Tag Archives: social critique

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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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-work

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.

kalakuta-show

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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