De Roots Renaissance and the Femi Art gallery, both based in Badagry (Western tip of Lagos State), Nigeria, have unveiled what is touted as the ‘tallest drum in the world’. Standing at 11ft and a width of 6ft, the drum is made of hardwood and covered with—wait for it—deer skin.
“It took three months to complete and we did all the work inside the Badagry Heritage Museum,” says one of the main collaborators Femi Coker. “Because the average human being is no more than six feet tall, the drum can only be beaten by men on stilts.”
The reliefs (by Jonathan Edwards) on the drum is a cultural and historical journey though Nigerian time and space, with sculptures on multiple levels depicting masks & masquerades, indigenous traditional worshippers & gods, ifa divination tray and crowns, farming and coconut plantations, chained slaves and European slave dealers, among others.
A newsletter published by De Roots Renaissance in February (2013) to commemorate the
American Black History Month in Nigeria says the drum “is a symbolic representation of the gargantuan contributions of the black race to world civilization” in spite of slavery, colonization, oppression and suppression over the past centuries.
“Through all these burdensome vicissitudes the black man could still raise his head up making steady but monumental contributions to science and technology, sports, entertainment, music, academia, business and politics.”
The drum is already on show at the newly renovated Kalakuta Museum (7 Gbemisola Street, Ikeja), few metres from the tomb of the late Afrobeat giant Fela Anikulapo-Kuti. It will be there all through February. “Our plan is to travel with it to different parts of the state,” Femi Coker tells waka-about. “The National Theatre (Iganmu) is going to be one of the stops.”
Awofeso is a recent winner of the CNN/Multichoice African Journalists Awards (tourism category). He has published three travel books about his various travels across Nigeria. He lives in Lagos, SW Nigeria
The fans have waited five hours for this moment. Its Felabration Week and we’re all inside the Afrika Shrine in Ikeja, enjoying musical tributes to the memory of Afrobeat creator, Fela Anikulapo-Kuti; what’s more: the hall is so full there is little space to walk around without rubbing shoulders with someone, but there is more than enough booze and cigarettes to go round.
All night, there have been performances by May D, Weird MC, Sound Sultan and a dozen or so other upcoming acts, all backed up by the fantastic DJ Dr. Step and the random yabis and jokes by comedian Omo Baba. But as hit maker and Nigeria’s current musical darling Davido strutted onto the stage at 4am in a t-shirt and sagging patterned trousers, the mostly youthful audience hollered jubilantly.
Catcalls and excited screams rent the dark and smoky air. Under the multiple coloured stage lighting, Davido’s gold neck-chains are instantly visible. So also are his ear-rings and wrist chain. And with him is sidekick Shina Rambo, wearing just three-quarter shorts and singlet. Together they spit out song after song from Davido’s recently released, wave making album ‘The Genesis’.
First up is ‘Back When’, the track that speaks of Davido’s pre-stardom years, when the girls shunned his advances and acquaintances gave him no chance of making it as an artiste in Nigeria’s already crowded and competitive music market; as things would go, it is the song which made the billionaire’s son a favourite of radio DJs and launched him into an instant celebrity in Nigeria’s high-octane, money-guzzling music industry.
The crowd, drenched in their own sweat and numbering in the tens of thousands, lurches repeatedly back and forth like a sea wave. The security personnel, up until then having things easier, now have a harder time controlling the surge. This crowd wants more performance and showman Davido proves well able to deliver just that, in-between periodic pauses.
Then comes ‘All of You’, a song that has become my own favorite, one I have listened to repeatedly over the past week and put on ‘repeat’ moments before stepping into the venue. Like ‘Dami Duro’, another of Davido’s hit songs, every line of ‘All of you’ is a statement in pomposity (which I like), a deliberate stone throwing at no one in particular, but clearly directed at rival camps.
In the song, Davido credits his current success to God and praises forerunners like Tuface, P-Square, and D’banj, all of them longstanding musical giants and multi-millionaires with impressive reputations across Africa—and beyond; he appreciates his many fans for making him ‘bigger than all you’. The rest of the song is filled with praises of himself (richer than you), his manager (smarter than you), his beau (taller than you), his HKN team (stronger than you) and, of course, Shina Rambo (badder than you), who happens to be his half-caste cousin.
By this time, the commotion in the hall has trebled as many reach for the tip of the stage area to catch a better view of their young idol. Davido reaches forward, shakes hands with the fans and throws a couple of notes in the air. I choose that moment to climb to a first-floor balcony at the back of the stage, where I get a panoramic view of everything.
Davido’s sagging trousers, held in place by a black leather belt, reveals a purple underwear; many of the photographers around have been forced to move up onto the stage; and a bouncer follows Davido’s every move, ensuring that he is not mobbed. At some point, he hands him a bottle of water and wipes his face with a white handkerchief.
If anything, that is the height of pampering and it goes with the territory. Interestingly, there was nothing like a ‘Davido brand’ this time last year. At Felabration 2011, the artiste was like many other obscure artistes hoping to make their marks on the stage. “I saw someone bump into him when he was called to perform that night,” one Afrika Shrine staffer recalls. “He was so tiny and timid I really felt for him. I told him ‘sorry’ but wondered what a lad like him was doing at the Shrine at that hour of the night.”
This year, the ‘lad’ was ushered into the Afrika Shrine premises like a ‘Big Man’ by three heavy-set bouncers and at least four members from the Felabration Organising Committee. “He is the main act of the night, what else do you expect?” says one of the ad-hoc staff handling protocol. Later same day, Davido clinched the award in the much coveted ‘Next Rated’ category at the Hip-Hop World Awards (christened ‘The Headies’). Earlier in the year, he signed a multi-million naira deal as the face of MTN pulse, and he has since been twitting about his car acquisitions and shopping sprees, among other excesses. Indeed, what difference a year can make.
Awofeso is Managing Editor at waka-about and a winner of the CNN/Multichoice African Journalists Awards (Tourism Category).
Lemi Ghariokwu speaks of Fela in very adoring terms. The day I visit his studios on the Lagos Mainland for a chat, he takes me down memory lane to the year when he sketched his first portrait of Fela, when first met the late Afrobeat creator and his first commission to produce the artwork for Fela’s album jacket; he goes on to recount their subsequent working relationship, spanning the better part of three decades, and how glad he is that Fela is being celebrated the world over, 15 years after his death.
Beyond those memories, Ghariokwu doesn’t fail to admit Fela’s influence on his career path, which is largely responsible for what he has accomplished to date. “I learnt a lot from Fela. I learnt how to be bold and confident,” Ghariokwu says, seated on a three-seater sofa and facing an image of Fela (he titles it ‘Fela’s Symphony’) he has just completed. “I learnt from him how to have a focused mind in one’s life mission. I also learnt how to be free with fellow human beings.”
Indeed Fela was known by his closest comrades for his charity. At some point, it was said that as many as 80 people lived at his Kalakuta residence, feeding off Fela’s hospitality. For a whole week later this month (Oct. 15-22), Fela’s fans, young and old, home and abroad, will troop in and out of the New Afrika Shrine (Agidingbi, Ikeja) to celebrate FELABRATION, the annual series of concerts hosted in honour of the Abami Eda and now in its 15th year.
According to Yeni Kuti, it promises to be the “biggest Felabration ever”. It ought to be, considering that as at press time Fela’s house is being renovated, courtesy of the Lagos State government; when completed it will become the “kalakuta Museum”. Fela being a natural crowd puller, the museum is certain to attract huge tourist traffic.
In October 2011, waka-about published a special collector’s edition on Fela. The articles were written by some of Fela’s closest associates. This year, one of our surprise finds is Japanese Professor Toshi Endo, who has a passion for African music and has travelled the world to collect Fela’s albums on vinyl.
“There is so much treasure of African culture and much nice music was produced in the past 30-40 years,” he told me in September when he paid a visit to Lagos. “Most of Fela’s recordings are virtually non-existent in Nigeria and only a few of these can be found elsewhere in the world. So I collected those recordings from many collectors everywhere I could find them abroad.”
In the 1990s Endo launched a website to document his growing collection of African Music. The website has also amassed an extensive discography of Fela’s music, which is a reference for visitors globally. Add that to the splendid run of Fela! On Broadway and it is easy to see why the Fela spirit will continue to be with us. If anything, Abami Eda is more alive than dead. Everybody, say: “Yeah, yeah”!
On the eve of its new album release, waka-about finds out from Funsho Ogundipe what makes the band Ayetoro a musical phenomenon
How would you describe Ayetoro’s evolution in the last 15 years? What is the current Ayetoro brand?
A. The band was formed in 1996 in Nigeria. Our first album ‘Naija Blues’ featured Segun Arinze, the late J T West, Shadrack John and a host of other guest artists. I then relocated to the UK. In London, together with music talents such Byron Wallen the trumpeter, guitar player Jim Mulle, bass player Orefo Orakwue etc, Ayetoro performed at live shows across the UK. In 2007, we formed Ayetoro Ghana with an equally talented group of musicians such as bassist Phillip Acquah, drummer C. C. Frank. Our producer Engineer Panji Anoff lives and works from out of Accra. What you hear now is the new Ayetoro in Nigeria which was formed when I came back in 2010. The journey has been remarkable, with the band playing alongside respected talented musicians worldwide. The one constant about Ayetoro is that it has been and remains open to musicians that understand the music and bring a certain level of quality and creativity to it. Asa toured with us, the legendary guitarist Oscar Ellimbi and bass player Falna King, both from Cameroon, played in the first edition of Ayetoro in Lagos. What remains unchanged is the quality of our music. There are no compromises there. The brand is rooted in tradition yet very modern.
Musically, was coming back to Nigeria from the UK & Ghana, a good idea?
Coming back to Nigeria was a fantastic idea. Home is where it’s all at. We needed to bring all three versions of Ayetoro up to speed and continue our exploration of space music where it started from.
What do you find present and lacking in the Nigerian music landscape with hip-hop dominance? Is there a fan base still for your type of music? What is the ideal Nigerian music scene for you?
On the positive side, the current musical scene in Nigeria has more participants. More investments are coming into the industry daily. We see a reliance on marketing and reality shows as avenues for exposure very much like the Anglo-Saxon model. Also the current generation is very business oriented and keeps their eyes on the ball all the time. Its standard for them to collaborate on each other’s work and this is an improvement on earlier times when overblown egos and a lack of vision were impediments to progress. On the negative side, talent is thin. Not many musicians can play musical instruments or are aware of the technicalities. The reliance on a producer-driven sound means there is less originality and a reliance on gimmickry and less on artistry. Also many of the new generation are not patient or willing to pay their dues. They want it now and feel that Nigeria is America.
Culturally, is Nigeria exporting the right products?
A.No we are not. But again do we know who we are?
At which tourist/historical sites in Nigeria would you like to perform and why?
A. With our name being homage to Yoruba culture, Ayetoro would love to perform at the Oramiyan Obelisk in Ile Ife and the Ijebu wall named after Bilikisu Sungbo. We would also like to play for the people of the original seven Yoruba towns with concerts staged outside the Afin Oba (king’s palace) and end up with an all night concert at the Old Oyo Ile. This would be the Asoju Oba tour where we bring the music to the mass of the people.
What is next for the band? What does the big picture look like?
A. The band is currently refreshing its membership with the aim of bringing the average age down and absorbing modern cultural influences. We are now a world music band with strong Jazz and Afrobeat roots and a global collaborative vision.
The new Ayetoro Album is quite colourful. Can you explain the concept behind the cover?
A. Its cover is a collaborative work involving Prila Paiva a Brazilian artist who is steeped in African culture. It is an esoteric representation of an Ifa story. The new album is titled Asoju Oba, which roughly means the King’s eyes. It is inspired by the writings of the Brazilian author Jorge Amado who exposed Yoruba culture to the Portuguese speaking world.
What should fans look for in the next album and when does it hit stores?
A. The album will be available firstly as digital download on Itunes by mid February, then a vinyl 45 inch and finally as a CD album in stores by March
Judging from your past works, your band thrives on quality, what’s Ayetoro’s secret formula?
A. Why don’t you ask Coca cola to give you their secret formula? If they do then come ask us again.
Where can your fans watch you play in Nigeria?
Find Ayetoro Live on Facebook, like us, get all the info there (music, videos etc) and see where next we’ll be playing.