Nearly two decades since his death, the legacy of Afrobeat pioneer and human rights activist Fela Anikulapo Kuti (born Olufela Ransome-Kuti) is only growing with the years. The British Library exhibition on West Africa: Word, Symbol, Song paid homage to him last winter as one of Nigeria’s most prominent and prolific cultural figures. There is a rising cult interest in African funk music, a genre within which he is a crucial voice and his life and musicality echo in the contemporary hybrid of protest and music that is the annual Afropunk festival, a counter-cultural platform for asserting black identity and social activism, which took place in London for the first time on September 24th.
But closer to his Fela’s own hometown, the arts and music festival Felabration brings hundreds of local and international musicians, performers and artists to the New Afrika Shrine in Lagos to celebrate the life and work of the multi-instrumentalist, composer, maverick and activist. Started in 1998, the year after Fela’s death, by his daughter, Yeni Anikulapo-Kuti, the festival aims both to celebrate his artistic and cultural contribution to Nigeria and keep his legacy alive. The festival ended this Saturday and to commemorate we are excited to share the work of Nigerian documentary photographer, Yagazie Emezi, who attended Felabration in 2015 and photographed the backstage experience. The result was a stunning series of photographs, which she has kindly agreed to share with us.
I actually didn’t know of Fela while growing up in Nigeria. I’m sure his music surrounded me at certain points, but I would never have been able to pick it out as a child. My earliest memories of Fela are blurry, but I am sure I was already in university in the States by then. His sounds came in through a friend’s computer and from there, I went on to find out more about him on my own.
I was drawn to the crowd that the celebration attracts. It was just one of those events that I had heard everyone talking about so the hype drew me in.
More than anything, Fela lives on in his children. Seun and Femi still perform on stage regularly and the energy and spirit never stops.
I had a friend who was performing at Felabration which is a big deal so I offered to capture her on stage. I’ve been to Shrine on its quiet days and was always curious about what was behind all the doors.
Most rooms are packed with performers. One room is for Femi Kuti’s family and friends. The others are for performers and dancers. Everyone was excited, but you could tell the experienced artists from the first-timers. There was smoke in the air, people were relaxed, lovers mixing with friends, supporters blending in with performers, everything was positive and encouraging.
The spirit of Felabration is that of openness and acceptance, you’re in a safe space when you’re in Shrine. Holding a camera is a common sight and people are very receptive.
If I manage to snag some special access passes, I will definitely do my best! Some good photographs are created in the less accessible spaces!
Check out our feature on Yagazie Emezi and her many creative outlets here (among them photography, cartoon, documentary and straight-talking YouTube videos). Follow her adventures on Instagram and Twitter. You can also watch her antics on Youtube!