The following note is reprinted from the FELA! program.
It’s Lagos, Nigeria—the late 70’s. The hottest musician in Africa is Fela Kuti. His club he calls The Shrine. But it’s no ordinary club; and he’s no ordinary musician. He’s created a new kind of music, Afrobeat—pounding eclectic rhythms (drawn from music traditions around the globe) mixed with incendiary lyrics to openly attack the corrupt and repressive military dictatorships that rule Nigeria and much of Africa. And now his music is rocking not only Africa, but the world.
So, if you’re determined (and lucky enough) to get in, it’s sure to be a night to remember. But first you have to get there. The Shrine is in one of the most dangerous parts of the city, and between the thousands trying to get in and the Army trying to keep you away, it’s no easy task. Best to show up before 11 p.m. The Shrine will be cooking: music and people milling about smoking igbo and drinking. But Fela, who lives just across the street in his Kalakuta compound, rarely shows up before two or three in the morning. And depending on the night, and Fela’s mood, it’s anybody’s guess what will happen.
No two nights are ever the same. There’s always plenty of “Fela music”, but also a seemingly random mix of consciousness-raising lectures, gyrating female dancers, pamphleteering, Yoruban rites and idiosyncratic rituals aimed at connecting to the spirit world—all a part of Fela’s personal search for a “true African style”. And after each number (which can easily run over half an hour) Fela “yabis” his audience. He actively engages in a humorous, often caustic give and take, poking fun at his audience and a wide variety of topics—first and foremost, the corrupt Nigerian generals and the large multi-nationals and oil companies that keep them in power. So it’s not uncommon that before dawn, when the “concert” finally starts to wind down, the Army might show up to harass Fela, his Queens, band and audience, or depending on what’s been said and done, haul them off to jail to be beaten and tortured.
Fittingly, Fela keeps his own small army, and has surrounded his compound with electric wire. And for spiritual strength and protection, The Shrine’s walls are covered with tributes to “The Ancestors,” gods and humans, alive and dead, who like Fela put their lives at stake for what they believe. When the stakes are this high, anything might happen.
Welcome na de Shrine!