What we miss about him – neighbours, fans
By Chika Abanobi and
This month, August, made it 19 years that Fela Anikulapo-Kuti, the Afrobeat music legend and irrepressible social critic left his saxophone (his iconic musical instrument), family and fans, to answer, as they say, the call of his Maker (he died, in Lagos, on August 2, 1997). And, so, after nineteen years of missing his pulsating beat and life, it was fit and proper that you should go visiting places where he lived, walk where he walked, talk where he talked and, if possible, sleep where he slept, so that you can capture in vivid pictures the quintessential Fela.
In search of ‘Felaony’ (Fela’s music colony)
What was life like while he lived and where he lived? And what is life like now he had been absent from Nigeria’s socio-music scene for all of nineteen years? With regard to this, who is in a better position to talk about those heydays than his family members, his fans and neighbours, than those who once witnessed the composition and release of his “Blackman’s Cry” (1971), “Shakara”, “Rororofo Fight” (1972), “Gentleman” (1973), “Expensive Shit”, “Monday Morning in Lagos” (1975), “Ikoyi Blindness”, “Underground System”, “Mr. Follow Follow”, “Kalakuta Show”, “Zombie” and “Original Sufferhead”(1976), “Colonial Mentality”; “Opposite People”; “Sorrows, Tears and Blood” (1977), his “I.T.T – International Thief Thief” (1979), “Authority Stealing” (1980), “Army Arrangement” (1985), “ODOO – Overtake Don Overtake Overtake”, “Beasts of No Nation”, BONN (1989) and “Confusion Break Bones” (1990)?
And so, as you went in search of the man they call Abami
Eda (Strange Being), in Yoruba, you were sure of somehow running into someone somewhere who knew somewhat about him. But as you toured landmarks angels once feared to tread, it became all too clear that the story of Fela Anikulapo-Kuti will not be complete without chronicling the places where he used to thrill his numerous fans back in the days.
Located at 238, Herbert Macaulay Street, Alagomeji, Yaba, Lagos, Kakadu Nite Club was where Fela used to perform in the ‘60s. After returning from the United Kingdom, Fela began a cabaret show at Kakadu Nite Club later known as Afro Spot around 1966. A Lebanese owner of the club called Ali had invited Fela to perform there every week. It was the era of highlife music and Fela’s band, which was then known as Koola Lobitos, used to attract a large number of students from University of Lagos, Yaba College of Technology and other institutions in Lagos to a fun filled session at Kakadu Nite Club every Saturday.
However, since Fela left, Kakadu has gone through tremendous transformation. Many tenants had come and gone. After Ali moved his nightclub out of the place, Picollo Brothers Nigeria Ltd, a spare parts selling company, took over. The next tenant was Alpha Gate Industries that used to sell footwears. Then Mr. Biggs came and stayed there for many years. Today, Muffy Hall, an events centre, is occupying Kakadu.
Sunday Adeoye, who resides at a house adjacent to the then nightclub, says most people in the neighbourhood who witnessed the Fela era, have either passed away or too old to do anything.
“I was not around when Fela used to perform at Kakadu Nightclub,” he says. “But my father told me a lot of stories about him. My father was a great fan of Fela’s and that made me also like his music. Most of those who witnessed the Fela era in this neighbourhood have all died. The few that are alive are old and sickly. ”
In 1971, after a disagreement between Fela and Ali, the musician moved to Surulere Nightclub in Masha area of Lagos. It was there he played till 1977 before relocating to Empire Hotel in Mushin. A low cost housing estate has since displaced the Surulere Nightclub.
Saturday Sun was at the then Empire Hotel and discovered that the place has been taken over by a transport company. However, the hall where Fela used to perform, which was located at the basement of the building, is still empty and unoccupied. 70-year-old Onye Chuks, who watched Fela perform at the hotel in those days, went down memory lane and narrated how as a teenager he used to enjoy the music of the iconic artist.
Chuks told Saturday Sun: “I have been around here since 1964. This place used to be Empire Hotel where Fela performed in the late ‘70s. He lived at Kalakuta Republic located directly opposite the hotel. As you can see (pointing), his house then is where we have Ransome Kuti Memorial Junior Grammar School. Whenever Fela was coming to perform at the hotel, they will block the road, and like a king, he would ride majestically on a horse while people hailed him. And once he entered the hotel, they would open the road. At exactly 12 midnight, Fela would begin to perform and will not stop until 6 in the morning.”
According to Chuks, he can never forget Fela and his Afrobeat music. Even though, he was too young to comprehend the political message embedded in the music, he thoroughly enjoyed the rhythm and the yabis (social criticism/commentary) that accompanied it.
“Most times, I used to stay outside; because those of us outside used to enjoy the music more than those inside the hotel,” he said. “Even though, I was young and couldn’t understand what Fela was singing about, I did enjoy the music and the yabis. It’s now that I understand what he was trying to tell Nigerians through his music. All what he sang about then; vices like corruption, nepotism, favouritism, indiscipline, impunity, and social injustice are what we are witnessing today in Nigeria. It means Fela was a prophet who was not honoured in his country. In deed, I miss the Abami Eda.”
However, one incident that continues to linger in Chuks’ memory was the day Fela was buried. “He was brought here for a lying-in-state. Everywhere was jam-packed, with Fela’s music blaring all over the place. That day, we had fun. We were allowed to smoke marijuana openly and without molestation, from afternoon till the following morning,” he says.
Afrika Shrine was where Fela assumed the status of a legend. After performing at the Empire Hotel for many years, he was forced to relocate when ‘Unknown Soldiers’ burnt down his Kalakuta Republic. The iconic saxophonist moved to Pepple Street, Ikeja, Lagos and continued to do what he knew how to do best.
Today, the street once inhabited by Fela and his minions, his fans, from one end to the other, is occupied by banks, namely Zenith, computer-selling and other business outfits like mobile phones shopping complexes. In fact, the Mene Binitie Plaza which once housed the Afrika Shrine, is now resting in peace amid what is known, today, as Computer Village. And on the day you visited, you could hear Phyno’s Fada, Fada, instead of Fela’s song, blaring from a music shop somewhere on the street.
Standing right opposite The Afrika Shrine is the Church of Christ, Ikeja, Lagos, whose members and elders, Saturday Sun learnt, prayed like hell, night and day, while the Shrine lasted, that God should do something miraculous to move the church away from there by blessing the congregation with another piece of land somewhere in Lagos, or else do something that will move the Shrine away for good.
“It was one of the hardest times of our lives I must tell you,” a member of the church who did not want his name mentioned, confessed. Pointing to a round of razor barbed wire used in running a ring of security atop the church original fence, the man said, “it was because of Fela’s boys that we put up that. In those days, anytime the police came for a raid they would jump over our fence in order to escape from them. But problem is, they would still be smoking their Igbo (Indian hemp) and filling everywhere with the smoke while they were hiding inside the church premises.” Not to talk of skimpily and lewdly dressed ladies that used to parade all over the place, night and day, and constituting themselves into object of temptation to male worshippers!
“Not only the church but also the residents were complaining that Fela was corrupting their children, it is normal, anyway” Kunle Babalola, said. A diehard Fela fan, now in his late fifties, he told Saturday Sun that he started following Fela and his music, from the age of 14 (while at Baptist High School, Oyo). “The land and the building on which the old Afrika Shrine stood was supposed to be owned by Fela. But the owners refused to sell it; instead they chose to lease it out. So when they wanted to evacuate him, he refused and it became a court case. The case continued until he died. Unfortunately, the family lost the case.”
“It is a private property belonging to someone,” Kunle Anikulapo Kuti, Fela’s fourth child and second son, now in charge of Fela’s Kalakuta Republic-turned museum, explained. “I don’t know how possible it would have been to acquire the place. But I feel very bad whenever I am passing through Computer Village and see that structure. That is something that should have been preserved. But I understand the owners wanted it back. We offered a deal but they refused. We lost the case in court. But I would have loved it if the state government had intervened and acquired that place. There’s a great history there.”
Mama Ibeji, said to be the oldest tenant, and Fela’s neighbour on Pepple Street, agrees. “When Fela was here, Pepple Street was always bubbling with life,” she recalled. “It was a street that never slept. People, both young and old, were always at the Afrika Shrine to listen to Fela’s music. Marijuana was being smoked openly and police used to raid the street regularly. When police came for raid, people would start to run helter skelter and some will jump the fence into our compound in order to evade arrest. To us as Fela’s neighbours, it was fun. We didn’t see anything Fela was doing wrong. He was a complete gentleman who was not disturbing anybody. Fela was only playing his music and enjoying his life. I used to sell eggs then and my business was booming. I miss Fela so much.”
“People from outside may think that Afrika Shrine is a place where all rules were thrown to the wind, but it is not so,” another diehard fan that also goes by the name, Chuks, noted. “There were rules. For instance, although they smoked Indian hemp and all that, it was forbidden to bring in any kind of drug. It is punishable. People were being guided on what to do and what not to do. There was some level of mutual respect. Although it’s a place you could go and see a girl appearing almost naked, you dare not mess up with or molest the girl. That is to show you the level of discipline in that environment.”
Located on Gbemisola Street, Ikeja, Lagos, this is Fela’s home and final resting place. The younger Chuks, not the older one, who lives on the same street, in fact, directly opposite Kalakuta Republic, recalls that it was here that Fela, like a king he was, used to hold court in which he would, thereafter, hand down various types of punishment to offenders. “I remember that he used to have his court session here,” he said. “They would bring you to the court, judge your matter and you get your punishment. I mean, there were rules governing the place; you couldn’t just do anything you wanted. For instance, after his death, people were living here. Some misunderstood it; they thought it is a place you could come and do whatever you like. They had to evacuate them because there had to be some decorum.”
One Madam Juliet who runs a restaurant and bar on Alade Street, very close to Gbemisola Street said when Fela was alive, “this place was always bubbling with people and business was booming. In those days, my restaurant was opened for customers 24/7, no dull moment. But now, things have changed. Even though people still patronise us, it’s not like in those days when Kalakuta was functioning and there was fun all day and night.”
“I was in secondary school then,” recounts another neighbour, a woman who goes by the name, Iyabo. “Every morning on my way to school, I would pass in front of Fela’s house. He was always at the balcony of his house dressed in white pants and smoking marijuana while flanked by pretty girls.
“I was always afraid to look at his face. But then, he was a complete gentleman. You dare not cause trouble in the neighbourhood. Fela will order some of his boys to bring you inside the house where appropriate punishment would be meted to you. There was peace on Gbemisola Street. No armed robbery, no stealing, no mugging. The whole place was always bubbling with people who came to see Fela and most especially those who came to buy or smoke marijuana. However, since Fela passed away, things have not been the same on Gbemisola Street. Even though, there is relative peace and quietness, the hustle and bustle has disappeared. This is one thing I would miss about the Abami Eda.”
Today, that house from where Fela used to hold court and mete out punishment to guilty offenders, and to issue orders to his boys to rein in recalcitrant troublemakers is now a museum managed by one of his children, Kunle Anikulapo-Kuti.
A graduate of Lexington College, United Kingdom, he said his vision is to turn the place acquired by the Lagos State Tourism Board, in the days of Governor Raji Babatunde Fashola, following legislation to that effect by the Lagos State House of Assembly, into a must-visit, must-see tourist centre.
“Fela used to live here,” he informs you as if you were getting to know that for the first time. “It used to be his personal residence. Three years ago, somebody from the Lagos State House of Assembly thought we should turn it into a museum. And he got the support of his fellow legislators to pass a law towards that. Thereafter, Lagos State Tourism Board acquired it, and the past governor, Raji Babatunde Fashola, commissioned it. The traffic is not that impressive. I don’t think that many people really know there’s a museum here. So, we are thinking of re-branding the place, of having a dedicated website and letting people know what this place is about.”
Encounter with a wise lady from France
At Kalakuta Republic, you run into a tall, slim, dark-skinned beauty from Guinea-Bissau, who like other tourists from outside Nigeria, had seen the music star called Fela from far and had come all the way from France, where she was born and brought up, to pay obeisance and had been doing so for the past two or three weeks. Her name: Justine Liparasse Mendy.
Like the Biblical Moses in the burning bush, curiosity drew you closer to her to behold more of this strange sight. Incidentally, she had, with her, printed Fela T-shirt, with the inscription “Abami Eda” boldly written on the front and on the back: “Who no know go know.” She also had with her complete discography of Fela’s songs. She said she was taking them home in France as souvenirs. “It is great and I am carrying along with me pictures and memories of time with his son here. My interest in Fela is so much,” she tells you. “I got to know about him very late, that was about 10 years ago. I was then 25, now I am 35.
“I was born and raised in France. Unfortunately, in most Francophone countries, Anglophone music is not all that popular. But Fela has been a prophet, my guide and somebody who is fast-tracking my understanding of the problem we have in Africa. His music is magic. Fela is the power of the music. I love the art, the make-up, the energy, the clothing, the politics; in fact, everything. What I love is the way his music evolved gradually and I like the length of the song, sometimes it is up to 27 minutes play. There’s a building up until it climaxes. I love him for that.”
Talking about his music, which of his songs does she like or remember most, you asked. “I like “Shakara”. I like “Yellow Fever.” I think it is something a bit problematic that we are really facing in Africa and here in Nigeria. I am proud of my dark colour and I had never thought of trying to change my skin; it never occurred to me. But when I came here, actually, this is my very first time in Lagos, I was very shocked, surprised about the bleaching of skin by the ladies I saw. It is amazing that the song is still valid today. I also like the “Movement of the People” and “V.I.P.” I am very happy that I came in here and I am leaving the building a different person.”
Root of Fela’s anti-government songs
Like Lady Mendy, you also left The New Afrika Shrine located somewhere in Agidingbi, Ikeja, happier than you came, after listening to the down-the-memory-lane narrative of Kunle Babalola, of how Fela came about his radicalism, eccentricity and the combative songs to taunt the powers that be, songs like “Zombie”, “Army Arrangement”, “Underground System”, “Ikoyi Blindness”, “Sorrows, Tears and Blood”, “International Thief Thief” and “Authority Stealing.”
According to him, Fela’s decision to fight authorities and the corrupt system they represent, to mock them with his lyrics, started with his face-off with the General Olusegun Obasanjo military administration in the late 70s, specifically with the 1977 Festival of Arts and Culture (FESTAC).
Invited to attend a 1976 National Participation Committee meeting of FESTAC, held at Bagauda Lake Hotel, Kano, of which Fela and Sir Victor Uwaifo, King Sunny Ade, and a few other musicians were members, Major General I.B.M. Haruna, the chairman, had expressed how open he was to fresh ideas from members. Cashing in on the solicited advice, Fela presented a nine-point proposal he felt would help to make the festival a memorable and unforgettable experience.
Haruna refused to accept them. The disenchanted Fela who felt that he had no business submitting himself to a military man on cultural matters, resigned his membership. So did Sir Victor Uwaifo and few other musicians who felt that Fela had a point there. In fact, he was billed to open the FESTAC ceremony with the rendition of the opening song called “Opening Glee.” But following his resignation, King Sunny Ade was called upon to take up that honour and he acquitted himself creditably.
The last straw that broke the camel’s back was the military invasion of Kalakuta Republic, following an incident in which one of Fela’s boys, named John Usman, went out with a motorcycle. Owing to road construction going on at Ojuelegba, he took one-way to be faster, on his way back. He was pursued by road traffic officers but managed to escape into Kalakuta Republic. The officers trailed him to the place, but in their attempt to arrest him, one thing led to the other and they got mercilessly beaten up.
Some policemen came and were also beaten up by Fela’s boys. Angered by the development, the military authorities sent in what witnesses described as a battalion of soldiers with an instruction to raze the place that Fela had declared a republic within a republic by flying his own flag. In their attempt to carry out the mandate, they not only beat up everybody including Fela, seriously injuring many who tried to resist them, they also reportedly threw down Fela’s aged mum from the third floor, eventually leading to her death, not too long after the incident. A panel of inquiry set up to look into the matter, blamed the invasion on “unknown soldiers,” leading Fela to come up with “Sorrow, Tears and Blood” in which he derided, in one of its choruses, the “unknown soldiers.”
Every other brush he had with authorities or powers that be after that incident only served to deepen his ingrained hatred and disdain for government, especially military ones.
“It is now that we are beginning to see that he was a prophet but we didn’t know,” Babalola said. “It is like all these politicians that are stealing our money, big, big amount of money. He sang about it: “Authority Stealing”. If Fela were around and heard or read about what is happening today, about the billions said to have been stolen by Dasuki and company or about the Dogara and Jibrin padding allegations and counter-allegations, he would have sung about them. Look at Obasanjo or Abiola and ITT. He sang about it. He has that boldness.”
Nigerians heave sigh of relief as tomato price crashes
By VIVIAN ONYEBUKWA
Tomatoes which recently disappeared from markets are back on the stalls and shelves with their rich redness and pulpy texture in large supply, crashing prices that now saves hard pressed Nigerians some extra change in the pockets.
Shoppers, especially housewives are heaving a sigh of relief with the a drastic fall in the price of tomato, which shot through the roof about two months ago due to acute scarcity.
A basket of tomatoes which was sold for N42,000 in May as a result of the shortage, now sells for N800 in Kaduna. At Ketu market in Lagos, a basket of tomatoes is sold for about N7,000.
The nationwide tomato scarcity was caused by a tomato disease called Tuta Absoluta, locally called “Tomato Ebola”. As a result, hundreds of hectares of tomato farms were ravaged, resulting in scarcity, that sent the market prices spiraling skywards.
Tomato is a staple vegetable in many dishes, hence the public outcry over the scarcity and the soaring cost. Hotels and restaurants faced a nightmare as long as the scarcity, which also affected the price of canned tomato paste lasted.
Many families were forced to look for alternative ways to tomato recipe.
The tomato disease outbreak affected five states of Kastina, Kano, Kaduna, Jigawa, and Nasarawa. It also spread to other tomato producing states in the south including Lagos, Oyo and Ogun.
The disease, which threatened to wipe out farms, was said to have found its way into the country from Niger Republic through some flying insects called moths that bore into the fruits and stem of the tomato plant. The insect is a grey-brown species that is about 7mm long. The moth is very difficult to control for it has a high mutation capacity and an ability to develop resistance to insecticides.
The pests mutate more during the dry season, but do not survive during the rains. With the heavy rains, coupled with the efforts of government at curbing the disease, there have been greater yields from tomato farms. The Federal Government, Saturday Sun learnt, developed a home-grown solution to the tomato pest through the National Chemical Institute for Chemical Technology, in Zaria, Kaduna State, an agency under the ministry’s control.
Also, to destroy the insects, Nasir el-Rufai, the Kaduna State Governor, declared a state of emergency and dispatched officials to Kenya to find ways of tackling their menace. The cost of the destruction in the state, according to el-Rufai, was close to N1 billion.
In another vein, Audu Ogbeh, Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, commissioned experts to find solutions to the disease outbreak.
Some tomato sellers at Ketu market told Saturday Sun during a market survey expressed relief at the glut and affordable prices of the vegetable. They saw the hitherto scarcity as nothing new, noting that it was perennial, but described this year’s situation as the worst ever since they have been in tomato business.
Buyers could not believe their eyes at the rate this staple vegetable crashed. A housewife who just identified herself as Biodun bought plenty of tomatoes at the market, saying it was to make up for the ones she missed during the scarcity. “I missed tomatoes. It is one of the staple vegetables I like, but as a result of the scarcity which made the price to go up, I stopped buying tomatoes. Now that it is available and cheaper, I want to make up for the lost ones.”
Another woman, Mrs. Nkechi Okonkwo, who also bought plenty of the staple at the market said she was not sure of the continuous availability of the item, so she decided to buy as much so that she could preserve them in her freezer.
A tomato seller at Ketu market, Mallam Abdullahi, expressed happiness over the availability of the produce. He said: “The scarcity pushed me temporarily out of the business, because it was too expensive. Even when you decide to buy at that high cost, there won’t be buyers. And because it is a perishable item, you can’t keep it for too long, so you lose your money. So, I decided to stop temporarily and went into okada business. Now I am happy to be back to the business I have done over the years”.
The scarcity forced Dangote Tomato Company in Kano State to close operation, partly because of the scarcity of tomato in the market and encouraged importation of tomato paste into the country. As a result, fake, substandard and cancer causing tomato paste were reportedly imported into Nigeria. The hazardous tomato paste were said to have come into the country from Asian countries by some importers.