Felabration 2017: Spectacle of Theatre, History and Chaos


Nseobong Okon-Ekong and Vanessa Obioha capture the frenzy of the last day of the week-long commemoration of Afrobeat legend Fela Anikulapo-Kuti

“Move back!”
The security guard shouted at the man before him. “But e say make I enter” the young man replied in pidgin English, pointing to the other security guard who wore a vacuous expression. From his look, he either could not afford the N1,000 gate fee or there was no more space to accommodate another excited reveller. The guards were forced to turn back many as they could from accessing the New Afrika Shrine, but the crowd showed no sign of diminishing.

Ahead of them, armed policemen issued threats to the bustling crowd. Another group of uniformed men tried to control the traffic which stretched almost from the beginning to the end of the NERDC Road. It was 3am. People were still arriving in large droves to catch the last day of Felabration-the annual week-long commemoration of Afrobeat originator, Fela Anikulapo Kuti. The frenzy was heightened by the lined-up artistes like Wizkid, Tekno, Nairobi based Sauti Sol, Burna Boy, Ycee and Oritsefemi billed to perform on the closing night.

While many struggled to enter the venue, others created their own fun outside. Ladies sat on bumper of cars while the men serenaded them with drinks and talk. Others set up their drinking spot where alcohol and argument flowed generously. In the midst of this chaos, commercial activities thrived. Hawkers of alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages, snacks and foods beckoned to the enthusiastic crowd. The same atmosphere was replicated inside. Overflowing with happy feet, music lovers struggled to get closer to the stage to have a beetr look. They didn’t want to miss out on any action. They also wanted to take a closer look at their idols. In the rush, arguments ensued and some nearly came to blows if not for the quick intervention of the ‘Shrine Police’.

Few hours earlier, there was decorum in the shrine. The unusual calm attended the scheduled visit of the Lagos state governor, Akinwunmi Ambode. The visitor demanded orderliness; a sizeable section of the shrine was cordoned. Only the governor and his invited guests were allowed inside.

In honour of the August visitor, the shrine got an amazing face lift. The last time this space was transformed in similar fashion was at the wedding of Yeni Kuti’s daughter. A red carpet was rolled out, the roof was draped with colourful fabrics suitable for a banquet, shiny glassy tables for six or ten were set and decorated with flower vases. Soon, they were dotted with bottles of the choicest wines, champagnes and water. The stage was a flurry of activities with the band stand, a back screen and two screens on both sides of the stage displaying advertorial messages from brands as well as providing extra view. Scheduled for two hours, the show kicked off without much ado, as Mr. Ambode arrived right on time. Yeni had the privilege of performing the opening formalities. Thanking Ambode for being the first sitting governor to visit the shrine formally, she revealed that she only met the governor a few days before as initial communication between them began with an email.

A good Sunday, when he is in town, Femi Kuti and the Positive Force Band entertain at a show called Sunday Jump. This particular edition with the governor was called Special Lagos Jump. It was necessarily enlarged to parade other artistes. The show opened with a surprise tribute from a group of intrumentalists who sought to draw attention to Fela’s love for wind instruments. In honour of the late Abami Eda who started his career playing on the trumpet, the Nigeria Trumpeters Guild opened the show with some of the songs of the legend. It was such a delight to listen to over 20 different horns blasting the tunes. They were quickly followed by Nneka who gave an effortless performance as she struck the strings of her guitar.

A hype man heralded the performance of Humblesmith who hit the stage singing ‘Ain’t no other Place like Lagos’. Indeed, Lagos state is home to many whose dreams have come true in the bustling city. It was a fitting encouragemet to Ambode and his team who are evidently keen on transforming the state to a cosmopolitan city.
The Osinachi crooner at a point urged the sophisticated crowd to raise their hands up, but few did his bidding. He performed Fela’s ‘Lady’ and even imitated his dance. Not done with the afrobeat styles, he greeted the crowd with Femi’s signature style, ‘Arararara’, yet only a fraction of the crowd responded. Humblesmith decided to take another route by raining praises on Ambode. He effusively declared that Ambode will retain his seat in 2019. Still in hyper mood, he made another futile effort to draw the governor out. After a while, he gave up, removed his white jacket and launched into hisbest known song yet, ‘Osinachi’. He danced for a while before exiting the stage.

While the performances were going on, some fair-skinned ladies in African print costumes that revealed their midriffs as well as their legs and thighs distributed the Lagos State published magazine-Lagos Quarterly. The waiters also served the guests a platter of finger foods with assorted meat. By this time, Seun Kuti was on stage performing ‘Expensive Shit’, a Fela song which spoke about his ordeal in the hands of drug law enforcement agents. The narrative was that officials of the agency forced the singer to empty his bowels on suspicion that he may have ingested some weed.

Seun Kuti and Fela’s Egypt 80 band were a spectacle to watch. Although, his band boasted fewer female dancers, they were entertaining all the same, particularly his sekere player who moved his body fluidly as if he was interpreting the songs. Within minutes, Seun was soaked in his sweat. His vigorous performance even got his late father’s manager Ricky Stein dancing on his feet as he sang ‘Theory of Yam and Goat’, an analogy of the corruption in the country. At the end of his performance, he got a round of applause and went ahead to show a rare side of him.

Coming down into the audience, he greeted and hugged the governor. Still in quick succession, Femi and his Positive Force band graced the stage. The trumpeters came out first, followed by the eclectic female dancers. Femi then waltzed in amidst a loud cheer. He went straight to the keyboard and attacked it with such vigour that showed his craftsmanship. Adding to the flair of his performance, fireworks erupted on stage while more dancers mounted the big fish net stands situated in front of the stage. For his first performance, he gave a fast-paced rendition of ‘Truth Don Die’ , and then played the saxophone for as long as his breath could carry. This earned him a standing ovation. Known for their scathing criticism of successive Nigeria governments, the Kuti brothers didn’t disappoint. They characteristically performed politically charged songs. However, Femi was quick to point out to the governor that their criticism was not a sign of hatred.

“We do not criticise the government because we want them to fail but because we want them to do better. So that the people will be happy and you will be proud of your state. So don’t take whatever I tell you here personal.”

Femi sang most of his popular hits but the most memorable was ‘‘No place for my dream’. For this particular performance, all his dancers came out with their back to the audience, Femi stood in the middle as they swayed from left to right while rotating their rear very seductively. Without warning, he put the governor on the spot by asking him to dance. A loud cheer filled the hall but quite a few wondered if the governor would accept Femi’s challenge. Not one to be ignored, Femi asked his sister to put the governor through the dance steps. At this juncture, Ambode had no choice than to comply. He left his seat,came closer to the stage, surrounded by his aides, he followed Yeni’s guide in moving left, right, then turned around and repeated the steps. The crowd went wild with excitement. By this time, the half-filled hall was brimming with many heads who wanted to witness the historic act.

After a few steps, Ambode returned to his seat amidst a loud cheer and applause. Bringing the show to a climactic end, Femi performed one of his father’s popular hit ‘Water no get Enemy’, which Femi Falana (SAN) and Yeni admirably danced to. Before the governor finally took his leave, Femi wished him well and hoped that the citizens of his state will be proud of his deeds. Ambode’s visit to the shrine is another signpost of his administration’s unwavering support for the arts and tourism as well as his respect for the afrobeat icon which he has expressed in more ways than one. The visit to the shrine was preceded earlier in the day with the unveiling of a Fela statue ‘Liberation’ at the Allen Avenue Roundabout in Ikeja, Lagos. From there, the governor and his entourage proceeded to Kalakuta Museum, the former home of the afrobeat legend which was transformed to a museum in 2012 with support from the Lagos State Government by architect Theo Lawson. Other ex-governors who have graced the New Afrika Shrine include Donald Duke and Babatunde Fashola.

Although, the closing concert didn’t kick off immediately, fans and lovers of music scrambled for seats while waiting patiently for the show to kick off. Budding artistes were given a chance at the mic. Some earned the admiration of the crowd while others were booed off stage. For instance, a singer identified as Lionheart came on stage with heavily patterned blouse and lemon underpants. Of course, the crowd focused on her underpants instead of her song. Teasing her, the emcee asked for a hug after her performance.

Another surprise was in store for the crowd as Nobel Laureate Professor Wole Soyinka appeared on stage. Not a few perked their ears waiting to pick a new English word from the literary icon. But his message was simple and clear, a mere appreciation to the crowd and the organisers of the show who are members of his family. Legend Extra Stout, one of the key sponsors of the festival gave out household gifts to some lucky winners.

The crowd went agog with excitement at the performances of Ycee, Oritsefemi, Wizkid, Tekno, Dice Ailes and others but failed to connect with the Kenyan music stars Sauti Sol. Although they did their best to endear the crowd by performing some of the songs they featured Nigerian artistes like 2Baba and Yemi Alade and Fela’s songs, their attempts was lost on the crowd who cheered them to leave the stage. Felabration this year which ran ran on the theme, ‘The Prophesy’ kicked off on October 9 with a lecture by famed Kenyan academic and critic, Professor Patrice Lumumba and continued with different music sessions as well as discourses holding at The Freedom Park, Lagos Island and New Afrika Shrine simultaneously. Also, for the first time, another venue was used for the festivity. The Federal Palace Hotel was the venue for the brothers Femi and Seun performance which pooled a very enthusiastic crowd. This year also marked the 79th posthumous birthday of the legend.