Browsing: Music

Theatre Festival taps into the sound of Lagos


[By Pelu Awofeso]

The Lagos Theatre Festival, a project of the British Council in Nigeria, opens this year on February 28 with a symposium and Press Day.

Founded in 2013, the 2017 edition–themed “Rhythm of the City”–will run through 5 March, feature 500 artists and 100 performances across 20 locations in Nigeria’s commercial hub. Performers and participants are expected from South Africa, Zimbabwe, United Kingdom and the United States.

“This edition of the Lagos Theatre Festival will be showing new work that will portray the rhythm, soul and sights of Lagos,” according to the British Council site. “The theme was selected to capture through performance, the sounds of Lagos expressed in the comings and goings, the repetitive activities and the music of the city.”

A large chunk of the festival proper–a rich mix of drama, music, comedy, seminars, workshops, panel discussions and masterclasses–will hold at the increasingly popular arts and events centre Freedom Park (Broad Street). Other locations include: Muson Centre, City Hall, a venue in Bariga, and the recently opened Theatre Republic.

According to the organisers, there will be 5 curated shows from the UK and Nigeria, four of which are winning scripts from the playwriting competition won by James Ene- Henshaw,  Joy Isi Bewaji, Bode Asiyanbi and Paul Ugbede.

The plays will be produced by: Crown Troupe of Africa, Beeta Universal Productions, Tunji Sotimirin and Oxzygen Koncepts with grant support from the British Council.

It is highly likely that this year’s festival will outshine the 2016 edition which hosted 109 shows, 35 companies and an estimated  5,500 attendees.

Like it was last year, there’s to be a “fringe” complement to the curated main event, “an open access festival for all genres in the performing arts (small theatre, children’s theatre, dance, film, spoken word, comedy, puppetry, cabaret, music and interdisciplinary arts) and is designed to allow performers/companies  not participating in the curated festival an opportunity to present work for viewing, an excellent avenue to get involved in the Festival program, try out ideas and receive audience and delegate feedback.”

The fringe shows will expose the works of 35 companies from Nigeria, South Africa and Zimbabwe from all genres in the performing arts, including comedy, experiential theatre, musical and Drama.

National Theatre Lagos. Picture by Samer Kawar

Meanwhile, the lineup of plays are as varied in subject matter as can be for any festival of this stature; however, they are all linked by the hopes, hassles, tension and riotous living that define everyday Lagos. And it is no doubt a fitting prelude to the 50th anniversary celebrations of the state, scheduled for later in May.

With its founding of the Lagos Theatre Festival, the British Council is re-establishing the status of Lagos as the powerhouse of all things arty in Nigeria and building on similar initiatives by individuals, groups and organisations from years past and which are sadly now defunct.

“We are very proud of what Lagos Theatre Festival has achieved in terms of being a platform through which the Nigerian theatre sector engages with the rest of the world,” says Ojoma Ochai, Director Arts, British Council. “This year’s festival will see visitors from International Network for Contemporary Performing Arts (IETM) , International Association of Theatre Critics (IATC) and festival management organisations from around the UK like Walk the Plank , London International Festival of Theatre (LIFT) and institutions like Edinburgh Napier University.”

Says the festival’s Artistic Director, Kenneth Uphopho: The Lagos Theatre Festival “[has]become much more than a festival. What we are offering this year is a lifestyle.”

Download complete festival calendar.

Expect adventure, horror and erotica at Ake Festival 2016

Ake Arts & Books Festival (AABF) Director Lola Shoneyin flanked by Jessica Bitrus (Media/ Communications Manager) and Tosin Adeyemi (Accounts Manager) at the press conference

[By Pelu Awofeso]

Kenyan novelist and essayist Ngugi wa Thiong’o is in Nigeria for the 4th Ake Arts and Books Festival (15-19 November).  As this year’s most accomplished guest writer, the Distinguished Professor of English and Comparative Literature “will sit in conversation with Okey Ndibe about his life and works,” according to a press statement by the organisers, Book Buzz Foundation. “He will also be talking about his latest book Birth of a Dreamweaver.

[Video] Lola Shoneyin on Ake Festival and Promoting Nigeria’s Domestic tourism.

Ngugi was recently in the news after the Nobel Committee announced musician Bob Dylan as winner of its high profile literature prize last October. Many commentators in Africa and elsewhere believed that the African literary giant deserved it more; needless to say that the topic will feature during the conversations at the festival.

Incidentally, Ake Festival holds in Abeokuta (SW Nigeria), where Nobel Laureate Wole Soyinka lives when he is in Nigeria; he has visited the festival every year since the initial edition in 2013 and chances are that he will make an appearance this year too.

Prof Soyinka has also been in the news following the November 8 election of Donald Trump as President-Elect of the United States of America. He was quoted to have said he would rip his Green Card in shreds if the Republican candidate were to win. Though he has issued a statement in response to that widely circulated news, it is most likely going to be on the question sheets during the the five days of “cultural immersion”.

[Read wakaabout’s review of Ake Festival 2015]

Both Ngugi and Soyinka will be joined by hundreds of younger creative spirits from across Africa and in the Diaspora—writers, artists, filmmakers and musicians—to examine and discuss topics around the festival’s theme: “Beneath This Skin”, covering identity, race and individuality.


“One of the things we really want to do at Ake is to bring some of the finest authors making waves around the world or who have African origins and whose works show a lot of interest in Africa, or who show that they love Africa,” says Festival Director Lola Shoneyin during a press conference ahead of the opening day. “We are determined to put up a first-class event for our first-class audiences; and for those who have registered, we want to give them a time of their lives, and I feel proud that we are able to invite the caliber of creative Africans that we invite to Ake Festival.”

On the line up this year: four creative workshops, five film screenings, nine book chats which will feature 18 authors, among them Alain Mabanckou, Helon Habila, Teju Cole, Panashe Chigumadzi, Tendai Huchu, Chinelo Okparanta, Noviolet Bulawayo,  Sarah Ladipo Manyika, Odafe Atogun and Toni Kan; 12 panel discussions that will examine mental health in fiction and the rise and fall of African economies; two art exhibitions, featuring the culture-inspired works of Laolu Senbanjo (“Sacred Art of the Ori”) and documentary photographer Fatima Abubakar’s stirring images of the Northern Nigerian state of Borno, ruined over the years by Boko Haram.

“We will also explore exciting genres such as erotica, horror fiction, and prison stories coming out of Africa,” the statement adds. “We want to give more attention to genres that are not talked about much.”

In addition, there is to be an acoustic music concert with artists Brymo and Falana and the all-female group Adunni and Nefertiti.


From the outset, Ake has offered a highly stimulating location—the Ogun State Arts and Cultural Centre—for participants to talk and buy books of multiple genres; to watch astonishing stage productions; to view thought-provoking exhibitions; to shop for local crafts and enjoy music and rich servings of the local brew (“Palmwine and Poetry Readings”).


This year, however, a few new activities have been worked into the festival’s programming, including the premiere of a festival of short films, book parties and launches.

There’s going to be some of adventure too. “Part of the plan is that on Friday (17 November) afternoon we will all go on top of Olumo Rock, where some of our guests will read their poetry,” Shoneyin says, crediting the government of the host state for the priviledge. “We will also visit the Itoku/ Adire fabric market. We are trying to explore the tourist attractions around. I love the idea of Ake becoming the cultural hub for West Africa, a place where people come to connect with other creative people.”

Download the festival’s complete programme here.


Inside the once-striking Kalakuta Museum


[By Pelu Awofeso]

Photo by Adedeji Olalekan (@stylomedia) for @waka_about

I’m pacing the terrace-bar of the Kalakuta Museum on a weekday afternoon. It’s a mildly sunny day and Gbemisola Street is all quiet, as I reckon it always is at this time. The flat-screen television is off, and so is the music box. The breeze blows gently, complementing the air of serenity around the two-storey building.

Except for a fresh coat of white paint on the walls outside, apparently hurriedly done because the week-long annual Felabration—a series of debates and concerts—is only days away, the facility is uninspiring.

There are about a dozen people in the bar, seated in small groups around bottles of gin and beer, chit chatting; there’s a faint whiff of hemp in the air, a standard feature of this place, night or day. The bartender, a lady in green tee shirt, is busy on her phone–she doesn’t look up as I make my way in and walk to the front of the building, passing an eye-catching painting of Fela to my right, speckled with some of the song titles of the man also fondly known as “Abami Eda”.

Fela’s tomb, a gorgeous piece of black-and-brown marble-work and the first thing visitors see on entering the premises, has lost its shine. It doesn’t merit a second glance. Back in 2012, and many months after the museum was open to the public, almost everyone who came into the compound stood there to take a picture, just as the average tourists would do when they visit the Eiffel Tower, London Eye or any well-known global landmark for that matter. It is doubtful that they would do that now.

It turns out there are visitors who are not impressed by the museum’s current state.

“This is not a tourist attraction at all,” says a middle-aged man on his way out with two companions. “Everything inside is a complete letdown. Fela won’t be happy–they won’t do this to him if he were alive.”

Having visited the museum a couple of times after it opened to the public, I know what’s on display the inside:  on its orange walls are photographs of at least four generations of the Kuti family, complemented by others taken at concert venues where Fela and his band performed around the world in a career that spanned the better part of three decades.

The museum’s main attraction is Fela’s room, which visitors glimpse through a glass barrier; to the left are dozens of his trademark shirts neatly arranged on a hanger. One of his saxophones is also visible, as are a couple of award plaques. The king-size mattress in the distance is covered by sheet which family members have said was last used by the musician when he died in August 1997, aged 59.

“This is where Fela slept with all his women,” goes the story, told to me and other tourists on more than one occasion. “There was a timetable, so all the girls knew when it was their turn.”

I once counted 42 pairs of these shoes–they could be more. Photo by Adedeji Olalekan (@stylomedia) for @waka_about

The next room, nalmost empty, holds several pairs of Fela’s equally colourful shoes, underwear and a fur coat. Opposite that is another room, which I mentally dub the ‘Press Room’, is plastered with newspaper cover pages and cuttings–from Daily Times to the Sketch–detailing the musician’s many court cases, run-ins with the government, the infamous attack on the then Kalakuta Republic, his unprecedented wedding to his band’s 22 backup singers and dancers as well as other events editors deemed necessary to publish.

That the family had the mind to preserve all of these memorabilia throughout the years is sheer genius and deserves commendation, so is the Lagos State government’s grant support towards turning the building into a museum and, by extension, a potential tourist magnet.

With the trio’s faces in a frown, it’s clear that they aren’t pleased with what’s become of the objects, barely four years after the museum’s commissioning. Chatting with the visitors further, I get the impression that this is not their first time here. They can’t understand why the curating wasn’t handled in its entirety by a competent hand–like Gharioukwu Lemi, for instance.

“It is common knowledge that Lemi designed many of Fela’s album jackets,” one of them sighs, looking up and down the building with a smirk. “He knows Fela well and he would have done a great job of this place.”

Back in 2012, the public welcomed and praised news that Lagos State government would fund the renovation of what was then a crumbling, defaced “Kalakuta Republic” as the building was then called. It soon transpired that Mr Lemi would curate the installations.

The approved plan also included a five-room boutique hotel, which has yet to materialise.

Curiously, the museum doesn’t have an in-house guide or curator. On one occasion at least, I paid for a group tour during which we were shown round by a young bar staff, who fumbled not only through the family history of the Kutis but also of the photographs. He misnamed subjects in the frames, sometimes saying Fela when he meant Beko.

As we walked down the stairs, I noticed that the bulbs were all off for lack of power, throwing the interior into near darkness. The air smelled of damp and the eye-catching Fela shoes showed that they weren’t getting enough air.

On the ground floor, the souvenir shop was locked and the lift is out of order.

“One of Fela’s sons is the one responsible for managing the museum, the emergency ‘guide’ told said after the tour.

I recall that during a press conference hosted few years ago at the New Afrika Shrine in Agidingbi to announce activities for that year’s Felabration, a senior member of the Kuti family revealed that the state government had then released N40 million towards the Kalakuta Museum project.

“The total money needed is about N56million,” the individual added.

With that much money committed to the museum, it is unreasonable to let the property degenerate as much as it has.

Awofeso is a winner of the CNN/Multichoice African Journalism Awards for his tourism reporting. This piece is the third in a series of stories focused on Nigeria’s abandoned/ neglected architectural attractions.

A “Clean Family Day Out” at Lagos Colour Splash

Friends, Family and colleagues begin the day at the Bar Beach Waterfront exercising
Friends, Family and colleagues begin the day at the Bar Beach Waterfront exercising

It’s the last Saturday of the month (June), and as has been the practice for years, it is environmental sanitation day in Lagos. Human and vehicular movement is restricted until 10 am as Lagosians are expected to devote three hours (starting 7 am) of the morning to clean up their surroundings.

The day is warm, bright and beautiful, the perfect atmosphere for a morning out at the beach, which is what some residents on the Lagos Island did on Saturday 27 June, turning up for the first edition of the Lagos Colour Splash, designed to be a blend of running, jogging, walking, bicycling and strolling.

Participation is free and participants are only encouraged to come wearing white. “Of course you can wear whatever you please, but the best part is starting out all sparkly clean and ending looking like a big bag of skittles exploded on you,” according to the FAQ section of the event flier. “If you or your team are going to come in costume, we do recommend making them as white as possible to ensure that you get the most optimal colour coverage possible.”

Two young Lagosians return to the Bar Beach Waterfront after going on a run/ walk through the Lagos Colour Splash route
Two young Lagosians return to the Bar Beach Waterfront after going on a run/ walk through the Lagos Colour Splash route
The Lagos Colour Splash was about walking, running, jogging, strolling and biking
The Lagos Colour Splash was about walking, running, jogging, strolling and biking

Everybody assembles at the Bar Beach Waterfront as early as 6 am, and branded T-shirts are handed out to interested persons on request. After some exercising and aerobics with music in the background, the party sets out on the pre-determined 5.3 km route, connecting Akin Adesola Street, Adeola Odeku Street and Ahmadu Bello Way.

As they run, jog or walk, participants, mostly wearing white t-shirts, pass by several “colour stations”, where volunteers positioned along the route splash them with corn starch and food-grade dye in all the colours of the rainbow. “The colours that you will be showered in is completely safe and washes off easily,” reads one of many assurances in the flier. “If you don’t think you can beat your friends on speed, see if you can be the real winner by coming out of the race covered head to toe in camouflage.”

After many “waves” of runners and joggers departed the Bar Beach Waterfront, everyone is back at again the starting point—to rest, to refresh, to chat and to dance. It’s an uplifting gathering of the young and the old, all of them having fun.

“One of the things we know how to do in Lagos is to let our hairs down by partying,” goes the intro of a piece on the event, published in the March 2015 edition of In The City Lagos, a free monthly magazine and one of the organisers. The feature goes on to describe the event as a “lifestyle event like no other, [and]an opportunity to mingle and network”.

Besides the fun, keeping fit is the other part of the bargain for the hundreds of participants. In the City Lagos writes:  “The Lagos Colour Splash will help you get off your couch and away from those plantain chips and groundnut, work towards your lofty personal fitness goals, give you something super cool to do with your friends and family”.

it's a fun family day out...
it’s a fun family day out…

I get a moment to chat with Kaycee Kennedy, CEO of Virtual Xchange Group and one of the brains behind the gathering. I first ask him what inspired The Splash. “We just wanted to have a clean family day out without alcohol,” he says on the spot where we are both standing, a few feet from the DJ’s platform. “You can imagine that on a day like this, Lagosians will either be at home watching television or getting stuck in traffic. We just wanted to do something away from the routine, something to take away the stress.”

And how often will it be held? “We conceive The Lagos Colour Splash as an annual event,” Kennedy says, his gaze fixed on the barbed fence and surge-breakers that separate the Bar Beach Waterfront from the paved road. “But if we get feedback people that suggest we should have it quarterly or twice a year, we will likely do so. It is quite possible that we might do it again around the Christmas season.”

The author, Pelu Awofeso (2L) with some participants at the Colour Splash. At the exterem right is the World Wrapperman, David Adjarho Obaro, the official mascot for the event
The author, Pelu Awofeso (2L) with some participants at the Colour Splash. At the exterem right is the World Wrapperman, David Adjarho Obaro, the official mascot for the event
A couple having colourful fun....
A couple having colourful fun….

Whether it happens once or twice in a year, the Lagos Colour Splash is the coolest of the cool tourist-friendly beachside shows I have seen hosted in Lagos. It is one that deserves to be on the state’s official calendar of tourism-based activities for tourists to the city.

As I make to leave, I see both male and female basketball players bounce their balls around, preparatory to the games that is about kick off. It’s just 2pm—I can imagine that there is still more fun ahead. By Pelu Awofeso (@PeluAwofeso)

FELABRATION: “Water No Get Enemy” is Fela’s Most Loved Song

A number of songs published by the late Fela Anikulapo Kuti is seen on this painting at the Terrace bar of the Kalakuta Museum in Lagos
A number of songs published by the late Fela Anikulapo Kuti is seen on this painting at the Terrace bar of the Kalakuta Museum in Lagos

By Pelu Awofeso

Nigerians have spoken: “Water No Get Enemy”, the hit song released by Fela Kuti and the Afrika 70 band has been voted as the best of the late Afrobeat legend’s entire body of work, numbering about 70 albums in a career that spanned some 30 years.

“Water” was part of the Album “Expensive Shit”, which was released in 1975.

This result is the outcome of a poll conducted by waka-about—the art, culture and travel publication based in Lagos, southwest Nigeria—on nearly 400 respondents during Felabration, the annual weeklong series of concerts hosted in Lagos in memory of Fela Anikulapo-Kuti. Respondents were mostly male and in the 18 and 46 age bracket, who attended the Felabration events at The New Afrika Shrine, NECA House (Fela Debates) and Freedom Park.

According to the poll, conducted among Nigerian and expatriate fans of the late philosopher-musician, “Water” was picked by 60 respondents as their favourite Fela song of all time. “Zombie” (1977) came second with 46 votes, and 1972’s “Lady” placed third with 19 votes.

“It makes sense,” one male respondent says of his preference for the top song. “Water really doesn’t have enemies.”

“Fela preached the reality that water cuts across all boundaries,” says another respondent. “The song is deep and laden with meaning.”

Femi Kuti Turns 52


Femi Kuti Turns 52

Femi Kuti, son of the late Afrobeat creator, Fela Kuti, turns 52 today, June 16. Waka-about was at the New Afrika Shrine in Ikeja (Lagos) on the eve of his birthday to watch the multiple grammy award nominee perform at his weekly “Sunday Jump”. It was, as usual an evening of ‘yabis’, singing, dancing and gyrating. Plus the usual Shrine regulars.

Happy birthday, Femi. We look forward to seeing you thrill the crowd at “Felabration” in October.

Fela’s Lagos: A Pilgrimage to the Past


By Dami Ajayi


Backdrop for FELA DEBATES (2013), the year the late musician would have turned 75
Backdrop for FELA DEBATES (2013), the year the late musician would have turned 75

“I am listening to Lagos with my eyes closed….”–Chris Abani

Perhaps the safest place to begin is at the intro of Koola Lobitos’ dazzling jazzy riffs on one of Fela’s numerous paeans on Lagos, Eko Ile1. Perhaps not. Perhaps it might be best, and by far more profitable, to dig into Fela’s discography; to tune his chronological influences to an era when Yoruba folklore, populist street songs and American Jazz merged into what he called Highlife Jazz.

Lagos, love without limit

Songs like Waka Waka come to mind; love songs carefully arranged to share a semblance with American jazz. It was the vernacular lyrics that told on Fela’s disguise, betrayed his Africanness, his attempt at creating a hybrid that was not commercially acclaimed, that told on his dissidence, that prophesised—in metric proportions—the extent of his deviance.

Fela sings brashly about a pursuit of love that defies the geography of the place in question. A journey from Ibadan to Lagos by foot is no small feat. It reflects not only the extent of love but also gives the direction of cosmopolitism.

In Lagos Baby, he sings about Lagos women and their greed; he rebukes flirtatious Lagos boys. In Onidodo Oni moin moin, Fela becomes the unreliable narrator of an epic fight in a popular Lagos street, Lafiaji. A food-selling street hawker’s frustration cum boredom prefaces Fela’s reflection on a perhaps (pre-colonial) Lagos with the jaunty rhythms of his band as accompaniment.

Lagos, same then and now

Suffice to say, Fela’s early description of Lagos was tangential, circumstantial and fantastic. Enter Fela’s Monday Morning in Lagos. He sings; I interpret loosely:

Saturdays are for spreading tents in Lagos,
Sundays are for drinking the booze of life,
On Monday, things change, debts become unobtainable,
Credits won’t be given, drinks become expensive;
On Monday mornings, Lagos has no time for nonsense.

I daresay a generation has passed and Lagos hasn’t changed much. If anything, the Owambe weekend culture has transformed to a booming multi-billion Naira industry. There is still that existential angst hanging down the Lagos atmosphere. The streets still throb with urgency, only stopping occasionally for a recess, usually to feast upon public brawls or an impending mob justice; and even then, during these recesses, arty dodgers and professional pickpockets mill about seeking out the occasional Suegbe who lets his(/her) guard down.

Carlos Moore, Fela’s official biographer, thinks very highly of Trouble Sleep Yanga Go Wake Amwaka-about (Oct 2011 cover)

(Palaver). Beyond the aesthetic musical arrangement, its showiness as the signature Afrobeat tune of the early Seventies, Palaver is steeped in the raucousness of Lagos; it chronicles the lives of ordinary Lagosians—wastrels, street-smart landlords, venal policemen, even rodents—and the gamut of life events they experience.

Lagos traffic is epic, unrivalled. Fela sang Go slow in the Seventies and more than three decades after, automobiles in a gridlock on Lagos roads is still a grim characteristic, the relentless status quo. Even pedestrians are not spared. Lagos traffic has spilled into nearby states, extending beyond the geographical boundaries of Lagos itself, like Lagosians.

Lagos suburbia is an expansive phenomenon swinging beyond the reaches of Lagos, down Lagos-Ibadan expressway, through Wawa, Arepo, Magboro, Ibafo, Asese, Mowe, all the way to Shagamu to accommodate an everlasting shortfall. Add to this the Lagos-Abeokuta expressway, Ota and environs.

Lagos, still the apple of all eyes

Yet the city hungers for more. People arrive by the thousands weekly: school leavers, graduates, apprentices, ex-youth corp members and even middle-aged late bloomers. Everyone is tied to a focus: to make it, as if being in Lagos is synonymous with success.

Ikoyi’s myopia hardly sees beyond
Finery, beyond visual percepts like manicured
Foliage, old orchard trees, bougainvillea
And an occasional power cut

Fela coined ‘Ikoyi Blindness’ to describe a certain tendency amongst the Nigerian elite class. He criticized the snobbery of the working class by the elites who resided in highbrow areas (like Ikoyi).

In recent times, exclusive areas have spread across the Lagos Island and Lekki peninsula to accommodate the nouveaux riches.

This I-don’t-care attitude to the sufferings of the masses by the influential is aptly depicted in the cover art: a blindfolded grumpy cigar-smoking money-miss-road scrambles through a working-class neighborhood. The uneven social divide persists in Lagos, nay Nigeria, in spite of our democracy. Our politicians remain motivated to drain the country’s financial reserves without as much as a second thought.

Lagos, rise of the megapolis

But Mr Raji Fashola, the governor of Lagos State since 2007, who is often celebrated as the man who has successfully tamed the city and given it its recent shine, is an exemplar of good governance. It is almost imaginable that were Fela alive today, Fashola would come under his lyrical blows, especially for some of his anti-populist policies.
Perhaps a good place to end this reflection is Fela’s declaration in his 1970s track, Eko Ile3, that there is no place he could call home except Lagos. Perhaps not.

Fela lived most of his adult life in Lagos. He took his last breath on Victoria Island, in defiance of Ikoyi Blindness, a career of police lock-ups and a well-rounded life of a free thinker. His commune, Kalakuta Republic, where his remains was buried, is now the Kalatuta Museum (financed by the Lagos State Government), drawing both local and international tourists and fans.

What’s more:

the terrace of the Kalakuta Museum is a fine place to catch a good glimpse of the Lagos skyline, the place to listen to Fela’s music with your eyes closed.


1. Eko Ile by Fela Ransome Kuti and Koola Lobitos, 69 L.A Sessions
2. Excerpt taken from Lagos ‘Bunnies’, an unpublished poem
3. Eko Ile by Fela and African & 70 Band.

PS: Dami Ajayi is the Fiction Editor at Saraba magazine. You can tweet at him @damiajai

waka-about cover (Oct 2012)

waka-about cover (Oct 2012)