On West Point’s voyage to Tarkwa Bay (2)

Fishermen's boats on Tarkwa Bay Beach.

As I make my way to the Baale’s house, I am greeted every few steps by young and mature residents; obviously an in-built habit with folks on the island. I respond to each greeting, smile for smile, taking it all in my stride. Shortly, I stop over at a laundry shop to get a description to the Baale’s compound, and the young man I meet oozes such friendliness I wish to continue my conversation with him. Done with answering my queries, his parting statement leaves me tongue-tied. ‘I would have loved to take you there myself, but I am the only one in the shop. I’m sorry’. Walking away I ponder his generosity, considering I am a stranger.

Down the road, I reach a spot where I find another young man seated on a mat, surrounded by neighbours; a partly eaten loaf of bread in his hand. I ask him if I am on the right path to the Baale’s house. ‘Yes. Just walk straight down’, he says, pointing with his left hand. ‘It is the biggest house you will see on your left, just before the railway line. You can’t miss it’. As I make to leave, he offers me a coconut with a broad smile. No doubt, there is a rare generous spirit in force here, a sharp distinction to what obtains on the Lagos mainland, where the pressures of daily living have stripped nearly everybody of the simple courtesies of greeting and relating with the next person.

As it happens I miss the Baale’s house, but retrace my steps with the guidance of other residents, only to learn that the man I seek is away attending a burial ceremony. So I walk back, past the kind stranger with the bread, and make a right turn towards Tarkwa Bay beach, which is five minutes away. And the first thing I notice, besides the soothing ambience, are dozens of eye-catching recliner seats lined up in a straight line some 25 metres from the shoreline. ‘We collect N200 for one’, the chap in charge says as we make our way to the shoreline. I will certainly need to sit in one, but not immediately. Except for a few surfers and strollers, the beach is deserted.

A breeze blows gently in the air and the waters are tame. Far in the distance, there is nothing to see—just a seemingly endless stretch of the Atlantic. A banner positioned within sight describes Tarkwa Bay beach as ‘The safest beach in Nigeria’. So how is it that a beach this cute, and supposedly safe is empty—at 2pm? ‘Most people come here on Sundays’, Lanre, a member of the Beach Management Committee, tells me when we get talking. ‘Even today, you will see a crowd soon. It is still too early’.

Boat with a view: WestPoint approaches Tarkwa Bay JettyI’m impressed with the idea of a beach management committee. It is novel even. Aside from the private beaches which have devised ways to keep their heads above water, not once have I heard anything like this on most other community-based beaches in Lagos. According to Lanre, the committee was set up by the local government to ensure steady revenue, to help keep the beach in good shape. It appears the committee is barely able to meet its obligations, especially as per the necessary crowd-pulling facilities.

A large track of the beach is clean, but there are patches of filth around and about, and a wide area in a corner serves as a dumping ground for the garbage generated by beach users.  ‘We used to have Lagos State Waste Management (LAWMA) disposal vessels come here regularly through the waterways to pack the dirt, but all of a sudden they stopped coming. That is why the refuse is piling up ’, Lanre says.

Some weeks before my trip to Tarkwa Bay, I had an opportunity to interview Disun Holloway, the Lagos State Commissioner for Tourism and Intergovernmental Relations, inside the Family Park (a new leisure facility) within the Lekki Conservation Centre that is soon to open to the public. I asked him about the ministry’s overall plans for tourism development as well as for beaches in Lagos, seeing that nothing remarkable has been done in the past decade to make them more appealing to tourists.

‘Lagos State has approximately 180km of beach line. We’ve selected some beaches along this axis, and we are approaching His Excellency, Governor Babatunde Raji Fashola, with a proposal to harmonise the way that many of them are being run. At the moment, some of these beaches are managed by families who claim they own the land, others by private concerns.

Like is the case with most beaches in Lagos, Tarkwa Bay has it s crafts vendors

‘We need to regulate the management such that when you go to a particular beach, you know what to expect. You know who is collecting the fees, who is maintaining it—not just some haphazard arrangement. There is going to be a policy for all of that, basically. At the Gberefu Beach in Badagry, for instance, there is a shoreline protection project going on. We are coming up with a few things, including an amphitheatre on the shoreline, restaurants, and so on.”

These facilities—and a grass cutting machine—are exactly what Tarkwa Bay beach also needs to raise its appeal with beach lovers, and to complement the efforts of the local committee.

On West Point’s voyage to Tarkwa Bay (1)

Pelu Awofeso, about to leave the CMS jetty en route Tarkwa Bay

Pelu Awofeso, about to leave the CMS jetty en route Tarkwa Bay

There is a moment of calm before the boat pulls out from the CMS jetty towards Tarkwa Bay, the island just off the Lagos Marina. A few feet away boats, painted in bright blue colours, and clustered like pigeons, collide mildly as the waves ebb and flow. And beyond them, two white cruise ships anchor, bound, I’m told, for Ikorodu.

Amidst all of this, there is a sprinkling of seaweeds, which add their own share of brightness to the dull surroundings. ‘Takwa Bay, Takwa Bay’, one young man calls out as I step out of the car and onto the concrete floors of the jetty just as a boat, loaded with people and cartons of groceries, gets ready to leave. The boys on duty clear a path for it.

From my perch on the jetty, I scan the boats more intently. Like I’ve seen in Port Harcourt and other riverine cities in the south-south, these ones too have been christened by their owners: Baba Ahoy, Creek New, Sea Trader, Comfort Marine. I hop onto the next available boat with a scratched paint surface. Against its side is written West Point.

While waiting, I see the familiar Union Bank, First Bank and UBA buildings in the distance, rising starkly against the midday sky. Shortly after, nine more passengers have strapped on their life jackets and taken their seats, the driver powers the engine, and West Point is on its way to Tarkwa Bay. If nothing awful happens, we will be safely delivered to the jetty on that end, and it will be my first time on that patch of Lagos that I have heard and read about but never had a reason to visit—until now.

For a reason I can’t understand, the mention of Tarkwa Bay brings images of Snake Island to my mind, a place I visited just once as a secondary school senior (with a dozen other students from other schools) as a guest of the Man ‘O War Sea School in 1991. My uninformed guess was that both islands were in the same area. But I am wrong. They are, literally, poles apart.

As West Point charts its course, with its front end tipping skywards, the usual human and vehicular noises overland (from nearby highways) fade away gradually; and soon all I can hear is the splash of water on both sides of the boat. To my left I see the cityscape, typified by countless high-rise buildings around Broad Street, also recede in the distance—Sterling Towers, NITEL, plus the unmistakable columns of Tafawa Balewa Square (TBS).

But the view to my right is different, and pleasantly so. For many nautical miles ahead is the wharf (also a port), packed with cargoes and container ships. The sight of the vessels is a refreshing change from what one sees daily while commuting on Lagos highways. The multiple cranes on them are still, spiking the sky in every direction.

‘They are off-loading cargoes’, the boat driver says from behind me. ‘Cement, salt, rice, and so many things like that’. On the spot I wish I could get on the deck of one of the ships to see how things work aboard; or even sail on it. But that will be a trip for another day.

West Point pulls gently into the Tarkwa Bay jetty, which is teeming with locals and passengers anxious to jump onto available boats, and head back in the direction of CMS. A shed comes into view, bearing the words ‘Tarkwa Bay Boat owners and Drivers Association’. Half a dozen men are seated in it, some chatting, and others have their gazes fixed on the jetty. The security man on duty collects the latch from our driver, and gently steers the boat to the side. We all climb out.

Welcome to Tarkwa Bay

Welcome to Tarkwa Bay

On the ground in Takwa Bay the setting is uninspiring. After a few steps, walking on the sands, I see the island is another community of peasants who have settled here from various parts of Nigeria, and whose lives could have been more beautiful if Nigeria took tourism development seriously enough. There are shacks and kiosks everywhere, complemented by a sprinkling of modest bungalows. A woman is frying fish, dundun and akara on one side of the sandy ground, under the shade of a tree. There is also a mini-market nearby, but not much buying and selling is going on.

However, the atmosphere is calm and laid-back, which is a good omen for me; and nowhere is this more so than at the beachfront.

10 Things I Learned from #WritingBizNG

10 Things I Learned from #WritingBizNG

On Saturday 25th October, the New Lagos Book Club called a writers’ assembly to discuss “The Business of Writing”, the conception of which I find commendable. Incidentally, I have a book of that same titled, purchased in 2004 and which I have read over and over with other books on [freelance] writing and journalism, so I knew I would have lots to share.

It is the first time in recent years that Nigeria-based writers will come together to discuss the Naira and Kobo aspect of their craft—and what fun and learning we all had! Though I was invited to talk about how I have made money from writing over the years, I also picked up bits and pieces of useful gist from the other panelists as well as from the knowledgeable audience. There were so many take-home lessons (search #WritingBizNG on twitter to read all the tweets from that conversation), but here are a few I noted:

The Second Panel at 'The Business of Writing' hosted by the New Lagos Book Club.

A book is a book—and so much more

Anyone who knows Joy Isi Bewaji (themagazineclub.com) will have heard about “Eko Dialogue” a novella she published some years ago. Earlier this year, that same book was revived as a stage adaptation, in collaboration with the Crown troupe of Africa. And it’s been performed a couple of times since. Also this year, she produced “Tina’s Shoes and Love Issues” as an audio book in two parts; she’s (Ghost) written a book that I know and published so many other stories over the years and very recently, she scripted a radio play for ifooafrica.com. This is an individual exploring every possible option open to the writer beyond just the almighty book and squeezing every drop of Naira possible from such experiments. So if you are an aspiring writer or already published, take a cue.

The Angel of Writing: Joy Isi Bewaji

Writers must define what they want to do and be

During the second panel, Chude Jideonwo got everyone literally hanging on his every word when he revealed the decisions he took years ago when he realized that writing was what he really wanted to do. “I told myself that I didn’t want to be poor and I didn’t want to be irrelevant as a writer,” the publisher of the youth-focused Ynaija.com said. He took that decision after witching a group of established writers critique a piece of writing, particularly arguing almost endlessly over the style of the author. He thought that was a waste of valuable time, one that could lead to penury (and don’t we all know brainy writers who are struggling to make ends meet nowadays?). Jideonwo followed through with his thoughts and he is now one very rich (?)—and influential—dude.

Writers must define their audience

At the opening session, Debola Omololu (@DebolaOmololu) who owned the now defunct Debonair Bookshop in the Sabo area of Lagos encouraged aspiring writers to know what demography they wish to target their writing at. Not to do so will be to misdirect their efforts, and this could result in them being irrelevant. He would also reveal that he closed down Debonair because it was costing him so much money (millions of it) in rent but contributing little (3%) to the bottom line. Now, he is partnering with another outfit to launch an e-commerce site soon, which will retail stuff, including downloadable books.

Bura-Bari Nwilo reading from 'Diary of Stupid Boyfried'

A writer must write—nothing more, nothing less

Famous romance writer and role model for many upcoming and now established writers Toni Kan focused in part on the industry a writer must imbibe if they wish to be successful. “A writer must sit down and discipline himself to write,” the founder of the wave making sabinews.com says. He shared about how he had written 5,000 words of journalism that week alone, including a 1000+ word review of MI’s newly released album, Chairman. “How many of you have written anything close to that this week? So don’t aspire to be a writer—just write!”

Guerilla [self] Marketing pays

Port Harcourt (and Nsukka) based Bura-Bari Nwilo (@BuraBariNwilo) has just published a cute little book titled “Diary of a Stupid Boyfriend”, a humorous account of one of his many romantic liaisons (the book is dedicated to his mom “and the many ladies I have loved”. Published with the financial support of a friend, he’s devoted almost every day since the book rolled off the press pushing it in peoples’ faces on social media in a most creative and fun way. That’s how he came to the attention of the New Lagos Book Club, which then invited him over to read from the book and share his marketing story. “What I did was tell everyone who had bought a copy to snap with it and then send the picture to me,” Bura-Bari said, when he was handed the mic to share his experience with marketing the book on his own steam. By the day’s end, nearly every one of the 50 writers present was intrigued enough to buy a copy.

Writer, journalist, blogger and author--pelu awofeso

Writers need managers

One of the points I made was about the challenges writers often face with combining the creative and the business sides of writing. I made reference to the parlous state of the Association of Nigerian Authors (ANA), which continues to struggle financially decades after its founding. A writer-friend who has been shortlisted in the current year told me that often-time awards are given to authors without the associated cash rewards, because the money is just not there. If anything, I said, the ANA secretariat needs administrators to manage its affairs and writers will do well to have managers—just like the artistes do. These administrators and managers will handle the negotiations and whatnot, while the writers focus on creating their stories in peace. One writer I know who has done that is the enterprising Onyeka Nwelue (author of “The Abyssinian Boy”) and the young man is currently on a tour of Europe with his second book, “Burnt”.

There are better writers out there than the ones you know

Ayo Sogunro, whom I’d never heard about until that day at WritingBizNG, was my revelation of the day. A lawyer and social critic, he has built quite a reputation and following on social media; his blog posts, I learned, are a magnet for thousands of readers (Jeez!). And his writing is so good that poet and author Charles Ayo Dada (“The Ghost of Zina”) singled him out for praise. He had visited a bookshop recently and stumbled on a book while browsing the shelves, titled: “The Wonderful Life of Senator Boniface and other Sorry Tales”. Dada was overwhelmed by the quality of the narrative, without ever having met the writer behind it. “For me, that is the best book of the year,” he said.

A room full of writers at #WritingBizNG

Writers need to grow their audience [before thinking of writing a book]

This is connected to points 3 and 7 above. Debola Omololu drove this point home when he said that an executive of an overseas publishing house told him that they would not consider publishing any writer wo didn’t have at least 100,000 followers on social media. Writers need to test the waters, so to speak, by cultivating a loyal readership online upon which they can leverage their book projects.

Not every writer will make money from writing

Cheta Nwaze (@Chxta) said it as it is: “I don’t make money from writing”. Well, considering that #WritingBizNG was about making money from writing, I can imagine the room wondering what he was doing on the panel. But then, come to think of it: all the writers in the world cannot make money from writing; some, like Cheta perhaps, do it either for the fun of it or as a social service; most writers don’t make enough to sustain themselves solely from writing and according to a statistic someone shared, only 2% of the writers in the world get rich from just writing.

You will write for free at some point [but you will also have to charge for same at some point]

I started out as a freelance writer and I was paid a token for my column piece in a newspaper. Over the years, I have written stories that publishers didn’t pay for and I still do (by choice). But I know where to draw the line and charge for my writing. Many writers have had to write for free too, a sacrifice they endure as they grow their skill. It is nothing to be ashamed of; just to know when enough is enough and when your toil must be rewarded in monetary terms.

The first Panel of discussants at "The Business of Writing'--Isabella Akinseye, Cheta Nwanze, Debola Omololu (photo by New Lagos Book Club)

I started my contribution at the “Business of Writing” with a quote (“Don’t ask yourself if your book will make interesting reading, ask yourself if it would make money.”) by Gary Provost, whose book on freelance writing I have had for many years. I also shared his point of view that to succeed in the world of writing, a writer must be a pirate and a mule (whatever that means) and business-minded to succeed as a writer.

So now that you know, go out there and make those millions–good luck!

Lemi Ghariokwu: ‘I Was Fela’s Youngest Best Friend’

Lemi Ghariokwu in his studio in Lagos

Lemi Ghariokwu in his studio in Lagos

Before he turned  20, Lemi Ghariokwu, the artist who designed 26 jacket covers for Afrobeat creator Fela Anikulapo-Kuti’s music, knew he was ‘gonna make it in Art’. The year (1974) his first collage graced Fela’s ‘Alagbon Close’ album, Ghariokwu recalls, “It was a hit cover. I became an instant star and I was just 19.”  That was largely because the illustration on the album was reviewed by the local media.

The following year, with the backing of his mom and a candid, brotherly advice from Fela, the gifted Ghariokwu decided against pursuing a course in Arts at the University. Instead, he set out to collect as many relevant books on the subject, pored over them passionately and got inspired by their varied content.

His first purchase, a hard-cover book titled ‘Picture History of World Art’ (by Nathaniel Harris), stirred up his creativity on end. A line drawing by Mattisse spawned a new image in the young Ghariokwu’s mind, which he drew in black in on the opposite page. He bought more books and he was soon drinking from the fountain of creative greats like: Da Vinci, Michelangelo, Picasso, Rembrandt, and lots more creative geniuses.

It was actually in the first few pages of his first purchase that he wrote two prophetic paragraphs in black ink, an agenda-setting of sorts: it was a soul-searching entry, a clear-headed assessment of his understanding of purpose and destiny, and why every human being on earth owe it to themselves to discover their own reason(s) for being, their life’s trajectory.

“There is a billion ways of making headway in life. It’s either early in your lifetime, later or never…I don’t believe in mediocrity. I believe solely in the best thing…for anything worth doing at all is worth doing better,” one portion reads.

At the time, he believed had found his, and he was even so cocksure that, sooner or later, he would ‘make it in Art—and make it, I will’.

So for four straight years, Ghariokwu worked closely with Fela and was even a regular face at the late musician’s four weekly shows at Kalakuta/Afrika Shrine: Ladies’ Nite (Tuesday); Yabis Nite (Friday); Comprehensive Show (Saturday), Sunday Jump.  At the time, he had stopped attending church services (he was raised a Roman Catholic, confirmed as Michael) and so it was not too hard for him to fit into the creative maelstrom that Fela birthed. For a 20-year old, the exposure must have been an eyeful.

“I thank my stars that I was able to hold my head; it was a total weird experience, a different world entirely,” Ghariokwu says, going down memory lane in his studio in Lagos. “Here I was in the midst of these crazy, weird, creative genius, iconoclast, traditionalist, revolutionary and egalitarian world. I preserved myself. I didn’t go through all the craziness, the madness. If I had been lost in that euphoria, I may not be here today because I know what has happened to some people who didn’t get their bearings right.”

What followed his unexpected big break into stardom was even more successes, which spanned the good part of three decades (1974-1992), and continues till date. “My claim to fame is the works I did for Fela,” he told a Swedish documentary team in England in 2009 during an exhibition of some of his works.  “I helped to brand Fela—as a product, as an enigma, as a revolutionary, as a creative genius, an egalitarian, all the lifestyle.”

It’s clear that Ghariokwu idolizes Fela, in much the same way that several thousands of the late artiste’s fans worldwide do. And he is not passive about it. At the slightest opportunity, Ghariokwu heartily shares his life story and his self-taught skill at art the same way he speaks about Fela, whom he refers to as a ‘warrior and soldier’.

Already, he has been commissioned by the Kuti Family to curate the art section of the new Kalakuta Museum, projected to cost N58million; it is sponsored wholly by the Lagos State Government and schedule to open in October 2012. When fully renovated, the facility, which was Fela’s home until he died in August 1997, will also have a restaurant, a five-room boutique hotel, a tea/coffe shop, an internet café, and a souvenir shop.

There is more: “Fela’s room is going to be left he left it at death, his personal effects and all. We are going to create a room that will have at least 1,000 pictures of Fela, because he was well photographed globally. The stairwell from the third-floor down will carry a ‘Fela Story’, his lifelines. There will be a room also for the women behind Fela. The mother, Sandra Isidore and the 27 women he married in a day, and so on,” Ghariokwu explains.

All this, coming on the heels of the hugely successful Fela! (on Broadway), the musical, which earned 11 Tony Award nominations in 2011 and has toured the world. Ghariokwu’s face brightens when he tells me he has seen the show no less than 35 times, in New York and London.

“When I saw the show for the first time, I was crying. So were [Fela’s children] Yeni, Femi and Seun,” he says, his voice mellow. “I am very happy to be alive right now that Fela’s legacy is blossoming. It is the role I was destined to play; and it is a role I am still playing. It is destiny fulfilled. I am still alive; before I die I will still do my best to help institutionalize Fela Kuti,” Ghariokwu says.

So what memories of Fela has he preserved in his mind? He wastes no time to reel out a tale he has told a thousand times about his first ever meeting with Fela, wearing just briefs. “It was that day when he saw the [first] portrait I did of him and he exclaimed ‘wow, gaddem!’ And don’t we all remember Abami Eda in his briefs?

“I was surprised to find that Nigeria produces so much rich music”–Toshi Endo

QnA with Toshi Endo (Japanese lecturer and Fela Scholar)

Prof. Toshiya Endo

Prof. Toshiya Endo

It’s amazing that a Japanese academic is so knowledgeable in African music. How did it all begin?

In the 1970s my interest was in American folk and pop music, the singer-writer kind of music. But then all of a sudden some great music started to come from the developing world, which had a huge impact on me. That was Bob Marley. What he sang about was reality, different from the songs American used to do. So I was stunned that the kind of music could come from the peripheral of the world, Jamaica. Needless to say that I was impressed by this fact, so I looked for other music in a similar context, and I came across music from Africa, especially in Nigeria. I discovered Fela Kuti/ Afrobeat, Sunny Ade/Juju music. I was surprised that such rich music was produced in Nigeria. More and more, I went deeply into Nigerian music.

You didn’t just limit your interest to listening and enjoying the songs; you actually created a blog, a very rich discography of African music. What was the motivation for that?

African music was difficult to find in Japan. It is also difficult to get vinyl records of music made in Nigeria. The only way for me to do it was to contact record shops in London. There was a particular one called the Stern’s Radio (at the time), which was exclusively into Nigerian music. I used the mail order system of the record shop to get Nigerian music. I did that over time and my collection increased year after year. Still my collection was very limited, and as things would happen I had the opportunity to visit Nigeria in the 1980s and I collected a lot of music. Still they weren’t enough, so I collected more and more. Then I thought it was important to collected these information and make them accessible to the public, to everybody. So I decided to start a website, the discography that you referred to, at the onset of internet in the 1990s. In the beginning, I just gathered information from my personal collection and uploaded them on the site; but then many people all over the world contacted me and started to tell me what was missing, and some even helped to fill in the gaps. The database expanded and has been expanding ever since.

As they say, music is a universal language. But when you listen to African music that you have, are you able to understand the message in the songs?

To tell the truth, I don’t understand the African language and I don’t understand the message in the music, but I try to learn what the message is because I am also very interested in what the message really is. I understand that juju music has this kind of message, same for Fuji, same for Afrobeat and so on. But then you must know that music is not just about the lyrics: it is a total entity, a combination of sound, beats and, of course, lyrics. This, I think, is sufficient for me to understand the groove.

You have visited the New African Shrine, built by Femi, Fela’s son. What did you feel being in the hall?

When I came to Nigeria in the 1980s, I wanted to see a live performance by Fela but at that time he was in Italy, so I couldn’t and it was painful for me. Then he passed away and I had no chance to see his live shows. But now, I know that his children are doing very well in music and transforming Afrobeat in their own way, and they have provided a venue for live performance. This is very impressive and I was very happy to be there to see how popular the place is.

In collecting all of this music across Africa, it’s like a service to humanity and to Africa in particular. Is it that Africa is unable to preserve its own unique heritage by itself?

This is a pity. There is so much treasure of African culture and much nice music were produced in the past 30-40 years and they are all in vinyl records and most of them have been lost in Nigeria but kept in countries in Europe and Asia (Japan). Basically, nothing remains here. It is really a pity. I realize that nobody in Nigeria cares about the value of this important heritage. But this is understandable for me, in a sense, because young people are interested in other things and most are not interested in collecting mere records, when there is need for survival and the governments need to invest in infrastructure. We are just collectors and outsiders. Sad that a lot of treasure is lost in Africa, but all the same we can share the value of African heritage.

What do you do with your actual collection in Japan—are you planning for an exhibition some day?

For example most of Fela’s recordings are virtually non-existent in Nigeria and only a few of these can be found elsewhere in the world. So I collected those recordings from many collectors everywhere I could find them abroad, I edited them and the list is updated. I released a set of three CDs of his music; I am doing this as some form of payback for Fela’s fans with the help of record collectors all over the world, and several collectors are doing same with different kinds of global music.

You went vinyl hunting in Lagos. Which records did you get?

This time I got some of Fela’s recordings. Though I have most of them already but some of the jackets are not in good condition. Jackets are also important for Vinyl and I found some in that record shop in Lagos. I was very happy but they were very expensive. It’s okay. I preserve these records and sometimes later, I return same to the public by scanning them onto the site and re-issuing them in CD formats. I am indeed happy to do this.

Will I be right to say that you have more interest in Fela and Afrobeat than in other genres of Afrobeat?

No, no, no. I love all the music equally. I love Afrobeat, Juju, Fuji, Sakara, Apala, waka and highlife—I love all the Yoruba and Ibo music. Thya all have special attraction for me.

You have just recently been to Kinsasha. What was it like in that part of Africa?

Kinshasa is rich in Rumba-Rock music, a huge category of African music which can compete fairly well with Nigerian and West African music like the Senegalese music. Rumba-Rock stems from Cuban music imported to then Zaire long time ago. That brand of music has been transformed by the likes of Papa Wemba and some others. So it has a long history, just like Nigerian music which had its beginnings in what has been called ‘Palm wine music’. Rumba music has excellent in vocal harmony with guitar and percussion instruments. In Yoruba music, we have nice talking drums and beats. Each musical genre has its own character and attractiveness. It will be difficult to say one is better than the other; I enjoy both genres. Sometime ago many Congolese musicians left their country because of all the strife and fled abroad to France and Europe in very large number. Now, they are all coming back and they are very active in music. I saw many concerts and many live performances, and I enjoyed them very much.

Fela’s Cross

“This country is bad!” cries Tony, one of the main characters in Cornel-Best Onyekaba’s punchy play, Fela: Son of Kuti. A moment later, he laments: “Our Republic is over. Kalakuta has been razed to the ground…Kalakuta is gone forever.”

Time check: what’s unfolding before our eyes inside the National theatre is a playwright’s re-imagining of what might have transpired among Fela’s band members on the morning of 18 February 1977, a day after the Nigerian military attacked and sacked the Kalakuta Republic, where Fela Anikulapo-Kuti, then 39, lived with dozens of dependents and his aged mother, the political activist Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti.

As soldiers marched on the premises, Tony and some of Fela’s band boys and backup singers fled to the nearest safe shelter they could find, from where they played back the mind bending brutality of the previous day; hungry and bruised, they agonized over their misfortune, collective loss and the uncertain future that stared them in the face. To make matters worse, their breadwinner’s whereabouts unknown and the one place they could confidently call ‘home’ now existed only in their memory.

Through the characters’ dialogue, occasionally punctuated by pidgin (the Republic’s language of choice), the audience were transported four decades back in time and space to witness one of Fela’s many run-ins with the law, a tense episode that would reshape the story and evolution of  the Afrobeat movement.

From Tonia, the teenager Fela found and removed from the vicious Ojuelegba area, we learn that the soldiers’ assault was merciless; they shot tear gas in every direction and pumped the building with bullets. Apparently acting on instructions from the authorities, the ‘Zombies’ (as Fela would later refer to them in a song) were on a mission to kill, steal and destroy–literally.

“Before anybody know wetin dey happen, two officers push mama (Fela’s mother) out from window,” reveals Iyabo, another backup singer.

As they debated why Kalakuta was meted with such cruelty, another crisis broke out, and this time it had nothing to do with guns and batons: the band began to relive the good times of the pre-Afrobeat years, when Fela played highlife-cum-Jazz music for its entertainment value only, not as a weapon against the junta.

“Don’t pretend you don’t know how Abami Eda brought this whole tragedy upon us,” Tony throws the first stone. “When we were koola Lobitos, we just dey play our Jazz and highlife dey go; we dey make big money like our oga’s master, Victor Olaiya. When we sign, people go dey spray us money—everybody like us that time well well.”

Of course, some of the other band members thought he was talking rubbish and they challenged him accordingly. “Just one day and you have denied Abami Eda more than three times,” Niyi lashes out, wracked by the pangs of a broken left leg. “If you have always felt this way about his ideologies, why did you remain in the band all these years? You should have declared your position and go your separate way. Instead you stayed back and constituted yourself into a rebel within a rebellion.”

While the in-fighting lasts, it is soon revealed that there have been moles in Kalakuta all along who leaked details of Fela’s every move to a government that was hell-bent on shutting Fela up for good.

Fela: The Son of Kuti is a gem of a play, one that needs to tour Nigeria and the world; it is a play that should be seen by Every Nigerian alive, young and old. The playwright provides uncommon insight into the side of Fela less well known to the public, one far removed from the ‘bad boy’ persona perpetually projected in the media of his time. It gives a glimpse into the circumstances that inspired some of his hit songs; it shows the “Black President” as a good-humored, humane character who was ultra-sensitive to the predicament of the masses. Perhaps, Fela was the only musician of his generation who welcomed societal rejects and castaways into his commune and invested his resources to make them better than he met them.

“It is only a perpetually damned fool that will spend a night with Abami Eda without undergoing a mental revolution,” another back-up singer Iyabo says as the argument for and against their leader raged. “Yes, I dropped out from school but Fela has filled up the missing gaps and today I can boldly challenge any professor of history on any aspect of ancient and contemporary African history.”

The Abami Eda was that good.

Cast and Crew of "Fela: The Son of Kuti" on the stage of the National Theatre, Iganmu, Lagos

Cast and Crew of “Fela: The Son of Kuti” on the stage of the National Theatre, Iganmu, Lagos

Fela, Preacher and Priest

Originally posted on waka-about:

Fela's tomb at Kalakuta (Photo by Africa-Related ©)

By Majemite Jaboro

On October 15 2011, the Chief Priest Fela Anukulapo Kuti would have been 73 years old, if he had been alive. However, Last August I visited the Kalakuta Republic, the famous white two-storey building on Gbemisola Street (Ikeja), which was home to Fela and his family (and family by association), and was shocked by the state and appearance of the building.

The building looked like it was haunted, but it still bore signs of a glorious past. There was, of course, the pyramidal tomb where the Afrobeat creator lays buried after his death in 1997, fortunately well maintained. Gone was the poster of Fela’s album cover for Teacher Do Not Teach Me Nonsense, which used to be a permanent feature of the front wall of the building (beside the first floor balcony). It bothers me why this building should not already be a Museum of African, Political…

View original 1,195 more words

Fela, The Untold Story

Originally posted on waka-about:

waka-about October 2011 cover

By Pelu Awofeso

Benson Idonije, 75, crossed paths with Fela Anikulapo-Kuti, the Nigerian creator of Afrobeat (who died on 2 August 1997, aged 58), in 1963 inside the studios of the Nigerian Broadcasting Corporation (NBC).
“On the day of our meeting,” the Jazz aficionado recalls, “he [Fela] came with an album of Jazz which he had recorded in London; I played it on my Jazz programme and from then on we became friends.” Shortly after that episode, the Fela Ransome Kuti United, a Jazz band, was formed with Idonije managing the ensemble. Several collaborations followed, and the bond between the two men grew even stronger, to the point of them having a shared pet name, Oyejo.

Says Idonije: “Fela was a great musician who, like Bob Marley, endeared himself to the youth…he lived the life of a genius; he was true to himself, bold, fearless.”

On October 16 (2010)…

View original 805 more words

The (Afrobeat) King is back!


@waka_about editorial (Oct. 2012; print edition), published just before #Felabration 2012.

Originally posted on waka-about:

waka-about cover (Oct 2012)

waka-about cover (Oct 2012)

Lemi Ghariokwu speaks of Fela in very adoring terms. The day I visit his studios on the Lagos Mainland for a chat, he takes me down memory lane to the year when he sketched his first portrait of Fela, when first met the late Afrobeat creator and his first commission to produce the artwork for Fela’s album jacket; he goes on to recount their subsequent working relationship, spanning the better part of three decades, and how glad he is that Fela is being celebrated the world over, 15 years after his death.

Beyond those memories, Ghariokwu doesn’t fail to admit Fela’s influence on his career path, which is largely responsible for what he has accomplished to date. “I learnt a lot from Fela. I learnt how to be bold and confident,” Ghariokwu says, seated on a three-seater sofa and facing an image of Fela (he titles…

View original 370 more words

Fela’s People (“Everybody say: ‘yeah, yeah'”)


@waka_about editorial (print edition), published just before #Felabration 2011.

Originally posted on waka-about:

A Brazilan fan happily showing off his ‘Fela’ t-shirt

Anyone (and everyone) who is familiar with Fela’s music will know the phrase above: the late Afrobeat creator connected with his fans with it, and his listeners adored him enough to do as he told them to. In a way, I felt ‘yeah, yeah’ when we wrapped up this edition: it’s taken a whole year of waiting and visualising to package a souvenir issue in honour of a man who has been described as Nigeria’s best ‘cultural ambassador’.

For 14 years the Kuti family have sustained the Fela heritage through FELABRATION, the annual carnival of scholarly conversations and stage performances in Otober at the New Afrika Shrine (Agidingbi) to coincide with his birthday (15th). And it is no surprise that the venue throbs with thousands of Fela followers from within and outside Nigeria.

Last year’s outing provided an opportunity for many…

View original 417 more words