For a long time I have wanted to trace Fela Kuti’s roots but all the times I visited Nigeria before, my schedule was too packed so I never got time. I am so excited this time round because I have secluded a couple of days for my Felabration activities. First, I will be visiting the New Afrika Shrine that many refer to most times as Fela’s Shrine. After this I will watch the acclaimed Fela on broadway in concert and then see Femi Kuti live at the Shrine Thursday or Sunday night.
Even though it’s a no-show day today, I want to breath the life of this legendary venue and then do so again on a performance night. I arrive at the Shrine, located in Lagos Ikeja area along Ogba- Agidingbi street, on a Monday at about 1:20 p.m. The street has got a number of activities ongoing. Some hawkers have pitched tent right outside the entrance. They are selling snacks, soda, cigarettes and airtime. There are groups of people in mobs. Some are street parking attendants waiting to get a tip every time they indicate you a parking spot. Others are just sitting gisting (Pidgin for chatting/vibing) while chewing khat or smoking weed. I immediately get the vibe that the New Afrika Shrine is home to all. This is where some people live, make their daily bread, meet or make friends or just hover around daily life.
I feel at home.
My friend Abi’s driver, Bayo, brought me here. He seems a little uneasy about letting me get into the Shrine solo so he offers to come in with me and then mentions to the guards at the entrance that I am from Kenya and would like to tour the venue while taking pictures and video. I am silently pissed off at Bayo for doing that without my consultation because my style is usually to act a fool or like a local when in foreign land so people don’t have to treat me differently. People will give you shit or ask for money if they know that you are a foreigner or you ask them for permission to take pictures/video. But the Shrine guards are surprisingly pleasant, warm and welcoming. They all come to shake my hand and say: “You are welcome Kenyan girl!” One of them is quick to join us, ready to take me on a tour. He offers to assist me in photo/video taking. His name is Ade.
Ade explains to me that unlike popular myth outside Nigeria, the New Afrika Shrine isn’t actually Fela’s original shrine but a replacement of the original that was burnt down in 1977. This 17-year old New Afrika Shrine was set up by Fela’s children: Femi Kuti and Oluwayeni Anikulapo-Kuti to honour Kuti’s legend, continue his tradition of weekly live performances and play host to local artistes and events including the annual Felabration Music Festival.
There are several bright coloured posters in bold messages reading, ‘The secret of life is to never be afraid’, ‘A man without the knowledge of where he has been knows not where he is going’, ‘United we stand. Divided we fall. Africa must unite’ and ‘Beware AIDS is real, protect yourself.’ Other posters have big newspaper clippings with headlines ridiculing politicians. One calls former Nigerian President Obasanjo ‘A joker’. When I ask Ade if some of these posters and words came here from the former Shrine, he answers, “Of course! Come, I need to show you more.”
We get to an area that totally freaks me out. Situated at the far right side by the middle of the Shrine’s hall, this looks like a Fela mausoleum. It’s a square-shaped black structure with dark and silver paintings and carvings of Fela and mini African men standing on a black plastered floor. At the middle of the structure is an epitaph of Fela, with a painting of the man at the back. Hanging above all this is a fashionably cut orange shirt and matching trouser on a hanger. At the front of all this paraphernalia by the floor is a tiny box-like hole that I don’t get close to.
Ade is a smart man, he reads my thoughts and informs me even before asking, “Fela wasn’t buried here …This is just a shrine to remember him.” He explains further that Femi Kuti always comes here to pray or pay respect to his father. “It’s the first place he visits soon after landing in Nigeria when back from his tours and travel,” adding while looking and pointing up: “This orange outfit are the clothes Fela Kuti was wearing on his last day.”
“Are you sure?” I inquire.
Read the continuation of the Retracing Fela Kuti series: Visiting The New Afrika Shrine (Part 2)
BONUS: You might also enjoy my Retracing South Africa series below: