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Afrika Shrine’s day with history

By Abdul Okwechime
12 August 2018   |   3:41 am
Tuesday July 3, 2018, history was made. For the first time since it came into existence, the president of a country, sitting or past, paid a visit to the Afrika Shrine. The history maker was the youthful President of France, Emmanuel Macron. Witnesses to history included, the chief hosts, Femi and Yeni Kuti and the…

french president Emmanuel Macron (C) takes a selfie with Nollywood artists during a live show in the AfriKa Shrine in Lagos on July 3, 2018.<br />French President Emmanuel Macron has arrived in Abuja for a meeting with his Nigerian counterpart Muhammadu Buhari, in his latest attempt to forge closer ties with English-speaking Africa. / AFP PHOTO / POOL / Ludovic MARIN

Tuesday July 3, 2018, history was made.

For the first time since it came into existence, the president of a country, sitting or past, paid a visit to the Afrika Shrine.

The history maker was the youthful President of France, Emmanuel Macron.

Witnesses to history included, the chief hosts, Femi and Yeni Kuti and the amiable Governor of Lagos State, Mr. Akinwunmi Ambode and his entire cabinet.

There were also high networth guests from the corporate world, diplomatic corps, captains of industry, statesmen and artistes.

Some shed tears of joy, some were speechless, some jumped screamed, danced in ecstasy but above all, everyone was proud to be counted.

It’s been long coming, though. Steadfastness, unshaken belief in self and Africa…over the years The Afrika Shrine stood out.

Completely different from every other club and indeed it is not an every other club.

The first Afrika Shrine was located on Agege Motor Road, across the road, almost opposite the first Kalakuta Republic, Fela’s residence.

It was established in 1974.

When Fela, then Ransome Kuti, created Afrobeat in 1970, he also created a club called AfroSpot, where he performed four times a week.

The first Afrospot was situated at Alagomeji Bus Stop, Yaba, about the same spot where Sweet Sensation sits today.

He left there soon, to his second Afrospot, located at Shitta, Surulere in a club hitherto called Surulere Nite Club.

By the close of 1973, Fela was done and dusted with the Afrospot clubs concept.

Why the shrine

At this time in Fela’s life, he realised that his music meant more to people than just melodies to dance to.

This was the period Felasophy was spreading among West African youths, particularly those in the higher institutions of learning.

So, by and by, his concerts became not only venues for entertainment and dancing, but avenues for the teachings of Pan-Africanism.

His music at this time became more of a mirror of the society and a major source of youth awareness.

He reasoned that his club, which was hitherto called AfroSpot, must grow beyond the usual sentiments of club life and become a citadel of learning everything proudly African.

In addition, he wanted the youths to be exposed to the ideals and ideas of the struggles for good governance.

At this point, his music became, in his words, “a weapon.”

To, therefore, command the envisaged respect for the venue where he performed, he called it The Africa Shrine.

A place where music became more of sermons and performances were designed to teach more than to entertain.

The Federal Military Government of Nigeria on February 18, 1977, shut down this first Africa Shrine, the day soldiers attacked and burnt down the Kalakuta Republic.

After the fire and with Fela and other Kalakutans sacked from their abode and confined to various hospitals across Lagos, the Africa Shrine was declared a no go area and closed down.

But it had become, again in his words, a “force of the mind”, and no amount of military intimidation would kill the force.

Fela’s hit tunes, days after the fire, No Agreement and Fear Not For Man, largely underscored this.

The second Afrika Shrine

It took time before Fela berthed the second Afrika Shrine, after the demise of the first because the military barred him each time he attempted to do this.

Eventually, in 1979, the second shrine came alive on Pepple Street, Ikeja, a location now inside the Computer Village, Ikeja.

This shrine survived the remaining years Fela spent on earth.

Even when he was jailed in 1984, the place remained opened to the public, sustained first, by Femi, and later, the Egypt ’80 band.

Fela continued playing there upon his release from jail until his death, when the Binitie family from whom he had leased the land where the shrine was built, took possession of the property. That technically ended the second shrine.

Femi Kuti’s third Afrika Shrine

The third and current Afrika Shrine, called The New Afrika Shrine, is entirely built by Femi and his elder sister, Yeni.

It was opened on October 15, 2000, particularly to honour Fela.

This new and third shrine is about five times bigger than Fela’s shrines.

However, apart from the difference in size, all other essence of The Shrine’s Concept, remain intact.

The essence of Afrika Shrine

Initially, the idea was to have a place where Africans and mankind generally would have the opportunity to appreciate the beauty of all that is Africa. The music was thoroughly undiluted African melodies.

The messages were radically African to say the least and were intended to awaken our (the African Youths especially) sensibilities against unjust rule and colonialism.

It is also the centre of Afrobeat, Fela’s gift to the music world.

He worshipped at the shrine once a week, on Saturdays during his weekly ‘Saturday Comprehensive Show’.

On these occasions, Fela, assisted by a masquerade, worshipped at a designated altar in a corner of the shrine.

He did this by pouring libations on the images of great Africans strategically placed in the altar.

These images include, those of Marcus Garvey, Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, Mrs. Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti, Kwame Nkrumah…

No one else worships at this shrine. And no one was compelled to worship along with Fela on those Saturdays.

Indeed, he usually said to shrine devotees, “I want to worship at my shrine and I want you to give me five minutes of silence.

The silence is not compulsory.”

Here, silence is not the only thing that is not compulsory; the entire Fela worship ceremony was actually not compulsory.

To the audience, this was a mere show. Significantly, however, it underscored Fela’s belief in and propagation of Africanism.

The African ancestors he poured libations on were for him, more spiritually beneficial and healing.

The third Afrika Shrine carries the same sentiments. Femi worships at the altar of the shrine whenever he is traveling out of Nigeria and whenever he comes back to the country.

The prayers are for a successful trip and a thank you for a safe return. He also pours libations on the images of same Great Africans, just that this time, Fela’s image is added.

Again the larger audience simply views this as part of the show.

This third Afrika Shrine has grown to become a global tourism destination due largely to Femi’s weekly performances and the sustenance of Pan Africanism tenets.

Every week, guests from across the globe troop into the venue to watch him perform and try to connect back with the Fela feelings.

And talking about Fela melodies, Seun Kuti, performs every last Saturday of the month with The Egypt ’80, Fela’s band.

This makes the shrine the only place in the world where you can watch a flash back of Fela’s band live performances.

It is also the home of today’s Afrobeat, as envisioned by him at the twilight of his career and created by Femi who undoubtedly remains the best performer this side of the world.

And together with elder sister, Yeni, who is the CEO of the Shrine, they have built an impossible to ignore platform in Lagos to the benefit of Africa as a whole

The shrine, all said, remains the one stop tourism destination of Lagos State.

However, President Macron never met Fela, nor attended any of his shrines. His first encounter with the shrine was Femi’s New Afrika Shrine in 2002 as a junior staff, an intern, of the French Embassy in Nigeria.

The unprecedented energy and music genre that engulfed him on his first visit left an indelible impression on him. He promised himself that he will definitely come back to relive this experience.

What he didn’t know then, was that this next visit will be as the President of France.

Indeed, the African Shrine day with history started on that 2002 first visit of the young Macron.

When, therefore, opportunity to visit Nigeria came his way, it offered him the longed-for chance to relive the shrine experience.

Despite all overtures to host him in one of the numerous exotic and classic venues of Lagos, the President insisted it was the new Afrika Shrine or nowhere else.

He wanted to see and feel the Shrine again.

During the days preceding his visit and preparations were at their peak, the state government, Femi and Yeni, wanted a facelift for the shrine to welcome the August visitor.

But the President’s delegates from France insisted that Macron would rather see the shrine in its ‘shrineness’, as he saw it years back. Awesome stuff.

So, the New Afrika Shrine was laid bare for one of the seven most powerful presidents in the world.

On July 3, 2018, President Macron of France brought the attention of The New Afrika Shrine, Lagos, to the league of seven presidents in the world who took decisions in the United Nation’s Security Council. He did it in style.

He removed his jacket, pulled off his necktie, rolled up his shirt’s sleeves, jumped on to to the dance floor and gyrated to Femi’s music. The shrine also welcomed him.

There were cultural dance performances, a short drama from the famous Nigeria’s Nollywood, and a host of Nigeria artists, including an11-year-old Waris Olamilekan, a hyper realism fine artist, who made a remarkable drawing of President Macron within two hours.

Africa’s top most artistes were also not left out. Legendary Youssou N’Dour, Angelique Kidjoe, Asa, were present to honour the shrine and the president.

On the 21st anniversary of the death of Fela Kuti, while it is pertinent to pay homage to the New Afrika Shrine, President Macron of France, the Lagos State Governor, Akinwunmi Ambode and the Fela Kuti family, it also important to ask the authorities, ‘wither The Afrika Shrine in the nation’s tourism destinations’.

• Okwechime is a Lagos-based media consultant