Ade is my chaperone at the New Afrika Shrine. He is 100% positive that the Orange Fela Kuti outifit hanging inside the Shrine is what Fela Kuti wore on his last day. Ade takes me to the back of the Shrine’s stage to the office and exhibition area.
As we proceed, I notice that there is a dull and lazy mood in the people here. It’s either the sweltering heat (about 35 degrees) or the fact that many people sitting here are simply jobless and idle. It could also be the Weed or alcohol. I like this place and how it’s activities defy time or days of the week. I also like the air with which people here are walking as if each one of them is a boss. Some are staring at me as if I just invaded their personal space. Ade tells me that the Shrine is indeed home to many. “Normal people and even homeless ones live here. Femi allows all people in here no matter the time or day,” he says, adding, “I used to live here myself. I only moved out recently when I got married but I still come to sleep here when I want.” There are several rooms at the back that are used as offices and rehearsal space during the day and rooms for sleep at night. We have to tread carefully so as not to step on several people lying on the floor napping the afternoon heat away.
Ade takes me up to Femi Kuti’s office. It is locked. However, the staircase up to the office has a photo gallery of Fela and some of his life moments, making this a little museum in its own right. Hanging on the wall are pictures and paintings of Fela and his mother, Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti, who Ade tells me was also the first woman to drive a car in Nigeria. “Google it,” he prods. He also tells me horrific tales of how Funmilayo broke her legs after Nigerian officials took custody of her and threw her out of a balcony. The gallery has a picture of Funmilayo at the hospital. Ade says pointing at the picture, “This was right after the incident,” adding, “Fela really loved his mother.” Funmilayo was also a political activist and in her time had been referred to as “The Mother of Africa”.
“What about his wives?” I ask. Ade brushes off that question. “You know Fela had many women so when he died they went back where they came from. What are you doing when your husband is not there?” This statement is influenced by misogyny and gender inequality. All of Fela’s women should be held in high regard and esteem just like his legacy and family in general.
On the wall are more pictures of Fela and his famous friends like Baaba Maal and Eryka Badu. There are pictures of Bob Marley and Jimmi Hendrix performing at old Shrine alongside other stars who have performed at the Felabration Music Festival here.
After the exhibition, I am pretty much tired and have to go even though Ade wants me to stay a little longer to try the local food at the Shrine. He also wants to show me pictures from Fela’s home that was turned into a museum. He says that I must also visit the place but I don’t know if I will find time for that during my trip in Lagos. He can’t find the pictures and instead offers me a bottle of cold water. Phew! The heat has got me feeling dizzy already.
As I leave the Shrine, Ade asks me to take a picture of one of the big posters at the Exit. It reads, ‘The events that transpired 5000 years ago or 5 minutes ago have determined what will happen 5 minutes from now, 5 years from now or 5000 years from now. All history is a current event.’ Before leaving a shopkeeper I meet at the Shrine tells me, “Fela was not afraid of the government and he knew that they couldn’t make any change but it is the people who have to make change and resist.” As I leave the shrine, it feels as if I am just coming off a journey into spirituality, activism and empowerment. I feel like I just met people and spirits of my tribe and energy.
BONUS: Ade is such a graceful host and great resource. If you ever go to the Shrine, look out for him. Read Part 3 of my Retracing Fela Kuti series: