The Lagos State Governor, Akinwunmi Ambode, on Sunday eulogized the virtues of late Afrobeat legend and freedom fighter, Fela Anikulapo-Kuti.
Ambode described Anikulapo-Kuti as an enigmatic artiste who used the platform of his art to agitate for social and human rights by challenging government and people to explore development through social and economic activities that are rooted in African values.
Speaking while unveiling the Liberation Statue in honour of Fela erected at Allen Roundabout in Ikeja as part of activities marking his 79th posthumous birthday and the 20th anniversary of his demise, Ambode said aside from challenging people to free their minds of all inhibitions and actualise their true potentials, the late music icon also voluntarily turned his back on a life of comfort and privilege and took up his saxophone as a weapon to fight for the liberation of the people from neo-colonialism and bad governance.
While insisting that the spirit of Fela was still alive as a movement of social consciousness and justice against oppression, the Governor said the late legend made the world sit up and take notice of the energy of African art and music, adding that he will forever be accorded his position in the global hall of fame of artistes.
He said: “The phenomenon that the world knows as ‘Fela’ was deeply rooted in the evolution of Lagos State. The story of music, art, entertainment and tourism in Lagos and Nigeria cannot be told without an eloquent mention of the ‘Abami eda’.
“On this day, October 15th, which would have been Fela’s 79th birthday, the government and people of Lagos State celebrate ‘Fela’ with the unveiling of this Liberation Statue. It has been 20 years since he passed on but the memories he left us with remain evergreen. Today we celebrate a man who voluntarily turned his back on a life of comfort and privilege, and took up his saxophone as a weapon to fight for the liberation of our people from neo-colonialism and bad governance.
“This ‘Liberation’ statue is not an image of Fela but a symbol of Fela’s philosophy. This artwork was created as a form of respect and remembrance to this legend; what he stood for and fought for with his music; his mythology; struggle for freedom; fight for human dignity; social consciousness; courage and Pan-Africanism.”
While reiterating the continued commitment of the State Government to fully harness the potentials of entertainment, creative arts and tourism to transform the economy of the State and generate wealth and job opportunities for the people, Ambode said his vision is to create a vibrant arts and culture sector that would empower young and talented population to find their own voices and impact society positively.
He said though Fela was no more, but it was gratifying that he is still alive in his music and in the music of Femi, Seun and other artistes who have followed his style of music, assuring that the unveiled statue would be the first of many to celebrate the Afrobeat icon.
Responding on behalf of the family, Fela’s daughter and social commentator, Yeni Kuti, commended Governor Ambode and the artist for coming up with such a monument to recognize and honour their father in a big way, saying that it was a good representation of their late patriarch.
Yeni specifically justified the design of the monument, saying it was the expression of how the artist felt about the late legend.
She said: “Before people on social media will start to say the Fela has no head or it has no hand and so on, it is art and before you abuse us, let me answer quickly. It is art. How an artist feels is how he feels because if he had put a head and the head did not look like Fela, everybody will say the head did not look like Fela so now you cannot abuse the head because it is not even there.
“The artist has said it is a spirit and when Fela was alive, he hated statues and so I think this effigy is a good representation of what Fela would have wanted because he did not like statues and that is why at the Museum you will notice that there is no statue of Fela. Everybody wants to do his statue and I have fought against it. So, this one I can accept it and so I want to thank the artist who designed it and also thank Governor Ambode for recognizing Fela in a big way.”
The visual artist who designed the effigy, Abolore Sobayo, said the work was an expression of how he feels about the late Afrobeat legend, saying that it was designed to generate discussion about the emancipation of the people.
While justifying the fact that the art work had no head, Sobayo said the design came out of extensive research on what Fela represented through his music, and how to use same to correct some of the things he complained about years ago that are still happening.
He said: “For me as an artist, art transcends beyond beauty or aesthetics. For me, art should generate discuss; art should ask question and art should provoke our thoughts. For me, the creation of the Liberation Statue is to represent the essence of Fela by using his costume.
“For me, I believe that this should serve as a conscious to our subconscious that twenty years after Fela’s demise, most of the things he talked about are still happening. For me, this work should come to us not just as a beautiful work, but it should come to us as something that will ginger us to look at the positivity in our lives; positivity in the values of his music; for us to start to emancipate our people positively. Going forward, I have been able to use symbolism as a medium to represent Fela through his costume and to represent his essence.”
The event was attended by notable members of late Fela’s family, including Yemi Ransome-Kuti (Head of family), Seun Kuti, Kunle Kuti, Yeni Kuti, Motunrayo Kuti, Dotun Olukoye Ransome-Kuti, Senior Advocate of Nigeria Femi Falana, veteran Nollywood actor Pa Olu Jacobs and his wife, Joke Silva and Fela’s first manager Chief Benson Idonije.
Ambode was also at the Kalakuta Museum on Gbemisola Street, Ikeja where he was received by Afrobeat star and Fela’s son, Femi Kuti, among other family and devotees of the late music icon.
He later hosted a Special Lagos Jump to formally round off Felabration 2017 at the New Afrika Shrine, thereby becoming the first Governor in his official capacity to visit the shrine to end the show.