Fela Kuti’s bedroom looks like a typical township one.
One that you could find in a backroom somewhere in Soweto or even Alexandra.
There is nothing wrong with a backroom bedroom, they have this weird inviting feeling about them. That’s how Mr Kuti’s one looked, like it was comforting. It was lived in. The bright orange walls are juxtaposed next to the neon green string lights that hang from the ceiling. His love for ice cream is forever remembered through the freezer he kept in the room.
He didn’t want to wake anyone up to feed his craving so the musician made a plan. The formerly white curtains are painted with pictures resembling a galaxy of planets and African artworks. In the corner of his bedside is a brown desk with a world globe, some books and a fan.
If you look hard enough through the glass window, you can see a small basket under the desk that I am convinced is stuffed with his underpants.
I was rather curious to find out more about this bedroom when we visited the late icon’s famous home (now run as a museum and hotel). The museum is a three storey white painted home on Gbemisola Street in Ikeja the capital of Lagos.
They call it Kalakuta Republic and its history runs deep.
That state of that bedroom is exactly how Kuti left it the day he died. He went to the hospital and never returned.
Three of his popular underpants hang in the room next door. One is an original Barney piece while the other two are less exciting with stripes and a floral pattern.
I could not stop myself from giggling and taking selfies with them.
His elaborate shoe collection is in the same room. The colours range from shades of red to green and yellow.
The museum guide, Biodun Balogun, said Kuti would make his shoes to match his outfit of the day.
There is no doubt that Kuti was fashion forward. He was a trendsetter, a fighter, an activist and a lover.
His love for his music and family is kept alive in pictures and paintings and murals and newspaper clippings throughout the house.
Balogun has been a guide at the museum for a year now.
“Fela moved into this house in 1986 and he died in 1997. There were two other houses before this one. The first one got burnt in 1977, it was attacked by the government. After the incident, Fela had to leave Nigeria for Ghana and that’s where he started criticizing the government in Ghana also and they sent him back.The word from the government was that no one should accommodate him.”
“The second house was in Ikeja but in a different section. In that second house he was jailed for 10 years in 1984. He was charged for money laundering. But only spent a year and eight months because there was a change in government and that’s how he moved into this house in 1986.”
In 1974, for a possession of marijuana charge, Kuti was imprisoned in a Calcutta prison and from it came the name Kalakuta Republic.
Balogun took us through the famous album covers like Kalakuta Show, Zombie- about the Nigerian soldiers and Yellow Fever-that spoke about the women of Africa who were bleaching their skin.
He would sing the famous verses from the songs and give us a breakdown of what they meant.
The popular song Lady, from the Shakara-Fela and The Africa 70 LP (shakara in Nigeria means to brag) was one of the songs that transformed Afrobeat with the use of ‘broken’ English.
It is written in many articles that at the height of Kuti’s popularity, he was one of Africa’s most challenging and charismatic music performers.
This week the State Theatre has brought the critically acclaimed Nigerian musical play, Fela and The Kalakuta Queens, to a South African audience. The musical showcases the complicated life and times of the late legendary musician. It travels through the honest and selfless love the icon had with his 27 wives/dancers (Queens) who left their homes to follow him, believing in his vision of building a better community through arts and music.
The musical also explores the lives of these women. Laitan Adeniji and Patrick Diabuah are the leads as the icon supported by a 36 members cast and a fifteen-piece band. The play runs until April 7.
During my short visit to Lagos earlier this month, we also managed to visit the national museum where the history of the country is broken down into four parts- from the sacred masks of the different clans to the religious gods and the passage of life.
There are more than 200 ethnic groups in Nigeria. The three main major groups are Igbo from the east, Yoruba from the west and Hausa from the outer regions.
We also had a chance to visit the Nike (pronounced nikeh) Arts Centre in Lekki, Lagos.
I was in awe of the works of sculptors, painters and craftsman that fill the three storey gallery.
Anyone who knows me, knows that I have a sensitive stomach but I am always the first person to try foods from different countries. In Lagos it was food heaven for me.
My love for plantain- whether fried or boiled- was solidified. I have never tasted anything so delicious. I stuffed my face with jollof and even tried some pounded yam. I tasted the spicy gravies and ate the Agoyin Beans.
My heart found its true love in our last meal before heading to the airport.
I filled my plate with my dodo (plantain), some jollof, cow’s meat (buka stew) and probably the best bean anything I have ever come across; moi moi (bean cake). Stuffed with fish and egg, the mashed beans are wrapped in green leaf to add flavour to it. Once ready to eat, the green leaf is removed for you to enjoy all the flavours.
In order to get to the airport on time we had to leave at least two hours before our check in time. The roads are congested but the driving is good. I got to see the famous yellow taxis/cabs that we see in the paintings and read about in the books. I watched as commuters hopped onto Okada motorcycles to get to their destinations. The people are helpful and friendly and complimented my purple braids at every turn.
While we think loadshedding is the end of the world, in Nigeria having a generator is just a way of life.
Life moves in Lagos, a city rich in vibrancy, culture and humidity. Much like many other cities on the continent, Lagos has its own identity worthy of exploring.@mane_mpi