Fela

Lemi Ghariokwu, a veteran artist, who designed some of the late music legend, Fela Anikulapo-Kuti’s album covers, says Fela’s music are more relevant now than when he started.

Ghariokwu disclosed in Lagos that people were more in tune with Fela’s music now because of its philosophical nature and how they relate to happenings in the country presently.

The graphic designer said that was because of its relevance and that present day musicians were also tapping into it and redo some of the music.

“Musicians like Folarin Falana, popularly known as “Falz’’ sampled Fela’s music — “Zombie’’, JJD did — “Waka waka waka’’, and Ayodeji Balogun, a.k.a. “Wizkid” — “Lady” and they all came out well,’’ he said.

Ghariokwu said that Fela did well in his life time and that was why his legacy shrine attracted presidents and some other important personalities from other countries, recalling that the incumbent presdent of France Mr Emmanuel Macron visited last year.

“Fela promoted Nigeria’s culture and arts very well,’’ he added.

Ghariokwu, who designed Fela’s 29 album covers out of 56, said he designed the van and logos Fela used for his New York and Lagos shows respectively.

“My call to fame was because I designed Fela Anikulapo-Kuti’s musical album covers which showed that Afrobeat music, its own art are packaged with it,’’ he said.

The artist said that his meeting the multi-instrumentalist, composer and pioneer Afrobeat music genre, Fela, was predestined and in 1974, “I tutored myself, I have to do a drawing a day, anything that caught my fancy.

“I was studying to be a mechanical engineer like my father wanted me to be. Art came in and I practiced it so much that I dropped the engineering thing and faced art.

“When people started seeing my art works they commissioned me to do portraits for them,’’ he said.

He noted that his journey in the arts industry started with Fela, when an Ijaw man selling local gin (Ogogoro) and Beer near his parents shop told him to do a portrait of “Bruce Lee Enter the Dragon’’.

“I did it and the man hung it in his shop. Fela was popular then and he released an album. I was his fan, so I got the record and did the album cover myself.

“Babatunde Harrison, a journalist that was with Sunday Punch Newspaper then saw the Bruce Lee portrait and was impressed, his journalist instinct set in.

“He told me that he met with Fela two days ago and they were discussing art, I felt he was drunk that he didn’t know what he was talking about.

“But he promised taking me to Fela, he told me that he would bring a picture of Fela from their Punch collection for me to draw as a test.

“The next day he came with the picture, my mum was always supportive, so I collected N5 to buy materials and frame,’’ he said.

Ghariokwu said that Babatunde came and he rushed to him and showed him what he had done and he promised to go to Fela the next day.

“I told my mum and she asked me to be be careful, you know Fela was already notorious for his music and sayings about the authorities.

“Babatunde stopped a taxi and we landed in Kalakuta; Fela liked what he saw and exclaimed `wow, gadam it’, it was the first time I heard those words.

“He told me to come inside the house and he offered me Fanta. I used to charge N30 for doing portraits in my neighborhood.

“He told them to bring his cheque book and he wrote N120, four times more than I charge people. He did not ask me how much I do charge, it shows he valued that work,’’ he said.

The artist, however, said that he returned the cheque and told Fela: “I gave you the portrait from the bottom of my heart; it is not all about money.

“I was 18 years then, he brought out a note book and wrote, please admit bearer free of charge in any of my shows on Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights.

“Later people told me that I was lucky, that what Fela normally does was to write for admittance just for a night.

“When he had a show at the National Stadium, Surulere, I went, his body guards went to ask him and he asked them to allow me, they were surprised.

“That was how my relationship with Fela started. It lasted for years seeing everyday and then our ego clashed, ” he said but Ghariokwu did not disclose what happened.

He noted that the work with Fela lasted from 1974 to 1993.

Fela Anikulapo Kuti, also professionally known as Fela Kuti, or simply Fela, was a multi-instrumentalist, musician, composer, pioneer of the Afrobeat music genre and human rights activist.

Fela was born on Oct. 15, 1938 in Abeokuta in present Ogun State, died on Aug. 2, 1997 in Lagos and was buried on Aug. 12, the same year.

Some of his hit songs include “Water No Get Enemy’’ and “Expensive Shit’’ recorded in 1975, “Shakara’’ and “Lady’’ waxed in 1972.