Category Archives: Meanings

Lemi talks about the Fela Kuti albums artwork

Since artwork complements the music, with the occasion of the new Fela show hitting the UK, watch a video with artist Lemi Ghariokwu giving an insight into the creation of Fela’s album sleeves:

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Lemi’s Afro Beat Art

Watch an exclusive video with Lemi talking about his early career, meeting Fela Kuti and his recent work by clicking the link below
Lemi Ghariokwu: Afro Art Beat from Damien Priest on Vimeo.

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Lemi on colonialism in art and the image of Africa

Lemi’s art makes a strong statement about how African people have adopted Western values and thus lost freedom of thought and action as a result of the colonialist era. Even now, the strands of colonialist mentality are still visible through the Western potrayal of African culture, impregnated with prejudices of the Black continent being an under-developed and savage environment.

ikoyi blindness

The Black man and woman is still colonised today. Look all around you and see what I mean. Most of the women in Africa and the Diaspora have their hair permed permanently. We wear Western clothes in Africa. We speak English to our children as the first and major language. Our culture and tradition is rapidly disappearing. With Christianity and Islam in total dominance as religions of Black people, tell me how Black art cannot and still continue to be colonised today? We’ve got to first emancipate ourselves from mental slavery before our minds and art can release itself from being colonised.


if you see smth

Lemi distinguishes between the image of Africa thaWestern culture has produced and the representation he gives to his own culture:

The primitive image of Africa is represented by the Western information machinery. It is mostly about wars, hunger, starvation and underdevelopment. I’m trying to portray the image of our society albeit critical at times but in the vein of us taking a look at what is wrong to come up with a progressive and lasting solution. The image of hope, self worth, pride and dignity of the African. This I hope to leave as my legacy.



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Lemi and Peter Tosh

I missed designing a Peter Tosh cover. He is my reggae hero. I met him twice in the 1980s during his private visits to Lagos. I asked him about the ‘No Nuclear War’ cover and he smiled and said: “Neville Garrick already finished work on it.” Today, right now in Nigeria, I would love to do a cover for Asa, I love her music and message but I’m not gonna go ask for that myself!!!


He also named his son after Peter Tosh, but as he did not want an English name he added an African twist to it and the result is: Omotosho.


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Lemi on art & politics

Everything we do is political. The way we carry on in life is very conscious, so why shouldn’t art that mirrors a society be political? Art is social and political at the same time. Even decorative art expresses the wishes of a segment of society, which is definitely politically conscious no matter a presumption of innocence or nonchalance.



Have the social or political messages Lemi explored in his artwork changed over time? Let’s see what Lemi has to say:

You know in life, they say, the more things change – the more they remain the same. Things have gone awry and worse since when I was designing for Fela Kuti back in the 1970s but the picture of the bitchiness of life has not changed, it is helping to iconise Fela Kuti as a prophet. Everything he spoke about 30 years ago is screening and rolling in 3D slow motion…more evidently so than when he was shouting himself hoarse decades ago. In the same vein, my work has become more meaningful today. People are beginning to appreciate the bravado of it when it was done. Sometimes I feel apocalyptic!


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Silk Screen Prints- Limited Edition on sale at the exhibition!

Exciting news! We’ve got four silk screen prints designed by Swifty which will be on sale at the exhibition and 25% of the sales will go to War Child Charity. Yes, you’ve read it right…the master of fonts himself, Swifty! The price of the prints is to be confirmed, but it will be just under 100 pounds. Further details of the artworks: they are black and silver printed on 315 gdm heritage woodfree white cartridge size 686 m high by 508 mm wide, signed and numbered by the artists, in an edition of 25.

And here are the prints, with the following titles (in order): Afrika 70, Black President, Blackism, and Freedom & Truth :

afrika 70

black president


justice & truth

You can see Swifty has reworked Lemi’s fonts from Fela’s sleeves and gave his drawings a new fresh/city look. So, we’ve got a delightful cross-over of two great artists, Lemi and Swifty, mashing up Brit urban design with the exotic African vibe impregnated with a strong social message.


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Lemi’s future plans

I wish to take my works around the world, spread my philosphy. That’s my dream. So, that’s the fulfilment of my destiny. Nigerian society worships money and materials, but I’m not crazy about all that. Money will come later.’

Art’s Own Kind is hoping to do that: bring his work into people’s attention and echo his ideas worldwide.


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Lemi about inspiration

Along with the Pan-Africanist ideology, the main source of inspiration for the album sleeves was, of course, Fela’s music with its effervescent lyrics.

But Lemi talks about artistic inspiration more generally, saying:

It comes from your immediate environment if you are observant enough. If you’re calm enough to listen and reason and be in tune with the infinite source that is within every human entity. So my inspiration comes from people who had been before me and had left behind legacies for me. Specifically, I was born with a pan-African frame of mind.’


As far as inspriational adjuvants are concerned, Lemi declares he doesn’t drink and doesn’t smoke : ‘I dont womanise, but humanizeand doesn’t believe in external influence too much. The only time he used drugs was when he designed the album cover for No Bread because Fela insisted that he tried a concoction of Igbo (marijuana) to ‘elevate’ his talent. He did not recourse to it again; instead, he uses meditation to achieve the same ‘high’.

So we can see how his work is a meeting point for influences and ideas from the social context they were created in and the inner realm of feelings and human consciousness.

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Lemi and drawing Fela’s music

Fela Kuti’s music cannot be detached from the statements it makes for freedom and African tradition and culture, belonging to Pan Africanist ideology. So the socio-political implications of the songs are essential to understanding his music and the context that led to its creation. Lemi remembers: ‘ at the end of the 60’s the Black Panther movement was very prominent. That marked my generation‘. There was a struggle for human rights, ethnic equality, eradication of black people’s oppression and institutional abuse, especially directed towards the justice and police forces.


Lemi already shared the Pan Africanist thoughts of people unity through African heritage, influenced by Kwame Nkrumah, Malcom X and Marcus Gravey, so he was familiar with Fela’s ideas and found it easy to design the covers.

I always try to understand their modus operandi in order to arrive an accurate concept. For instance 99% of Fela’s covers were done by me… because I understand his thinking’ comments Lemi on his approach to illustrating an album.

He was inspired by Fela’s music, being fascinated by the chaotic, explosive and funny side of it, taking the song’s lyrics as his guide to create the sleeves. However, this does not mean that his illustrations are mere depictions of the lyrics’ narrative, rather, Lemi classfies as an interpretative artist.

Each album jacket participates in a combat, since Lemi describes the artistic goal as:

We have a lot of work to accomplish in order to re-educate Africans. Colonialism and Neo-Colonialism have so profoundly affected the intellect of the continent


Make sure you check the collection of sleeves Lemi has created for Fela’s albums here and explore Lemi’s artistic universe in the blog’s link to Art’s Own Kind Flickr sets.


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