Tag Archives: Lemi and Fela

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 about Fela Kuti

Only a few months before naming the Kalakuta Republic, in 1974, Lemi became friends with the Afrobeat legend, Fela Kuti.


It’s been pre-ordained that my path would cross with Fela’s for the purpose of celebrating Africa’

They shared Pan-Africanist views about the unity of African people and Black consciousness, and Lemi started frequenting the Republic, working there and attending the shows at the Shrine. He knew Fela’s tracks inside out because they were performed live months before they were recorded, so he grasped the concept of the albums and designed a ‘translation’ of them through his own point of view when designing the covers. He received guidance from Fela only on two of them: Johnny Just Drop and Sorrow, Tears and Blood .

Lemi describes Fela in the following way:

He had a very strong character, very radical, but also a soft and human side. I was using different techinques to express the different character sensitivities: ink and pencil for Sorrow, Tears and Blood, oil when I wanted some more fleshy and realistic colours.’



Lemi comments on the deterioration of his relationship with Fela, explaining it by the difference in their characters:


‘Fela is a genius, an iconoclast, a humanist, a liberator, a maverick, many things rolled into one. Creative geniuses, when they get to their heights, they are eccentric in nature.’


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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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Get set. Go

With a month and a bit left until the launch of the Art’s Own Kind exhibition, we kick off the buzz here by getting an insight into the story behind the event and Lemi Ghariokwu’s contribution to the Afrobeat movement. His work reflects the vibrant atmosphere of African culture and also makes a statement about Black people’s ideals and strife within society.

So, the following posts will give a bit of info and background to how Lemi established himself as Nigeria’s most prolific record sleeve designer, since his collaboration and friendship with Fela Kuti overshadows him as an artist to the extent that he doesn’t even have a Wikipedia entry (actually I just might do that…). As I said in the blog’s description, each post is meant to be an incitement to interactive dialogue, so it would be great if you could drop any thoughts and feelings about what’s here.

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