Fela has long been a thorn in the side of any and all regimes, but his arrest as he was boarding a plane for his first American tour and the subsequent sham trial and imprisonment provoked a storm of international protest. The current Nigerian regime (in which Fela's brother is the health minister) had been under considerable pressure to release him and finally did so, citing "improper and unethical conduct" in his trial.
Fela, who celebrated with a May Day concert in Lagos, is now expected to tour Europe and America this summer. His initial appearance here will be as part of the huge Amnesty International fund- and membership-raising concert and telecast from Giants Stadium in New Jersey on June 15 with Sting, U2, Miles Davis, Rube'n Blades and others. Amnesty International was one of the major organizations fighting for his release. This Friday at Kilimanjaro's Heritage Hall, there will be a celebration of Fela's release and the continuing vitality of his music. Demand for Transcripts
The Senate Commerce Committee has been flooded with requests for transcripts of the record labeling hearings last fall. They are available for $5 from Superintendent of Documents, Congressional Sales Office, Washington, D.C. 20402. The stock number is 0520070-06101-4. For audio excerpts, you'll have to turn to Frank Zappa's "The Mothers of Prevention" single . . . Rock and Roll Confidential reports that the San Antonio ordinance fining promoters $200 per underage fan at "obscene concerts" has led many rock acts to pass by the city. Some traditionally big draws have performed to surprisingly small crowds, including Black Sabbath and W.A.S.P., which drew only 4,000 to the 18,000-capacity Convention Center. Mayor Henry Cisneros confirmed the climate of censorship when he said recently that "symphony musicians have nothing to fear with this ordinance, but rock musicians do."
Meanwhile, two other Texas cities, El Paso and Corpus Christi, narrowly defeated similar ordinances. RRC also reports that city attorneys from Dallas, Waco and Austin, as well as Memphis and Wichita, Kan., and that cradle of censorship, Boston, have requested copies of San Antonio's antirock legislation. Uhuru's 'Train Robbery'
Local reggae producer Gary Himmelfarb is enjoying his biggest commercial success with the release of "Brutal," the new album by the reconstituted Black Uhuru (Junior Reid has replaced Michael Rose). The album's first single, "Great Train Robbery," was recorded at Arthur Baker's Shakedown studio in New York, and Baker, one of today's hottest producers, cut a dance mix (as well as a dub mix and a vocal mix) with hot session players Jeff Bova (Herbie Hancock), Ira Seigel and Lenny Pickett.
The single is getting a strong response in England, where it's the group's first pop chart hit, and Holland. The album -- the bulk of which was recorded locally at Lion and Fox -- is already being reported to the Billboard charts, with 20,000 units sold in just a couple of weeks. The first of three records Black Uhuru will cut for RAS, "Brutal" will also be RAS' first compact disc. A video, produced by Eric Kulberg and Universal Media, premiered on the Music Video Connection last weekend and on Britain's prestigious "Breakfast Show" on Monday. Sly and Robbie's Film
Sly and Robbie's "Make 'em Move" is the first video clip from "Good to Go." The film is inspired by Washington's thriving go-go scene, but the song is reggae and the dramatic scenes excerpted in the video suggest a violent, simplistic home-boys-versus-police confrontation.
After half a dozen delays, "Good to Go" is now being screened for select audiences (but not in Washington). The title song, performed by Trouble Funk, will be released in early June, followed a few weeks later by the sound track album. The film will open in late July. (Sly and Robbie, incidentally, are not in it.)
Early reports say that the music is the strongest element in "Good to Go," which is only incidentally about go-go, dealing more with the black underclass in Washington, bigotry and corruption in the police department, and the PCP epidemic that affects both. (There's even a nasty group rape echoing the Catherine Fuller case.) "It's not a cartoon like 'Krush Groove,' " says one who's seen it. "It's more like 'The Harder They Come,' " the cult film that exposed the drug-crime culture in Jamaica against a reggae musical track. Both films were produced by Island Records' Chris Blackwell. Jazz Festival Lineup
The Capital City Jazz Festival, which was scheduled for June 5-8, lost Sunday's concert and several of its scheduled performers when some supporting funds fell through at the last minute. Other acts have been consolidated into previously scheduled concerts.
The new lineup: McCoy Tyner and Shirley Horn will appear at Duke Ellington School of the Arts, Thursday at 8 p.m.; Tito Puente and his Latin Ensemble and the Paquito D'Rivera Quintet will perform Friday at 8 p.m. at the Convention Center, followed by a midnight salsa party with Tulio Arias. Saturday's concerts, all at the Convention Center, feature Abdullah Ibrahim & Ekaya and Hugh Masekela & Kalahari at 2 p.m.; and the Milt Jackson/Ray Brown All Stars with Little Jimmy Scott, the Betty Carter Trio and the Terrence Blanchard/Donald Harrison Quintet at 8 p.m. The festival closes Saturday with a midnight jam featuring local stars Buck Hill, Wallace Roney and Andrew White.