By Kehinde Bamigbetan
It is the last night of Felabration at the New Africa Shrine, Ikeja. A hundred metres to the entrance of the venue of tonight’s performance, the crowd is so thick there is hardly a place to put a foot. You literally get moved by the collective advance of several persons elbowing and pushing forward until you emerge at the street’s T-junction to take in your first breath of fresh air in the last 10 minutes.
The idea is to join the queue of people hoping to get into the shrine. The more you walk towards the beginning of this queue, the more it elongates, like a snake into the next street. You don’t need to be told how long it will take for this stretch of a queue to find its way in.
Many of the persons are youngsters, mostly in their teens and twenties, so they have the strength to endure the body to body movement. They seem to enjoy the fun of going through all these to be part of the historic experience of participating in the memorial of Fela Anikulapo-Kuti who, as the Yoruba put it, has used the earth, like a cloth, to cover himself.
There is no one in doubt or ignorance of what this event is about. For more than a month, there has been aggressive advertisement of the programme on all the available media. The result is what we have here tonight. All the roads around the NERDC street have lost their parking spaces to the cars brought by over 250,000 guests that Yeni, Fela’s eldest daughter had promised, would attend the event. And this turned the area into a beehive of commerce and music.
Caterers and liquor sellers have taken over whatever was left of the parking spaces. The more enterprising set up temporary shops on setbacks or the entrances to business premises to sell their food.
Into one of these shops, I proceeded, encouraged by a slight hunger and enticed by the aroma of jollof rice and shawarma competing with the native smell of this arena. The aroma did not mislead. The jollof rice, salad, chicken wings and fried plantain cost N2,100. The additional offer of a calabash of palm wine at N500 will make me stay longer here although the two young men in front of me did not give me the respect I deserve. As I write a paragraph of this article one at a time, they keep puffing their smoke in a way that my nose mask cannot filter.
Before the real music will start perhaps at 10 pm, some sort of agidigbo by itinerant small bands is taking place across the road. Women are dancing by shaking their waists and rocking them to the ground. Their boyfriends watch the drama and gift the drummers ‘chicken change’.
The next visible persons, next to the caterers, are the men of the police formations, including OPMESSA. I counted about 12 police vehicles and watched the men patrol the streets. I believe this must be the key to the good comportment of the boys.
Although according to Femi Kuti, it began “like play, like play” when Yeni invited friends and family to a gig to remember their late dad, Felabration sits on top of a time-tested African record-keeping system: festivals. The annual celebrations of rites, including the re-enactment of events of ancient days, were what African historians turned to to reply to Western historians, who alleged that Africa had no history.
From the troves of annual festivals, researchers decoded the relationships that existed before and after conquests and discovered the age-old administrative and political cultures which were acted out in fidelity to compromises and conventions of past times.
By passing the torch of Fela’s values of accountability of public officers to the people, opposition to social vices like beaching skin and mobilizing the citizens to defend their constitutional rights, Felabration has succeeded in giving the great musician life after death.
I wonder, is this the real meaning of anikulapo-kuti, the man who has death in a pouch?
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