The Resurrection of Fela

The Resurrection of Fela

Some of late Fela's possessions
The newly opened Kalakuta Museum, home of Fela Anikulapo-Kuti, promises to not only define the legacy of the Afrobeat legend but also help boost tourism in Lagos State and Nigeria.

Even from afar, the name cannot be ignored. A first time visitor wouldn’t miss the brightly coloured Kalakuta Museum engraved on the exterior of what used to be Kalakuta Republic, home of the late Fela Anikulapo-Kuti. 15 years after his death,
the white coloured two storey building, located on number 8, Gbemisola Street, Allen Avenue, Ikeja, Lagos, rose majestically in the cloudy sky, after undergoing a remodelling. Although it was officially opened on Monday, October 15, to mark the 74th birthday of the Afrobeat legend and promote cultural heritage; it would be fully completed in December. This however did not prevent tourists from trooping in to get a peep into the life and times of the music genius and political activist.

“Lots of people see him in different lights and call him different names; abami eda (the weird one), omo iya aje (child of a witch), philosopher; a prophet; they see lots of things. But what I have tried to do here, in terms of interpretation of the museum, is to show Fela as a human being; that everybody can learn from his life story and aspire to be as dogged as him,” said Theo Lawson, architect, Total Consult, managers of the museum, when the magazine caught up with him on the roof terrace, where Seun Kuti’s band was rehearsing.

While there would be a fully integrated sound system and a dedicated television channel that would play Fela’s music and videos respectively, Lawson hoped that 29 year-old Seun, Fela’s youngest son, would conduct his rehearsals at the museum as often as when he was in town. Listening to the Afrobeat sounds being produced, here, in the home of its pioneer, was almost surreal. It was like being transported on a time machine back to when Fela was alive.

“You know, they say it takes a village to raise a child. Kalakuta was basically one big village, where you grew up with 500 strangers from everywhere in the world; from Lagos to Lome, France to London, everywhere, and they teach you about life. Every day in Kalakuta was an adventure,” noted Seun, minutes after he had sneaked past unknowing visitors into the compound to join in the rehearsals; although his face, a spitting image of his father, gave him away. When he later found Yeni Kuti, Fela’s first child and daughter, on the first floor, their conversation went back and forth, like ping pong. “The only Yeni Kuti,” Seun said, lovingly as he hugged her. On that floor, there were three rooms and the sitting room, where Seun noted Fela used to host all his guests. He added that it also became a sort of courtroom where the legend judged ‘really big cases’ in the Kalakuta community. “But the small misdemeanours, he will judge in his room. If the case is big, that the whole Kalakuta would be in attendance, everybody goes to the big parlour,” he recalled, laughing. “Growing up with my dad is like winning the daddy lottery,” he grinned.

Although such intimate portrayal of Fela can only be re-enacted, it is this kind of sneak peep into Fela’s intimate world that visitors would get to see when they visit the museum. A part of his life story, in over 40 picture frames, neatly arranged as one climbed up the stairs, could be seen on the walls. Even Seun’s baby pictures, as well as that of his famous older siblings, Yeni and Femi; Fela’s 27 wives, and many other picture memoirs adorned the museum’s walls. Inside Fela’s bedroom, which was painted in his favourite colour for walls – orange - and viewed from a transparent glass door, was one of his saxophones. Opposite his bed were his clothes neatly hung, a deep freezer and a bag on top of what looked like folded rugs. It had the appearance of a shrine. His guitar and keyboard was hung on the walls outside the bedroom.

The other adjacent room had another saxophone on its floor. It also contained over 30 pairs of Fela’s shoes - same design, but with a variety of colours; three pairs of his multi-coloured pants on hangers, and some of his famous stage outfits – a tight fitting trouser and shirt, housecoat and a red pant with blue stripes – on three mannequins. Opposite it was another room which contained 25 newspaper cuttings that had Fela or news related to him on their cover; 29 pages political manifesto of his party, the Movement of the People (MOP), as well as an old typewriter. In other sections were several of Fela’s other personal effects, costumes, album covers, paintings and memorabilia displayed at strategic positions. Although quite small by comparison, but arguably equal in significance, Kalakuta museum could just become Nigeria’s own Graceland, the also (large) white-columned mansion that was home to Elvis Presley, the American singer who died 20 years before Fela. Graceland has since become a major tourist attraction in the US.

While there would be the obvious challenge of getting a big car park somewhere else to accommodate tourists, Seun looked amused about the similarities between Kalakuta republic and Graceland. “Oh of course, Nigeria’s Graceland,” he said. Although he noted that he admired Elvis a lot as one of his great inspirations, Seun said bluntly, “Fela is Fela (and) Elvis is Elvis.” It was a statement of fact. “Bob Marley also has one (museum) in Jamaica, very popular,” Seun noted. Interestingly, like Marley, Fela also had an affinity for marijuana (Indian hemp). Evidently, Fela is a globally recognised music icon and brand, as seen with the hugely successful Fela! Broadway, the multi-million dollars show produced and packaged by Jay Z, Will Smith and Bill T Jones, all Americans. Also, Fela was mentioned in ‘School Daze,’ a 1988 American musical-drama, written and directed by Spike Lee.

Kalakuta is not even opened, but it has already drawn a lot of interests nationally and internationally,” Seun added that there was a mystery about Fela throughout his lifetime and even in death. This is one reason why he believes the museum is going to be a huge success. “Because of the propaganda, majority of people were afraid to come close to Fela. So they were always looking in from the outside. So, I think for the first time ever, people actually have a chance to come into Kalakuta and experience it from the inside, see how Fela truly lived, what he stood for and what he was about,” he said.

No doubt, the tourism potentials of the museum is huge, not only for Lagos State, but for Nigeria. And if properly tapped, it could also become a famous tourism destination for decades to come. This may be a pointer to why the Lagos State government supported the remodelling project with N40 million, a lion share of the N60 million Lawson said was the total cost needed to complete it. Lawson explained that the museum would be self-sustaining because it has several viable outlets; which includes a coffee shop, souvenir shop, restaurant and bar, as well as a five-room hotel. In fact, there are still over a thousand pictures of Fela yet to be displayed. “You could spend the whole day and it won’t be enough to see all the pictures,” Yeni told the magazine. Although the elevator was yet to be installed, most visitors would probably prefer to use the stairs so as to view the picture frames on the walls. Yeni also believed that Kalakuta has great commercial and tourism value simply because it was Fela’s home and final resting place. Interestingly, either by a stroke of luck or hindsight, an almost complete five-star hotel is located just a few metres from Gbemisola street.

“This is a deliberate attempt at bringing the old social life back to Lagos through the creation of places of relaxation within safe and secure environment. It is pertinent to reiterate our commitment towards boosting tourism,” explained Disun Holloway, Lagos State commissioner for Tourism and Inter-Government Relations, on the involvement of the state government. Moreso, the museum is located around the ever bustling Allen Avenue, in Ikeja, the capital and a business nerve centre. In addition, it is expected that it would be more attractive to tourists as Lagos is presently regarded as one of Nigeria’s most secured state. “I’m so excited that this is happening. Fela and I were very close friends when he was alive,” said one excited police inspector, who craved for anonymity. The museum could also change the largely indifferent attitude of Nigerians towards local tourism, especially as Kalakuta would have a global appeal for many who would gladly pay for a tour into Fela’s history, just like the international success recorded by the Fela! Broadway show had shown.

For all he stood for; opposition against government policies, justice for the masses, his ideals and controversies; would Fela have been proud to see the rebranding of his beloved Kalakuta home? Lemi Ghariokwu, Nigerian artist and curator of the museum, who designed the covers for many of Fela’s albums, gave an insight. “Fela has been recognised internationally and is worth celebrating in his state and country where he fought for liberation, transparency and equality of all people,” he said. Yeni added that it would preserve Fela’s legacy, and noted that his message was not lost on Nigerians. “His music is still in the minds of the people. If there is going to be a revolution, Fela’s music would still be in the forefront,” she said.

This is probably why Femi Kuti, the more renowned son of the Afrobeat legend, while speaking on behalf of the family at the opening, said the museum would only serve its value if the things his father fought for were realized. He also thanked Governor Babatunde Fashola’s administration for its support and urged government at all levels to do more to improve the welfare of the people.

With a suggested access fee of maybe N100 or N200, how do the owners of the museum hope to recoup their investment? “Basically, for us, it’s like a charity thing, rather than as a profit making venture. This is a place where people can come to and be inspired by what Fela stood for. This is highly beneficial for Nigeria. And I think we can be proud as well,” noted Seun. Yeni echoed his sentiments. “This would preserve not just Fela’s, but Afrobeat’s legacy. I like to think the Kutis can be the trend setters. Fela led the way in his lifetime, for political activism, for protest music. So to me, it’s befitting that, in death, he’s also going to lead the way again. I’m happy and hoping that other families would have their own musical libraries, (the likes of) I.K Dairo, Haruna Ishola, and Rex Lawson, who were icons in their own time. I’m hoping that this is the beginning of something great for Nigerian musicians,” she said.

For Lawson, it seemed time had come full circle. 15 years ago, he designed and built Fela’s tomb, also located in the museum’s compound; a triangular shaped structure seated on a square slab inside a circle that resembled a mini music stage. Fela’s music, he said, played a major part in his life while he was a student at the Architectural Association School of Architecture, London, England. “I didn’t want to design architecture based on European values. So I had to use Fela as a source of inspiration and to show my lecturers that we had a rich culture of our own, embodied in people like him,” he explained. No wonder he was confident that Kalakuta would be different from any other museum because each museum should be tied to the character it represents. “We (have) tried to capture the essence of Fela and his lifestyle. This is his home. You cannot have any other Kalakuta in England or anywhere else. It has to be here,” he said, smiling.

So, what used to be a family heritage has now been transformed into a state (and possibly, national) treasure. “I believe Kalakuta museum represents freedom for the Nigerian people, where people can see someone that is not telling us the same things all our elites and politicians are saying, but someone who is sending an original message that can actually inspire a generation,” said Seun.

However, given the country’s poor maintenance culture, many Fela fans would hope that Kalakuta

Share on Google Plus

About Unknown


  1. That means they will sell marijuana there too, chai

  2. Lolz... Everything on sale.