Read Cynthia Torto’s (general manager of Punch Records) exclusive account of her trip to Nigeria in January 2008 to find out about how she got in contact with Lemi, her encounter with him and what he’s like. Enjoy!
I originally was put in contact with Bisi Silva, the director of the Centre of Contemporary Art in Lagos. She curated Lemi’s latest exhibition in Lagos. The Plan was that we would bring over that exhibition and show it here. Simple right? No! Third party negotiations are always long winded and unfortunately, we were unable to come to a suitable agreement. I’m a very impatient person when it comes to things like this, so I managed to find a by-pass and I emailed Lemi directly. Luckily, I was already due to go on holiday in Ghana around that time so we made arrangements for me to come across to Lagos and talk to Lemi in person.
I’ve been to Nigeria before but never as an adult so I was really excited. I was also very keen to meet Lemi. I’d obviously read up about him and people had told me lots but I’m always keen to discover people for myself especially when they’re artists. I like to see them outside of the shield of their art too. Before I’d even left the UK I was already developing a huge amount of respect for Lemi, just from the few telephone calls and emails we’d exchanged.
To cut a long story short (cos I’m getting tired of typing!). I spent two very intense days with him but it felt like 2 – 3 months. Not in the sense that it dragged out but because I felt I had learnt so much! Lemi is a very open person. Between him picking me up from the airport, or my hotel, or the time we spent talking and going through his archive in his studio, he was very generous with his knowledge, opinions, stories and spirit. I really got a true sense of him, his work and his time with Fela Kuti. Thus I was very determined that the work that we produced should and would be about Lemi – his story, his work and his art. Historical giants like Fela Kuti can sometimes cast shadows on the people around them and Lemi and his work positively counteracts this.
We spent much of the time just talking – about life, personal inspirations, modern music, west African attitudes to life, art and of course Fela. It’s very rare to meet people who are truly themselves 100% of the time. For Lemi and his family to allow me into their lives was a great honour.
I truly left Nigeria with a fascination and love not just for Lemi but for Nigeria and the art coming out of there at the moment. It’s such a shame that so few people get to experience this.