Just Like That
Felabration is a yearly event that celebrates the life and music of Fela Kuti, the Afrobeat music genius. The annual music festival always attracts Afrobeat fans, music lovers and celebrities in the music and entertainment industry. The 2015 festival featured several up and coming artists and A-Listers across various music genres. Though Felabration is a celebration of Afrobeat and the life of the iconoclast, Fela Kuti, a man known for his unconventional views, this annual event also featured performances that featured hip hop, reggae, comedy, politics and drama. With an engaging standup comedian, Omobaba, as the MC and a funky and energetic DJ in a flamboyant signature booth, the stage was constantly replenished with fun, music, rhythm and vibes. Every spoken word, performance, audience distraction, cultural interaction at Felabration 2015, which was themed Just Like That (named after one of Fela’s tracks), served as an attention grabber and left you astonished and wanting more just like that? The performances fueled the rising anticipation of the crowd as the stage surged with tamed but wild energies bursting off in bass and beats and you wondered; how did they pull it off just like that?
The festival serves as a talent ground for the music industry because young, up and coming acts get a chance to audition for music industry executives before the main performances. Artists that make the first round of audition cuts often get a chance to perform for the audience. For a talented and professional artist, such exposure at a well-known festival can lead to getting signed by a record label.
The Shrine Accommodates All
Fela Kuti conceived the idea of the shrine to be a home to all, especially the downtrodden, and a place that would positively contradict the postmodern stratified society ruled by the post-independent, materialistic and greedy upper-class. The New African Shrine rebuilt in place of the razed Kalakuta Shrine is home to all irrespective of their classes. Every year during Felabration, the shrine is overcrowded with thousands of fans and music lovers. The only admission fee to Felabration is a promise to have fun without any sort of hesitation or guilt. Streets urchins, Danfo drivers, bus conductors, journalists, music enthusiasts, foreigners to mention a few all mix in the festive atmosphere of the shrine. This is a place where you will find those that some consider the dregs of society mingling with the crème de la crème. Remi Kuti, Fela Kuti’s first wife, said something about the communality that must have influenced the Kalakuta Shrine (see Fela: This Bitch of a Life by Carlos Moore)
Q: How did you feel when he started this communal living with other people?
A: To me, Fela always lived like that. In England, in his place, you would find everybody living there. When we came back (to Nigeria), we always had people staying with us.
“…the words riding atop the earthy sounds were always rocks hurled at the ruling classes” – Carlos Moore (Fela: This Bitch of a Life).
Those words are very significant to everything Felabration has always epitomized and the festival this year was no exception because the performance, once again, echoed those words. Every song is accusatory and every protest is a song. Different acts came on stage and gave us performances infused with Fela-esque fervor. The peak of the politically charged atmosphere came during the performance of a Chilean band called the Evergreen Band. The Chilean band used Afrobeat music to voice their own country’s political ills. The lead singer in his introduction ran a brief commentary on how Chile’s governmental and political challenges and inefficiencies were to what was going on in Nigeria. He noted Fela Kuti as being their inspiration and their Afrobeat spiritual teacher. He submitted that though Nigeria and Chile are country of different backgrounds, their political ills are not dissimilar. In their lengthy and earthy compositions, they sang about both countries’ plights. The Evergreen Band didn’t hold back from giving the bestial oppressive ruling classes of both countries a piece of their mind. Femi Kuti later joined the band on stage and there were sparks as the audience rose in unison of admiration for Femi Kuti. With an unmatchable adroitness, Femi Kuti played on with his saxophone. Sandra Isadore also joined the performance and crooned on about resisting oppression.
Illbliss and Tha Suspect of the Capital Hiss Records delighted the crowd and held the audience spellbound when they performed one of their hits. Illbliss’ wordplays, rhymes and poetic pace can be likened to the lyrical style of American rap artiste, E-40. Co-incidentally, both artists also have similar statures.
DJ Jimmy Jatt, one of Nigeria’s hottest and most wanted DJs, turned up the intensity of the shrine. It was late at night when he came up and the crowd was pretty lethargic as activities were at their lowest ebb. People were already pairing up for another kind of fun. Sex was in the air as much as smokes from marijuana. Fela Kuti’s Shrine is the only place in Lagos where smoking such “content” seems to be legalized. The confident relish weed that was puffed off spoke volumes. DJ Jimmy Jatt, an astute mixtape expert, drew all attention to the stage again as he juggled on club bangers from the early 2000’s to present day chart toppers. When he played one of his famous soundtracks, Stylee, the audience went berserk and they sang along. Of course, this music wey we do so is our own.
A Foggy Calm
This writer almost was not going to report on this event. On a first encounter with the New African Shrine environment, he was going to jump another bus right back to where he came from. A sheer curiosity that accompanies his trade and the responsibility his assignment placed on him galvanized him. Never had he encountered so much smoking in one place. The foggy smoke in the air literarily blackened the aura and the intense heat amplified. However, faces were radiant and an inexplicable joy shone on everybody. In a red stripped shirt and a smooth pant on a brown Sebago shoe, he almost seemed like an odd one out in the midst of the packed and festive crowd. He arrived quite early, an hour before 7pm and painfully events would be delayed till 8pm, an hour after the fixed time. Performances soon began under heavy weed and booze. The energies surging out and on stage were ethereal. Nothing intoxicates more than Igbo. Local vigilantes called Shrine Police were scattered at every corner. They were spotted maintaining traffic and order right from Ikeja Shoprite bus stop down to the venue.
Everything at the Shrine is a postmodern deconstruction of our ‘sane’ (insane) society. Surprisingly, intoxication at the shrine did not directly translate to thuggery and violence. An unexpected air of calm pervaded the air. However, there were heated exchanges in the audience as it is expected from so many people scrambling for limited space and seats. Few meters away from where this writer sat, a squabble broke off between a boy and a girl. The girl stood her ground, wriggling her waist and touching her toes in a sheer attempt to tease the boy like Beyoncé would in one of her sensual music videos. The girl stood her ground, laughs followed and it almost seemed like nothing ever happened. It is fair to stay the girl held it down for the ladies at that moment in the shrine.