About This Festival
Everybody Say “Yeah Yeah!”
There are painfully average people whose greatest accomplishment in life was discovering the delicious combination of red and blue slushies. Then there are national treasures like Fela Anikulapo-Kuti, a man who created one of Africa’s most popular music genres with his eclectic tastes.
Felabration is a funkadelic music festival that celebrates Fela’s life, his enormous influence on Nigerian society, and the Afrobeat genre. It’s held annually on the week of his birthday at the colorful New Afrika Shrine in Ikeja, Lagos State. The week-long concert maintains the same infectious energy that Fela possessed decades ago, bringing a wealth of artists from all over the world to keep the rhythm pulsing. Local Nigerian artists and international acts grace the stage with notes of Afrobeat, hip-hop, R&B and jazz, among many others. The amount of talent that descends upon this West African hot spot speaks volumes about Fela’s status as a global icon.
Fela’s impact on society was not only musical; he also struck a chord as a human rights activist in the face of an oppressive Nigerian government in the 1970s. His open vocalization can be heard during Felabration’s secondary schools debate, a thought-provoking battle of wits featuring Lagos State’s brainiest youth. A bevy of private schools and state schools intensely debate a medley of hot topics including poverty, corruption and other issues while vying for the grand prize. The Felabration Symposium is another highly-anticipated event featuring a slew of intellectual heavyweights. Dozens of university professors, local political figures and scholars have spoken unforgettable truths in previous editions of the Symposium.
Outside of the New Afrika Shrine is a bustling carnival that swarms the streets of Lagos. The wonderfully chaotic scene is populated with gobs of people dressed in colorful and vibrant costumes followed by vehicles decked out in paint. Frenetic music provides a soundtrack to all the activity as everyone parades through the streets in celebration of Fela’s life.
Anikulapo: “He Who Carries Death In His Pouch”
Before his days of superstardom, Fela Kuti was headed down a much less musical path. In 1958, he was sent to London to study medicine, but he quickly learned he had no fire in the belly for this line of work. He wanted to feel the rhythm, so to speak, and instead signed up at the internationally acclaimed Trinity College of Music. It was here that he formed a band called the Koola Lobitos. During the early years with Koola Lobitos, he experimented with several genres, fusing them together to create what he called Afrobeat. Like Fela himself, Afrobeat became a powerhouse in Africa and other regions around the world. Its smooth, jazzy sound with hints of funk and West African style was a huge hit with a wide range of audiences.
The band underwent several name changes and musical themes to reflect Fela’s encounters with the corrupt Nigerian government. Now named The Afrika ’70, Fela used music as a weapon to fight for the people of Nigeria. While he suffered beatings and incarceration, his stance on human rights brought a massive wave of popularity to him and his music.
Despite the death of this superstar in 1997, Yeni Kuti, the first child of Fela and Remi Kuti, didn’t let her father become a distant memory. She immediately hit the pavement to bring Fela back the best way she could: by creating Felabration in 1998. It grew from a one-day event to a week-long festival with the addition of international artists, a schools’ debate, a symposium and a carnival. The Felabration Organising Committee (FOC) has held the festival at the New Afrika Shrine since its inception in 1998. It replaces Fela’s original Afrika Shrine, a nightclub and place of worship that was destroyed by Nigerian military personnel in 1977. Fela’s son, critically acclaimed musician Femi Kuti, regularly plays at the New Afrika Shrine to a full house.
A Global Phenomenon
Fela’s music could not be contained within the confines of a single venue. Felabration events pop up in major cities all around the globe during the month of October to celebrate his widespread impact. In fact, Felabration is the only festival in the world that celebrates the life and contributions of one man. Cities in Europe, Asia, Australia and the United States have secured licenses to hold their own Felabrations. That’s how you achieve icon status, folks.