Tag Archives: Pan-Africanism

Lemi about Fela Kuti

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

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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.’

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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.

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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

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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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Lemi Ghariokwu – the bio facts

Lemi, also called the inventor of ‘Lagos Afro Pop Art’, was born in Lagos in 1955 and has always had a keen interest in art. He had no formal training, but his mother was artistic, as she used to weave and trace drawings, and his sister also used to draw, but never took it seriously.

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Lemi says he used to paint Mickey and other cartoons when he was a kid and this shows in his style: a cross between illustration and cartoon, his album jackets displaying a diverse narrative pattern which actually tells the story about the social issues the lyrics of the songs approach. Lemi designed 26 album sleeves for Fela over 19 years. But how did he get to meet the king of Afrobeat?

In 1974, he became friends with Fela through an acquaintanceship with the journalist Babatunde Harrison, who has seen a drawing of Lemi’s in a bar they both used to go to. He asked Lemi to do a portrait of Fela and then gave it to him. The musician was impressed and tried to give Lemi money for it, but he refused it and instead got a pass for all of Fela’s shows.

This was the year of the naming of Kalakuta Republic, so Lemi started frequenting the place and assimilating the ideology, already having a Pan-Africanist mindframe: ‘I spent my life at the Shrine. I worked alone. I did my drawings there’, said Lemi. He was the YAP (Young African Pioneers) news editor, designing 2 cartoons a week (one colour, one black & white) depicting and criticizing what happened over the week, as the organization also used to make ‘subversive’ posters which were banned in 1977.

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Once he got into the business, he became quite prolific and now his clientele includes artists from Ghana, Cameroun and beyond. People on rotation at his place include: Ras Kimono, Charlie Boy, Shina Peters, Sunny Ade, Alhaji Kollington, Evi Edna Ogosi, The Mandators , Majek Fashek, Alex O.
He is also into sculptures, public paintings, general graphic works, magazine paste-ups, corporate stationaries and other artistic endeavours.

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