From the Dance Floor to Shop Floor

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Yinka Olatunbosun

Imagine a movement that starts as performance, then metamorphoses into visual art. Such is the story of Lemi Ghariokwu’s Afro Artbeat’s series of works currently showing at the African Artists’ Foundation, Victoria Island, Lagos. The body of works was a visual replay of Fela’s outstanding compositions.

Walking through the exhibition hall last weekend, the atmosphere reeked of “Felasophy”. All the values embedded in the works, their social political significance and the epoch being crystallised came through. Let us begin with the works. Each looks like a masterpiece and smells like double-platinum. It’s like playing Fela’s hit songs all over again. The works include, “Big Blind Country”, “Monkey Banana”, “Johnny Just Drop,”, “Sorrow, Tears and Blood”, “No Agreement” and more.

Some of the works in the collection takes us back to the good old days of Sandra, Fela’s former wife and band member who was a major influencer in the music career of this larger than life artist. A socially committed artist, Ghariokwu’s voyage into visual art as paid employment began with Fela. He enjoyed painting and sketching images of famous people as a teenager. Once, a journalist at a national newspaper discovered him at a pub and introduced him to Fela, telling him he had met a young chap who could paint a good picture of Fela. Fela was overwhelmed by Ghariokwu’s raw talent and paid him for his job, which had that time was just a passion.

Today, Ghariokwu joins millions of fans in the world to remember Fela Anikulapo Kuti who died 20years ago, leaving an unbeatable legacy for other African artists to be socially committed. Ghariokwu’s works were the mirrors through which the world saw the lyrics of Fela’s anti-government music. This exhibition is thus a rebirth of Fela persona; his anger, his voiced dismay and rejection of anti-people policies.

Some of the works are like a close up shot at the image of Fela. When he blows the saxophone, the muscles in his arms match up to the veins around the back of his hand. You didn’t have to be in Afrikan Shrine to feel the zest of this enigmatic, multi-instrumentalist. Through the sound of his saxophone, themes of equality, unity, blackism, justice, freedom and pan-Africanism waft, as Ghariokwu relives the messages Fela tried desperately to communicate to a government that repeatedly misunderstood him.

Ghariokwu is also a businessman. He has reproduced some of the paintings in miniatures so that those who cannot afford the large pieces can go away with the smaller pieces. Remarkably, some of the paintings have dual package, containing original album covers and real vinyl albums, reminiscent of turn tables. These include classics such as Beast of No Nation, Afrodisia, amongst others.