A City With Multiple Faces: Recalling A Night In The New Afrika Shrine –By Emeka Ubesie

Filed under: Life And People,National Issues |


They yelled aloud like babies, after the track Okene by Zoro ended.

‘Wow! So you could dance to this tune so flawlessly like those living in the parishes?’, a young lady that stood beside probed me. The congregation startled, even the Italians that came to explore the peaceful ambience gazed astonishingly. Those that couldn’t summon the courage to utter a word stared suspiciously at me, as if I had just committed a forbidden act.
‘Yes my dear!’ I smiled and retorted; ‘I’m an African, so I should know how to meander forthrightly to African beats with ease. Don’t be deceived by my western attire, I’m an African. In fact, I had paid a visit to two oracle priests and two goddesses in their respective shrine, during one of my sacred expedition in the hinterland of West Africa.’ I paused to examine her reaction. As envisaged, she gawked at me from hair to toe and started making a backwards movement, like a he goat that was getting ready to engage another in a yam fight.

‘Before you disappear into the thin air young lady, I wouldn’t mind to invite you to witness my libation excise, which I usually perform every 31st December, at midnight, just to honour God and my good Ancestors that had gone on a long walk in the other world.’ I paused.

The look in her face needed not to be explained to any sane human, who pays attention to details, because her eyeballs had said it all. Abruptly, I winked at her and motioned towards the direction of the door and re-joined my co-night walkers, that we usually tour the streets of Lagos at night-time during weekends, like travellers on voyage, exploring the good, the bad and the ugly locations in the city.

It’s no doubt to note that Lagos is more sinful than the Sin City during weekends. It’s surprising also to note that it’s the abode of saints during the week. Who then are these outlaws at weekends? Question for the gods.

We did rock that night. Of a truth, it was one of the nights to remember. We were four young night explorers – all guys. The voyage kicked-off in a private Italian Restaurant at Oriental Hotel, on the Island of Lagos State, where I proved to the small audience that were there that I was truly an African. Who cares when been a proud young African would suddenly be translated as been primitive by some Nigerians that were at the Italian Restaurant?

Troy Night Club was a stone throw from where we were. After we exited from Oriental Hotel, we decided to pay Troy a visit. Life in Troy was too Western, so we relocated to Piccadilly Night Club, all situated in a particular area of Lagos State that is popularly known as the Island of Lagos.

You either choose to stay on the Mainland of Lagos State at weekends and catch your fun, or you move to the Island of the state and do same as a Lagosian. But for we the night-crawlers, we were in love with the two – the Island fun and the Mainland fun ways.
Doing about 120kilometre on the broad lonely streets of Lagos that were crowded by people at about eight hours ago on that fateful Friday, the Dada boy that was piloting our ash Honda Accord 2012 model was really rendering his service to humanity on the steering. The tires of the car screeched and kissed every part of the tared road that they came in contact with, like couples that were fulfilling their conjugal rights.
In less than thirty minutes, we descended the almighty Ojuelegba bridge, one of the most popular bridges in the State, and sooner, we made it into the heart of Surulere proper.

The wheels of the car halted, as the Dada boy’s right limb held down the car brake, in front of a bungalow that was decorated with various disco lights and coloured bulbs. We alighted gently and sauntered towards a beaming light that hung at the entrance of the alleyway of the building, with these words; Welcome to Zero Degrees Night Club, gradually crawling on the beaming rectangular light board, like a chameleon. This happened around 12:36am.

At about 1:45am, the night-crawlers departed Zero Degrees, after I almost turned down an offer to get a lap dance from one of the pole dancers, which was masterminded by a friend of mine, popularly known as ‘The Don’, who paid the beautifully looking lady whatever her price was, without my consent to send me to the underworld. Indeed, it was my first time to get a lap dance from such a wild pole dancer, which I later began wondering if her parents knew where she was at that time of the night. Her snake like body movement on my ebony turgid lap, would be enough to pen down another piece of writing, which I wouldn’t dare to attempt in my lifetime. Lol. Of a truth, a lot went down at Zero Degrees Night Club.

The street of Allen Avenue, the den of hustlers was our next stopover. Though, this wasn’t the destination of the night crawlers. After killing few bottles of liquor at Pekas Bar, we watched as slick cars and jeeps picked some road-side girls that stood like planted trees on the street of Allen Avenue, and zoomed off, into an unknown destination like LAWMA. After we had spent good time at Pekas, the right time for us to pay a visit to The New Afrika Shrine, where the gods have a way of conversing with people, through melodies that hopped from talking drums, gongs, white smoke from weeds and flutes that usually clung unto the ambience of the Shrine arena gradually came.

The Old Afrika Shrine is the mother of The New Afrika Shrine, no doubt about that. It’s a pleasure to welcome you, the reader to The City of Lagos, where a deity in human form, Fela started. A City with Multiple Faces.

Fela Kuti nicknamed the location where he usually performed as The Shrine in 1971. The place was called The Shrine because he usually asked for a minute of silence to pay homage to God and his Ancestors, before any of his performance. Then, the arena was located at a placed called the Afro-Spot in Yaba, a suburb of Lagos State. Sooner than envisaged, the location was moved to a courtyard of the Empire Hotel in Mushin, directly opposite his own mother’s house, until both were raided by the Nigerian Police in 1977 and burned to the ground.

An 85-year-old woman once told me a story, of how she usually snicks out at night when she was much younger, to go and watch Fela perform. She recalled that The Shrine was an extraordinary place to be. In her own word, she said; ‘It’s no doubt that you meet different kinds of people like the street urchins, ministers, Governors, Lawyers, bandits, businessmen etc. in the Shrine. But melodies and words that accompanied every breathe Fela made was purer, holier and more sincere than the preaching we hear in most churches and mosques nowadays. In fact, the gospel in The Shrine heals more broken hearted and restores hope to the oppressed because everyone mingles along, and there was no class in there’.

At exactly 2:00am, we arrived at No1, Nerdc Raod, Agidingbi Ikeja, the location of The New Afrika Shrine.
‘Make una park here’, a young man that wore a brownish polo, with Fela’s picture, boldly printed in the front of the polo, with Felabration 2016, Yeah! Yeah! Craftily written in a circle that covered the picture pointed his index finger to an empty space, where he wanted us to park. If I’m not mistaking, that single space appeared to be the only one that was left in the entire garage and roadside, where hordes of cars and humans stood and moved momentarily, like ghosts, whose funeral rites were pending. Thank God we did finally found where to park, because we had navigated to, fro, left, right and centre, searching for a space.

‘Correct guy’, the Dada boy hailed the shrine traffic controller and squeezed two hundred naira into his left palm, as we alighted almost at once from the car like soldiers that were heading for peace keeping mission in Somali. As we moved few steps, our pace retarded as we joined a long queue that headed for the Shrine Auditorium, where was exactly the destination of the night crawlers.
‘Bros una need SK (marijuana)’, a young man that was in his early twenties walked up to us and showed us his commodity, neatly packaged like crunched dried grasses, in a white transparent nylon, just like the type of nylon most pharmaceutical shops use to dispense drugs to a patient.

‘No thank you bros, we no dey smoke SK’, I responded to the business man almost at once and he walked up to another prospective buyer, just to advertise his product to him. We looked at him, looked at ourselves, smiled and continued to tag along the queue like zombies in Michael Jackson Thriller song video.
From afar, one could hear Baba’s trumpet reverberating in the entire ambience, like that of the end time. Mind you, other Nigerian musicians had earlier performed, before Baba (Femi Kuti), mounted the stage.

Within the shrine arena, food vendors, drink sellers and all manner of business men and women that gathered around were seriously busy exchanging their goods and services for money. The oloshos (prostitutes) were also naming their prices, for those men that needed to reduce the stacked spermatozoa that had heavily weighed down their manly sac. More so, the Shrine Police were also making sure that both the buyers and the sellers transact peacefully without violence.

‘Bros Wey your money,’ one of the Shrine Police asked ‘The Don’, who was leading our queue.

‘See am, na 2k. We dey four,’ the young man pointed at us that were behind him. Each of our back palm was stamped by this Shrine Police with one long black thing that had green light at its tip, whereas, three other Shrine Police stood behind him and were monitoring what was happening. We motioned further and rolled the circular iron barrier that barricaded the entrance alleyway one after the other and made our way into the New Afrika Shrine proper.

Our elders rightly said that; an old woman never get tired of dancing to a tune, with which she is familiar with. What was happening inside the shrine and the stench odour of various kinds of liquor and smoke from different kind of weeds that clung unto the atmosphere was no longer an alien to us because, we had in the past been referred to as Shrine Boys by an old friend, a lady any, whose presence in our midst expired few weeks ago, before the almighty Felabration 2016 began.

Fela is really a god and Femi is no doubt a true follower. Femi holistic rendered his worship to his late father on the stage, as we watched him gripping unto his trumpet. He performed his late father’s old songs and blew all the required notes from the trumpet. He lambasted all the corrupt politicians live on the stage, without given a damn whose ox was gone. Calling him a reincarnated Fela would never be a bad idea because it’s said that; whatever that makes a chicken bitter is right in its stomach. Permit me also to assert that whatever that made Fela bigger is also living right in Femi.

Though The New Afrika Shrine is a place where the good the bad and the ugly are seen, it’s no doubt to note also that it’s a place where few people, according to my own observation receive inspiration and hope. It’s as well a place where creative minds come in order to awake the latent artistic part of their senses that must have been eaten up by depression and the inevitable Lagos stressful lifestyle.

(Emeka is a young Nigerian writer and public affairs analyst) {Email: [email protected], Twitter: @emeka_ubesie)