By Azuka jebose Molokwu
The Afrika Shrine is a panoramic society, a poly-rhythmic nation, interlaced with rich multi-cultural rhythms that explode with happiness; the Afrika Shrine is a less-than-one-Kilometer Republic, where all things are either bright, beautiful, balanced or all of the above. You can live and die happily at the Afrika Shrine and the dwellers would celebrate your death, mourn your loss. They will also live and hustle with you.
Even though there is a feeling of “only the strong survive” here, the dwellers are still their brothers’ and sisters’ keepers. The Afrika Shrine is a city of brotherly love and sisterly affection. It breeds Pan-Africanism: it is a bustling commercial center serving at all times the basic necessities of life and liberty: sex, drugs, alcohol and Afrobeat, marinated in fresh hot meals, gambling, pick-pockets within its districts.
The Afrika Shrine is a global village square dedicated to the enjoyment and circulation of Afrobeat hospitality, free spirit, and mass appeal center for everyday people, Gods-own peoples, regardless of creed, color, character, class, affluence and influence. Live it. Love it. Loathe it. You can’t ignore its intrigues as an independent ‘nation’ inside a troubled nation state.
I settled into the immediate Fela family and got used to his company. Every Sunday my girlfriend then would visit her parents at Isaac john, in Fadeyi. Soon after she left our flat at Iyana Ipaja, I would leave also for Fela’s house at Gbemisola Street, Ikeja. I took the bus to Ikeja and hang out with Fela. Fela would extend invitations to visit every Sunday or as it pleased me.
Fela was an exciting human with extraordinary hours of sleep. He went to bed late hours of the morning, somewhere between 4 a.m. and 5 a.m. He would wake up between 2 p.m and 4 p.m. Early visitors to his home sat on the flat couch in the living room and those he wanted to see were ushered into his bedroom. I was privileged to be one.
His room was neatly dressed with his shoes surrounding all corners of the bed-room. His bed laid lower on the floor for easy access. Adjacent to the bed room was his bathroom and toilet. The corner of the head bed was where his wives lined different meals for the guests (I always preferred rice and fried plantain). Fela would usher you in upon announcement by one of the home helpers, assuming he was comfortable with your personality. Gbemisola Street became my Sunday hangouts.
“Shey you don eat?” Fela would ask, and follow up with: “Food dey if you wan chop,” pointing in the direction of assorted meals neatly placed on the floor.
My older sister, Buchy, visited me one lousy Sunday. I requested she come along with me on my Sunday visit to Fela’s place. She initially resisted, but I persuaded her by offering a way out for her if she felt scared or uncomfortable visiting Fela: she could go across from Fela’s and visit our Uncle, Steve Mahonwu, a proposition she accepted. Buchy, scared of the eccentrics of Fela and the myth surrounding his lifestyles, declined an invitation to go into Fela’s home with me. She would rather go to Mr. Mahonwu’s than enter Kalakuta Republic. So we parted ways in front of both houses. Few hours later, I was sitting at the balcony with Fela when Buchy emerged from the neighbor’s compound and alerted me that she was leaving. She was downstairs.
“Fela, that’s my older sister,” I offered.
“Make you come up now. Why you dey fear? Come upstairs!” Fela hollered from the balcony.
Buchy nervously came upstairs and Fela asked the house helper to entertain his guest with meal and whatever she requested. Years later, my sister would share this experience. “Fela is a decent human being. Very caring,” she would say.
My late best friend and brother Jerry Agbeyegbe and I decided to ambush Fela on a lazy Sunday afternoon at his home. News of his 50th birthday celebration was circulating around town and what better place to be than Abami’s house on that Sunday. We arrived and met Fela already sitting in his living room with other visitors. They sat in a circle as one of the boys rolled up huge marijuana. Fela was at the tip of the circle, legs crossed.
The igbo wrapper handed the wrapped stick to him. Fela lit it and inhaled a heavy dosage of the smoke, then began the ritual of passing it around: First to Jerry, Groovy Jay inhaled and passed to the next guy in the circle. When it was passed to me, Fela screamed at the passer:” See? I beg don’t waste my Igbo. U dey passy passy to the wrong person. Azuka no dey smoke. Gimme that shit jor… wan waste my igbo, motherfucker.” Laced with a cynical smile… that was the end of that ritual igbo sharing. He never passed the burning weed to the other visitors in the room.
Soon after Fela returned from 18 months incarceration by the military junta, his celebrity status quadrupled. He became more appealing; as such, he was in high demand at most social events. His appearance was always choreographed. Attentions were paid to all details and demands that would make him comfortable and recognize his presence. I was a bohemian entertainment reporter, with a nose for hot juicy celebrity gossips. I was also recognized as a celebrity journalist, whatever that meant.
Showbiz great, late John Chukwu, a nationally recognized and famous stand-up comic ran one of the best upscale nightclubs of our generation, Klass Nite Club. Klass was located along Obafemi Awolowo way. JC (as Chukwu was famously known and called) decided to host Fela and celebrate him that Thursday Nite. The entertainment and showbiz community were invited. I arrived and received a star treatment. I had my own crew then, which included my fiancée, my best friend,Jerry Agbeyegebe, and other hangers-on. So we pretty much had Fela’s corner to ourselves.
When Fela and his entourage arrived, the manager of Klass Nite club, Nigeria’s showbiz impresario and best deejay of my generation, Eddy Jay, came to whisper in my ear that Fela was waiting outside. He pleaded I create space for him and few of his entourage. We had unknowingly occupied a reserved space for this legend. Few minutes later, Fela walked in to the space and sat between me and my fiancée.
“Azuka, na only you fit keep me dey wait for outside. Dem say you take over de space dem leave for me…how u dey?”. He grabbed my hand, slapped my head around, so lovingly.
It was also the week of my birthday bash at Ace Nite Club, located on Allen Avenue. Ace was one of the upscale clubs of our social scene. I had mentioned to Fela that my birthday was approaching and extended an invitation to him for the bash. He accepted and asked me to come by the house any Sunday to get my present. So after he embarrassed Tyna, he turned to me and asked: “You no wan come get your birthday present?”. Two weeks later, I went and got twenty pounds sterling as a gift from him.
Editor’s Note: Excerpts from Azuka Jebose Molokwu’s yet unpublished ‘Fela, My fella’.