“Fela releases Underground System, which will be the final album of newly recorded studio material to be issued during his lifetime. The album is inspired in part by the 1987 assassination of Fela’s friend, Burkina Faso’s revolutionary president, Thomas Sankara. It is internationally acclaimed as among Fela’s best-ever releases and shows Fela still experimenting with and developing his music.”
Underground System – AllMusic review
Underground System was among the better recordings of Fela’s late career, comprised of two extended tracks, the title cut and “Pansa Pansa.” “Underground System” starts off with rhythms that are far faster and more urgent than those on most of Fela’s characteristically lengthy tracks. If that sounds like a marginal quality upon which to judge a song as a standout, well, something like a much faster and played-as-though-we-mean-it tempo really does help to differentiate it from the singer’s generally similar output of the 1980s and 1990s. The backup singers also come in quickly with infectious chants, prior to a typical Fela lyric observing the difficulty in enacting positive political change in Africa. Hearing them sing in tandem with Fela instead of doing call-response patterns, as they do during much of the 28-minute cut, also makes for a refreshing variation. “Pansa Pansa,” at a mere (for Fela) 17 minutes, also gets your attention more than his average effort, with rapid propulsive beats and sprinkles of slightly dissonant jazzy piano.
Review by Richie Unterberger
“The last album of newly recorded studio material to be released during Fela’s lifetime, 1992’s Underground System is a magnificent swansong, one more blazing masterpiece in a career full of them.
Fela wrote the first draft of the rocket-fuelled title track as a tribute to Burkina Faso’s revolutionary leader, Thomas Sankara. The two men knew and liked each other:
Sankara admired Fela’s music as much as Fela admired Sankara’s espousal of African values and commitment to radical social change.”