Tag Archives: Fela Kuti

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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Upcoming Nigeria50 events

To take it statistically, one out of four Africans is Nigerian. Also, Nigeria is the 8th most populous country in the world. And when it comes to its inhabitants, it might be interesting to know that more than 20 % of the total Black population lives in Nigeria, which makes it one of the most representative countries for African culture.
Where there’s man (and there are 148 million souls in Nigeria! ), there’s a place to find art, as it is a marker of man’s presence. Thus, Nigeria, comprising almost 250 ethnical groups with their own languages and customs, of which the largest are Fulani/Hausa, Yoruba and Igbo, offers us a space to explore artistic and cultural diversity in its utmost richness, exotism and irresistible attraction to ‘roots’ culture. By the predictions of the United Nations, Nigeria will be one of the countries that will account for most of the world’s population increase by 2050, so Nigeria 50 is a project which offers you the opportunity to delve into the creative spirit and mentality of a quickly expanding and developing nation. Nigeria 50 is a cultural event, bringing the best of Nigerian culture – passionate, political, shocking and sexy – to fresh and eager audiences worldwide.

For the very first time the fruits of five decades of music, art, fashion, writing and style from Africa’s most exciting nation will be on tour together with twenty venues are already confirmed, in cities all across the UK and also in international locations as diverse as New York, Tokyo, Paris, Cape Town and of course Lagos, where it all began. Nigeria 50 is modelled on Fela Kuti’s super groups, Africa 70 and Egypt 80, that gave birth to the Afrobeat phenomenon, featuring performances and tributes by many of the greatest international legends in Afrobeat history. These will include Dele Sosismi, Tony Allen and Wunmi. This unique tour of superstars will be accompanied the smash hit exhibition of Nigerian album images – “Art’s Own Kind” by Lemi Ghariokwu.

For more information check out the Punch website !

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Femi Kuti Live at the Afrika Shrine

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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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The New Afrika Shrine closed by the police

The New Afrika Shrine in Lagos was built and operated by Femi and Yeni Anikulapo Kuti, the eldest son and daughter of cultural icon, Fela Anikulapo Kuti, who built the original Shrine in the seventies, which endured until shortly after his death in 1997 when it, too, was forcibly closed by the Nigerian authorities. The new Shrine was forcibly closed down last week by the authorities who gave less than 24 hours notice and claimed “noise nuisance, illegal street trading, indiscriminate parking, blocking of access roads and obstruction of traffic” as their justification.

Both the old and new Shrines were much more than just music venues. They were a refuge for the underpriviledged and acted as a focal point for dissent and thus became a hindrance to the authority of the ruling elite. Fela used the stage to launch eloquently savage diatribes against the corruption and mismanagement that was rife in Nigeria, one of the world’s leading oil producing countries, and was a hero to millions for the acid, non-compromising social commentary in his lyrics. In the 70’s and 80’s people flocked to the Shrine to hear Fela’s latest protest against the country’s leaders and enjoy the powerful music and performance by Fela and his band hosted by the Kalakuta Republic, ruled by Fela who called himself the Black President.

1971- FELA_-_DON'T GAG MEFela paid the price of his rebellion by being constantly harassed, arrested (over 200 times) and beaten by the police, but this did not diminish the force of his attacks over time.

Following his death and the forced closure of his beloved Shrine, Femi and Yeni resolved to re-build an even bigger venue on a nearby site and used their share of income from the global sale of Fela’s albums with which to do so.

They were determined to maintain their Father’s legacy and considered the heritage of shelter, support and advocacy as being the most valuable contributions they could make towards the development and creation of a united and democratic African republic. According to authorities, the venue has been permanently closed, but a petition to re-open the site will be forwarded to Nigeria’s Minister of Culture.


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Cynthia’s trip to meet Lemi

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.

cynthia & lemi

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.

Cynthia Torto

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Story of the beginning

Ammo Talwar, chief executive of Punch Records, talks about the very birth of the Art’s Own Kind project and the reasons behind running the exhibition:

Thus the story follows  Cynthia’s path, who adds:

The entire team has been working on BASS 09 for the last two years – doing everything from seeing new work created by the African Diaspora here in the UK to checking out existing African festivals across Europe. All of this was with the intention of finding out what’s new and what’s fresh out there, and also finding things that inspire ­us personally.  This is a very important aspect of our ethos, and must be a running thread in any work we produce.

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