Saturday, June 13, 2009

Shrine On, Or Over?

Disturbing news disseminated by Nikki Lucas, who hosts the excellent Future Fusion Global Warning show on various platforms. It's particularly concerning news for me, as I'm in Nigeria on business at the moment and want nothing more than to make it to Afrobeat's Mecca, the New Afrika Shrine...

Lucas writes:

"Throughout Africa today there are many western-style theatres, mainly built by the Chinese, Africa’s latest colonizers-in-waiting. But only rarely are they administered and operated as cultural centres, open and accessible to anyone other than the bourgeois minority in their SUV’s and Mercedes limos. A notable exception to this rule existed in Lagos Nigeria until last week, that is, when it was forcibly closed by the authorities giving less than 24 hours notice and claiming “noise nuisance, illegal street trading, indiscriminate parking, blocking of access roads and obstruction of traffic” as their justification.

The New Afrika Shrine was built and operated by Femi and Yeni Anikulapo Kuti, the eldest son and daughter of cultural icon, Fela Anikulapo Kuti, who built the original Shrine in the seventies, which endured until shortly after his death in 1997 when it, too, was forcibly closed by the Nigerian authorities. Both the old and new Shrines were much more than just music venues. They were a refuge for the homeless and dispossessed, acted as a focal point for dissent and were consequently a thorn in the flesh of the ruling elite. Fela used the stage to launch eloquently savage diatribes against the corruption and mismanagement that was rife in Nigeria, one of the world’s leading oil producing countries, and was a hero to millions for the biting, non-compromising social commentary contained within his lyrics.

In the seventies and eighties people flocked to the Shrine to hear Fela’s latest harangue of the country’s leaders and marvel at the powerful music and spectacle produced by his singers, dancers and musicians. Millions, not just in Nigeria but across the African continent, bought his albums and his tours in Europe and America attracted huge audiences.

Fela paid the price for his brutally frank and widely publicized condemnations of the government and his fierce defense of human rights by being constantly harassed, arrested (more than 200 times) and often savagely beaten, none of which ever diminished the continuing force of his attacks.

Following his death and the forced closure of his beloved Shrine, Femi and Yeni resolved to re-build an even bigger venue on a nearby site and used their share of income from the global sale of Fela’s albums with which to do so. They were determined to maintain their Father’s legacy and considered the heritage of shelter, support and advocacy as being the most valuable contributions they could make towards the development and creation of a united and democratic African republic.

Against all the odds, and despite constant harassment from the authorities, they have successfully continued to the Shrine open for almost a decade and have developed a large and faithful following, as well as providing an effective refuge for disaffected youth and the dissemination of preventive information in defense against the Aids pandemic. Femi and his band, The Positive Force, have graced the stage and kept alive the spirit of dissent and social commentary as the backbone of his work. He and Yeni have acted as host to the ever-increasing number of world-renowned artists who have made the pilgrimage to the Shrine and participated in the Felabrations which take place each year on the anniversary of Fela’s birthday. Despite the global recognition of the Kuti family (a musical about Fela is about open on Broadway and a Hollywood film is being made of Fela’s life and work) and their work as three generations of social reformers, the authorities have maintained their opposition and have taken every opportunity to obstruct the continued operation of The Shrine. This has included countless raids, often in the middle of the night, including beatings and harassment of the many homeless youth who seek shelter there, now once again exposed to the elements.

Now, of course, The Shrine is closed, according to the authorities, permanently. However, after making this pronouncement in writing just a few days ago, they have this morning stated that it may re-open tomorrow. This can, alas, not be viewed as any kind of victory. On the contrary, that a ‘permanent’ closure can be turned around in less than a week only shows that their decision-making process is completely arbitrary. This cat and mouse game, which has been going on for almost four decades must come to an end. When Fela died, the upper echelons of Nigerian government sent letters to the family that were not simply expressions of condolence but were eloquent testimonials to a great man. The present authorities must finally admit that Fela Anikulapo Kuti is Nigeria’s best loved son and accept the earnest request made by the Executors of Fela’s Estate, Yeni, Femi and Kunle Anikulapo Kuti, to:

1. Once and for all end hostilities and harassment.

2. Permanently re-open the Shrine

3. Create the necessary decree to establish and maintain The New Afrika Shrine as a National Heritage Site in recognition of the invaluable contribution made by the Kuti family to the cultural life of the nation.

To assist this process and make clear to the Nigerian authorities that the Kutis, for almost a century have enjoyed the respect and admiration of not just Nigerians or even Africans, but people of conscience around the world, please add your signature to the petition in support of this proposal, to be forwarded to the Governor of Lagos and to Nigeria’s Minister of Justice."

So please do us all - and Fela-obsessed me, in particular! - a favour by signing the petition here. [Update - this link appeared to be down when I posted this originally, and I now believe from contacts here that The Shrine is indeed still open. But sign the petition anyway: Nigerian authorities are a law unto themselves.]

And in case you're unclear about why I'm so eager to get to The Shrine (I spent a Friday afternoon there last year but couldn't make it back for the real deal), the house band it Femi Kuti's Positive Force, and you can grab a taste of the Kuti Jnr.'s melancholy Afrobeat amazingness over at the excellent RCRD LBL, where 'Eh-Oh' is available, gratis.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Energy + Thing = Everything

It's South Africa's sexiest and slickest online mag by a long way. It's called Chew and issue 6 is out now and available for download here.

In between all the immaculate design, there are some stunning fashion shoots (well, Emily Freeman is just stunning, while Chris Saunders' township shoot is out of this world), as well as features on dirty disco rockers The Beams and the brilliant, world-conquering Blk Jks.

If you aren't sold yet, check out my reviews of albums by PJ Harvey, Phoenix, DJ Koze, Bloc Party & Grace Jones on page 90...