2013. A typical Lagos Friday night in September. It is my second visit to Freedom Park. From the gates, I hear some energetic sounds; Uwaifo’s ‘Guitar Boy’ without the string theatrics of the maestro, but this cover has some Soul in it and a light contemporaneous touch discernible even from the distance.
On approaching the amphi-theatre, I see a sea of heads leaping into the air. A band is doing a delightful cover of Third World’s ‘Lagos Jump’. It goes something like, “Laaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaagos Jump”—and the crowd leaps into the air in competitive unison—“Laaagos Jumpinnnn”—and a chorus erupts from the horn section piercing the night.
Everybody who is anybody in the Lagos literati is here. Poets, novelists, aspiring writers, social media capitalists, Twitter divas, professional dancers, OAPs, musicians, engineers, actors, academics, journalists, even medical doctors. There is also a generous spattering of foreigners at ratio of one to one. Every other person is wearing dreadlocks. The air is weighty with smoke and people are drinking alcohol andmoving.
The crowd is raucous and engaging in a synergistic alliance with the band members in the making of the music, the foremost participants being on the front row. Chioma Ogwuegbu. Lola Shoneyin. Wana Udobang. They are all dancing and sweating like this occasion was their last opportunity to dance. Toni Kan and Victor Ehikamenor and Eghosa Imaseun are egging the ladies on and sipping palmwine in calabashes. It is not a typical Lagos Friday night. It is the third Friday of the month, statutorily set aside for what is called Afropolitan Vibes.
Afropolitan Vibes boasts of the most robust and heterogeneous crowd in Lagos. Germans, French, Koreans, Britons, Diaspora returnees and of course the bourgeoisie Naija-lawas—everyone comes for different reasons. Some to dance and listen to some good music. Some to party and partake in the beautiful scenery of witnessing the human physical combustion occasioned by dance and live music. Others to drink considerably of the undiluted kegs of Badagry-tapped palmwine. Yet some come to network and I am using that term “network’ rather loosely.
Ade Bantu, a lanky Nigerian-German musician, is the brain behind this laudable project. He, on his relocation to Nigeria, found it worrisome that live music was a rarity in Lagos and—a doer rather than a complainer—he put a good foot forward. Because of his initiative, the Afropolitan Vibes adds Freedom Park to the few dots in the Lagos scenery that offer great live music (the other dots being Bogobiri and Afrikan Shrine).
There is a tradition of inviting a cohort of musicians to perform at every edition. Almost every musician of their ilk has performed on this platform. From Ghanian Highlife veteran Ebo Taylor to Reggae heavyweight Ras Kimono. The last edition headlined Salawa Abeni, the Queen of Waka music. Also alternative music acts (Nigerians in the Diaspora, largely unknown at home) frequent the stage. Underground Afro soul sensation, Aduke, is a regular. Nosa of the Chocolate City fame has lit the stage. So have African China, Daddy Showkey and Lord of Ajasa. What unifies these musicians is their industry. They might be boxed in different stages of fame—new flame, old flame or cold flame—but they are dedicated to their craft and performance edifies their claim to musicianship.
The term Afropolitan is trendy as well as very curious. A word allegedly coined by Taiye Selasi, a novelist of note and self proclaimed social taxonomist, Afropolitan is a fusion of the words Africa and the Greek word, Polis, synonymous with city. In her eloquent autobiographical essay, she describes a breed of Africans who have a “funny blend of London fashion, New York jargon, African ethics, and academic successes.” She argues that some of us (sic) are ethnic mixes, e.g. Ghanaian and Canadian, Nigerian and Swiss; others merely cultural mutts: American accent, European affect, African ethos. Ade Bantu, being a man of mixed racial heritage, clearly accedes to this description and lends his vibes to it. This occasions the perpetuation of a neologism that perhaps emerged from dissatisfaction with self-identity which I find rather warped and Freudian. You may lose me with the neologistic conflation but please give me the vibes.
Netizens often become real people at Afropolitan Vibes. Between performances and many times even during, people are busy tapping away at their phones, perpetuating hash tags and sharing selfies. Cameras are almost as frequent as phones; one is rest assured that every Afropolitan experience is lodged in some digital memory. And did I talk about the slim monthly magazine with really inventive covers? Aderemi Adegbite is responsible for these hilarious covers. Every guest musician is offered a page to connect with their fans with the occasional oasis of adverts intervening. A calabash gourd for voluntary donations (offering) also goes round, carried by some nubile Lagos babies (Referencing Fela here). These ladies also sell compact discs of the featured guests—some cultural commerce goes in tandem with the live music.
There is that interlude that signifies the show is gradually winding down. It is somewhere between Agbero Boys International Band’s penultimate performance and that of the headliner’s call to stage. The horn section pitches the refrain of Fela’s Lady and there is change in the crowd’s dance and attitude, the front row ladies—foremost feminists and fiery advocates of women and girl rights—throw caution and their cause into the wind and do the Fire Dance. I once told Eghosa Imaseun that Fela will surprised if he were alive today, for the Lady has really mastered the Fire Dance.
But sometimes it gets monotonous, hackneyed and sparingly predictable. If you have attended more than of five editions, you would find yourself stopping mid-dance and telling yourself that this has become a routine. The same faces in the crowd singing along with the band singing the same songs.