Ian Birrell: A wild shrine to music, history and the struggle for human rights

Eyewitness

Share
Related Topics

We bumped our way down the ramshackle streets of Ikeja in the traffic-choked megacity of Lagos, and there it was: the new Afrika Shrine, spiritual home of Afrobeat, the sound created by Fela Kuti and Tony Allen which grew to become the most influential music to emerge from Africa in decades.

Outside, there were hawkers selling goods: groceries, cigarettes and, from one enterprising salesman, 2ft marijuana joints.

Inside, it was like Hollywood's vision of an African nightclub. A carnivorous wooden shed that holds several thousand people, with a bar at one end and a simple stage at the other. There were netted podiums for Femi Kuti's famous female dancers, and artefacts of his father's along one wall – beside stern warnings against drug use.

In one corner, a cow was being chopped up for our lunch, the butcher cheerfully posing for pictures with the skull. Dozens of people sat around drinking palm wine, chatting and playing chess, for the Shrine serves as a social club and welfare centre for local residents during the day, offering refuge to the homeless and jobless despite endless harassment from the Lagos authorities. Over the years, it has been shut down repeatedly.

One afternoon I watched a televised match between Everton and Arsenal with about 200 enthusiastic fans, mostly rooting for the Gunners because of their former player Kanu, who seems to be on virtually every advertising billboard in the city.

Our party wandered backstage, climbing stairs adorned with photographs of famous musicians such as Bob Marley and Baaba Maal (who was part of our group). Upstairs, I stumbled upon a room which turned out to be Femi's bedroom, where his partner was suckling a child. She smiled, and said hello. Next door, Femi's sister and friends were in the living room, and welcomed us in. Despite Femi Kuti's success, like his father he still lives here in the heart of his people, with a window of his house looking out over the stage.

Come showtime, it is all rather different: the most exhilarating and wildest nightclub imaginable. During Femi's spectacular shows, bouncers at the front whack people who get too close to the stage with huge wooden staves. Giant plumes of fire are ignited from aerosols. During one song about anarchy, the audience suddenly raised all the tables and chairs above their heads while dancing.

Meanwhile, at the bar at the back of the hall, some folk continued their games of chess, seemingly oblivious to the music and mayhem all around them.

I was there with a party of artists for Africa Express, which brings together Western and African musicians and headlined a festival marking the anniversary of Fela Kuti's birth. Among those performing was Flea, bassist with the Red Hot Chili Peppers, who had flown from California for the privilege of playing at such an historic venue. Afterwards, I asked him what he had made of it. "That was, without a doubt, the craziest show I have ever played in my life," he said. "It was fantastic."

i.birrell@independent.co.uk

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Senior QA Engineer - Agile, SCRUM

£35000 - £50000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Senior QA Engineer (Agil...

Marketing Executive - West Midlands - £28,000

£26000 - £28000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Digital Marketing Executive (SEO, PP...

Retail Business Analyst

£40000 - £50000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our retail client ...

Senior C++ Developer

£400 - £450 Per Annum possibly more for the right candidate: Clearwater People...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

i Editor's Letter: We are winning the fight against extreme poverty and hunger. It's time to up the ante

Oliver Duff Oliver Duff
David Cameron addresses No campagn supporters in Aberdeen  

Scottish independence: Cameron faces a choice between destroying his country or his party

Matthew Norman
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

The Imitation Game, film review
England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week