Written by Luke Alex Davis 2:04 pm Music

Stevie Wonder at Festac ’77

Festac ’77 was a festival of Black musical excellence in Nigeria which took 12 years of planning and over $1bn in costs (in today’s money). But Stevie Wonder stole the show.

Stevie Wonder at Festac '77

As part of their “20 iconic festival sets” series, The Guardian wrote a piece on Stevie Wonder’s headline performance at Festac ’77.

Festac 77 was big on a more prosaic level, too. Indeed, to even call it a “festival” in the contemporary sense would be doing it a disservice – this was Olympic Games scale. Four weeks of events across 10 venues including the specially built 5,000 capacity National Theatre; 15,000 participants housed in 5,000 high-end apartments and two luxury hotels, again all built for the event; a network of highways created to avoid Lagos’s legendary traffic congestion. It was 12 years in the planning, during which time it survived a civil war, a presidential assassination and two coups (one successful, one not) and the bill came in at $400m, or $1.75bn in today’s money.

Besides Stevie, all the biggest names in Black music were there including:

But amongst all spending and chaotic times leading up to the festival, Stevie stole the show and embracing his African roots in the process:

Such a sense of liberation was conspicuous from headliner Stevie Wonder, at the time coming off the back of five-year run of five ground-breaking albums, and among the biggest stars on the planet. He’d been exploring his African roots for a few years – he’d even made plans to move to Ghana in 1975 – which the Festac crowds appreciated. Mirian Makeba, his appointed guide, spoke of how he was “looking like an African, his hair all braided with beads”. In fact the Talking Book album had struck a particular chord with the Festac crowd and when he closed the event at the final show, coming on after Makeba, the audience made him perform Superstition six times.

Stream a documentary on Festac ’77 below.

FESTAC'77 - the Second World Black and African Festival of Arts and Culture