Across Fela’s Domains

Across Fela’s Domains


Nineteen years after his death, Fela Anikulapo Kuti’s light is not showing any sign of dimming. Joe Agbro Jr. writes on the places he lived and played

WERE he to be alive, Fela Anikulapo Kuti would have been 78 years old today. But, even since his death in August 1997, the Afrobeats legend still continue to rouse minds. And the annual Felabration, a week-long celebration to honour him has continued to engage fans globally. This year’s theme is Everybody Say Yeah Yeah, a chant he used to carry his audience along.

Born on October 15, 1938 in Abeokuta, Ogun State, Fela, the son of a clergy father and activist mother, grew up on and attended Abeokuta Grammar School, which was owned by his family.

As a child, he was music-inclined and studying Music after his secondary seemed a natural progression. Off to Trinity College, United Kingdom he went where, he bagged a degree in Music. Upon his return to Nigeria, he immersed himself in music. The sixties and seventies saw him going to Ghana, United Kingdom and the US on gigs. It was in the course of discovering the man he would become.

Once settled, his ideology of communal life began. His house, located on 14A Agege Motor Road by Mosalasi in Lagos was named Kalakuta after the first cell he was jailed in. Some years later, he added Republic to it. His club, Afro-Spot, where he held regular gigs, was situated on the junction of Folarin Street, opposite his house. With growing African consciousness, Fela also renamed his club as The Shrine, from where he dished out political messages that he dubbed ‘yabis’ which made him hated by the government.

Hence, from being hounded for possessing and using marijuana, to charges of foreign currency trafficking, he was game for police and military brutality. At the height of the victimisation, soldiers descended on Kalakuta Republic on February 18, 1977, destroying his house and beating everyone in sight. In fact, Fela’s mother, Madam Funmilayo-Kuti,was thrown from the building and never recovered from the injuries till she died on April 13, 1978. That incident marked the end of his stay there. He and other residents were chased off. An enquiry set up didn’t find any soldier culpable in the brigandage. Today, three schools stand on the land Kalakuta Republic once was.

After that incident, Fela built a two storey house on 7, Gbemisola Street, off Allen Avenue, Ikeja, Lagos. Like his former commune, this was also named Kalakuta Republic. He would also relocate his club, The Shrine, to Pepple Street, located in present-day Computer Village, Ikeja. The Shrine at Ikeja became the Mecca that fans from across the world came to enjoy the music and experience the legend that was Fela. Kalakuta Republic also became a ‘home for all.’

The land on which Shrine was built belonged to the Binitie Family and when Fela died from AIDS in 1997, the Binites wanted their land back and would not deal with Fela’s estate. Today, a three storey shopping complex, Mene Binitie Plaza, has replaced the iconic plank-constructed Shrine Fela built there.

By this time Fela was entombed in his final resting place outside Kalakuta Republic. And without its president, Kalakuta Republic was deteriorating and open to ‘external’ meddling. But the Lagos State government, recognising the enigma of Fela partnered with the Kuti family to archive memorabilia of the artiste, resulting in the transformation of Kalakuta Republic to Kalakuta Museum. Today, visitors to the museum can peek into Fela’s life. There was no convergence for Afrobeats.

However, Fela’s first son came to the rescue, building a bigger edifice around the Central Business District, CBD, Alausa, Ikeja. Following his father’s footsteps, Femi named the club ‘New Afrika Shrine’ and once again, Fela’s spot, resulted. While a sizable population aren’t aware that Fela never stepped into the New Afrika Shrine, the big club symbolises the traditions Fela lived for – Freedom, Justice and Equity. And Fela devotees still have their commune.

Everybody say yeah yeah.

Source : Thenationonline