When the name ‘Fela Shrine’ or ‘New African Shrine’ is mentioned within earshot, it raises eyebrows and springs up wrong perceptions in the minds of so many. It comes across to them like a place where incantations and rituals are carried out to honour Fela. In general, so many people have a wrong interpretation of the space may be because of how the name sounds.
However, to a more enlightened ones, it brings back memories and thoughts of long-lasting legacies of the music legend, Fela Anikulapo Kuti.
The shrine is arguably the busiest pub in Lagos State where you can find the good, the bad and the ugly. Something about the shrine that keep people in awe is the fact that a place perceived by many as the most rugged place in Lagos happens to be the MOST PEACEFUL as avid lovers of Fela Shrine can attest to that.
Another confusing fact is that, the Fela Shrine is the only space where Marijuana is unofficially legalised in Nigeria. Both force men and civilians light up their kush from the same source but once they leave that environment, the story changes.
More than 20 years after the death of afrobeat legend, Fela Anikulapo Kuti, his legacy endures. This may be largely due to the hard work of Femi and Omoyeni Kuti, son and daughter of the fiery musician who took on the military government in the 70s.
Femi and ‘Yeni, for the past 20 years, have been keeping the memories of their father alive with their administration of the Afrika Shrine. Currently located at Agidigbi, Ikeja, the shrine has been a beehive of activities and a haven of entertainment during the week and weekends. Perhaps, this is as a result of the absence of segregation as all guests, the low and the high, gather for the love of the Fela brand.
Fela’s original Afrika Shrine was destroyed in 1977 when his family compound called Kalakuta Republic was burnt by the military. Kalakuta Republic, at 14 Agege Motor Road, Idi-Oro, Mushin, was the name the musician and political activist, Fela Kuti, gave to the compound that housed his family, band members and recording studio.
After the military action, the iconic saxophonist moved to Pepple Street, Ikeja, but this was short-lived as a court case led to the eviction of the shrine from Pepple Street as the land was on lease, contrary to Fela’s impression that he had bought the land. Efforts to buy the land were frustrated with a court case. By the time Fela died in 1997, the land was still in contention and entreaties to settle with the Mene Binitie family at that time were rejected.
A visit to the shrine at night gives a clearer picture of the Fela brand which cuts across tribe, age and social class. The audience or Fela lovers, mostly men, had, by 6.00 p.m., started converging. By 9.00 p.m., the sound of music could be heard from the shrine with many people inside, some lurking around in groups outside, some smoking and others engaged in small talks.
While some well dressed and well behaved, others were given away as ruffians by their outfits and gangsterish behaviours. About six youths were busy with the ‘traffic business,’ helping motorists to find parking spaces with a promise of securing the vehicles for a fee. This was said to be a routine on days there were performances by Femi and others.
Beside the New Afrika Shrine are blocks of offices and some blocks away are schools, worship centres, fitness centre, hotels, mechanic workshop, among others. However, two streets away, there are residential estates.
Life in these estates during the day is no different from houses within the metropolis which are always quiet when most residents are gone to work, students to school and others within their compounds activating mind-your-business mood behind security fences and gates.