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 it ‘Fela’s Symphony’) he has just completed. “I learnt from him how to have a focused mind in one’s life mission. I also learnt how to be free with fellow human beings.”
Indeed Fela was known by his closest comrades for his charity. At some point, it was said that as many as 80 people lived at his Kalakuta residence, feeding off Fela’s hospitality. For a whole week later this month (Oct. 15-22), Fela’s fans, young and old, home and abroad, will troop in and out of the New Afrika Shrine (Agidingbi, Ikeja) to celebrate FELABRATION, the annual series of concerts hosted in honour of the Abami Eda and now in its 15th year.
According to Yeni Kuti, it promises to be the “biggest Felabration ever”. It ought to be, considering that as at press time Fela’s house is being renovated, courtesy of the Lagos State government; when completed it will become the “kalakuta Museum”. Fela being a natural crowd puller, the museum is certain to attract huge tourist traffic.
In October 2011, waka-about published a special collector’s edition on Fela. The articles were written by some of Fela’s closest associates. This year, one of our surprise finds is Japanese Professor Toshi Endo, who has a passion for African music and has travelled the world to collect Fela’s albums on vinyl.
“There is so much treasure of African culture and much nice music was produced in the past 30-40 years,” he told me in September when he paid a visit to Lagos. “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.”
In the 1990s Endo launched a website to document his growing collection of African Music. The website has also amassed an extensive discography of Fela’s music, which is a reference for visitors globally. Add that to the splendid run of Fela! On Broadway and it is easy to see why the Fela spirit will continue to be with us. If anything, Abami Eda is more alive than dead. Everybody, say: “Yeah, yeah”!
Winner, CNN/Multichoice African Journalists Awards (Tourism)