French President Emmanuel Macron’s visit to the New Afrika Shrine as a gesture of camaraderie and goodwill has been given the thumbs up by Lagos culture aficionados vultures, Okechukwu Uwaezuoke reports

Nice one, Mr Macron! Sure thing: that visit to the New Afrika Shrine visit was a deft move. With that the French President Emmanuel Macron won over the hearts of the easy-to-please Lagos youths! Talking about that Tuesday evening’s visit – so far, the first and only by any president – it also unarguably made him the event’s main headliner.

Wasn’t it indeed really all about him? For not even the fact that the programme featured such main acts as Femi Kuti, Yemi Alade and, curiously, the Cameroonian Charlotte Dipanda, among others, could have altered the massive turnout of local culture vultures. Nor does it matter that the venue was teeming with industry’s leading lights.

A quick trip down memory lane. Femi Kuti’s late Afro-beat legend dad, Fela, once used to preside over the predecessor of this Shrine – then sited in the termite-dense commercial part of the Ikeja neighbourhood – as the self-styled president. Perhaps, it was in this context that hailing Mr Macron’s visit, as the first by “a real president”, was meant to be understood.

Clad in white shirtsleeves, the youthful president exuded bonhomie and charisma, as he swept into the venue, which has evolved into one of the most iconic pleasure haunts in Lagos. This was in the company of his host the Lagos State Governor Akinwunmi Ambode and a retinue of other dignitaries.

“I’m very happy to be here with you tonight,” said the august visitor of the venue, which still holds fond memories for him, as he addressed the cheering crowd in English.

Mr Macron, who arrived Nigeria earlier that day, disclosed that he was no stranger to the Afrika Shrine. According to him, he first visited in 2002 while he worked as a 23-year-old intern at his country’s embassy in Abuja. In his tweet on Wednesday, July 4, he enthused: “This is African energy. The one I discovered here in Lagos when I was 23. The one I am glad to see is still thriving several years later. The one I hope many Europeans will get to know. The one that is far from the African prejudice of misery.

“The Shrine is an iconic cultural hub. And I say with a lot of humility that I recognise the importance of African culture.”
His open-minded embrace of this uniquely vibrant African environment certainly endeared him to the audience and seems to corroborate the fact that he holds “a very different view of Africa than a lot of other people in Europe.”

Back then, Nigeria was a discovery for the 39-year-old French president, who affirmed that “a lot of [his] friends are here.” Discovering Nigeria led to the discovery of Lagos, which in turn led to the discovery of the Shrine. “This place is an iconic place and it is a place where the best of music is given. I have to say my main memories about this place are friends, proud people, proud of their culture, proud of their art and music.”

Africa and Europe, especially France, he canvassed, need to build a new commonality. According to him, “this new commonality is not based on what is important for Europeans but what is important for Africa, about their culture, how they build their culture and promote the culture and which places are important for them about their culture. Being here, I do recognise their culture and respect their views. This place is important for Africa and their culture and that is why I am here.”

Talking about culture, the event – co-organised by Ecobank and Trace International – was tagged “Celebration and African Culture”. Its master of ceremony was the well-known Nigerian singer, rapper and actor, Olubankole Wellington (a. k. a. Banky W). His efforts were complemented by those of a Nigerian host, Keturah King, who has anchored a variety of programmes for Arise TV. It was indeed the latter that anchored the segment dubbed “Conversation with the President of France Emmanuel Macron”.

Mr Macron also disclosed his plans to host the African Cultural Season 2020 in France, an event he said would promote African culture in Europe and would be for Africans by African artistes.

It is hoped that the proposed event, which will feature African fashion, movies and new generation artistes, among others, will acquaint the Europeans and the French in particular with the real African culture.

“The event will be financed by African leaders,” he said. “It will not be sponsored by France or European businesses, but by African businesses. It is brand new. This season is a unique one and it will be the new face of Africa in Europe organised by Africans, providing what you like and what you have here.”

Obviously, the French President’s arrival, hours later than expected, unravelled the already cluttered programme. Ditto his previously unscheduled tour of the venue, which for the gushing crowd ratcheted his approval rating up a notch or two.

Hence, it turned out to be a heady variety night of energetic performances, flagged off by the Segun Adefila-mentored youthful dance troupe, Footprints of David. Enter Yemi Alade with her energetic dancers for a series of performances, which blurred into that of Charlotte Dipanda. Shortly after a fashion show, the dream team of Nollywood stars improvised a short skit for the distinguished guest. Eventually, it all ended with the much-anticipated performance by the chief host of Afrika Shrine, Femi Kuti.

Perhaps, one of the evening’s depressing moments was when the French president was asked why Nollywood films never get to win laurels at the Cannes Film Festival. The question, as embarrassing as it was asinine, exposes the feet of clay of the Lagos bling culture and the astounding superficiality of its many devotees.

Worthy of special mention, though, are the art exhibition segment curated by Tokini Peterside, the celebrated curator of the two-year-old ArtX Lagos and the presentation to Mr Macron of a pencil-drawn portrait of his by 11-year-old Kareem Waris Olamilekan in just two hours. Besides expressing his appreciation to the child prodigy, the French president was given a close-up encounter with the visual artists Ndidi Emefiele, Abraham Oghobase and Victor Ehikhamenor.

The French president’s gesture of camaraderie and goodwill to the Lagos culture community continued the next day with the official unveiling of the new Alliance Française edifice in the upscale Victoria Island neigbourhood.

For the Lagos State Governor, Mr Macron’s visit should “go a long way to break [the] barriers between Nigeria and France as well as foster greater collaboration for economic, social and cultural growth.” There was no doubt about the fact that the state government was delighted to host the French President, whom the governor recognises as “a well-respected global leader”.

“We are delighted and honoured to be hosting a president of one of the world’s super powers; a permanent member of the United Nation’s Security Council with veto rights, a prominent member of the G8 and the World Trade Organisation and a champion of Global Climate Change,” the governor said.

Of course, the fact that the visit began on a cultural note thrilled the governor, who described the Alliance Française in the state as “an asset to its cultural landscape in the same way that Trace Television had also become an invaluable addition to its music and entertainment sphere.”

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