It’s a typical Lagos Friday night, and my second visit to Freedom Park in Lagos Island. The park is on the site of the colonial prison where British colonial masters used to torture, imprison and hang prominent Nigerians who opposed colonial rule. Lagos-born architect and visionary, Theo Lawson, had a vision to transform the colonial prison to a symbol of freedom, which is what it is today, a leisure park dedicated to the preserving our history and a venue for events and recreational entertainment.
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 amphitheatre, 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, and every other person is wearing dreadlocks. The air is weighty with smoke.
A raucous crowd engages in a synergistic alliance with the band members, the foremost participants being on the front row. Chioma Ogwuegbu. Lola Shoneyin. Wana Udobang. All dancing and sweating like this occasion was their last chance to dance. Toni Kan and Victor Ehikamenor and Eghosa Imaseun egg the ladies on, sipping palmwine in calabashes. It is not a typical Lagos Friday night after all. It is the third Friday of the month, statutorily set aside for what is called Afropolitan Vibes.
Afropolitan Vibes boasts of a heterogeneous Lagos crowd. Germans, French, Koreans, Britons, Diaspora returnees and the bourgeoisie Naija-lawas—everyone comes for different reasons. Some to dance and listen to good music. Some to party and witness 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 all this. 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. His initiative, the Afropolitan Vibes, adds Freedom Park to the few dots in the Lagos scenery that offer great live music (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 (which took place last Friday, 145th August) headlined Show Dem Camp & Weird MC. Also alternative music acts (Nigerians in the Diaspora, largely unknown at home) frequent the stage. 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 curious. A word, popularized initially by Taiye Selasi, novelist of note and 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, 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 people are tapping away at their phones, perpetuating hash tags and 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 mention 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, 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 a change in the crowd’s 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 would be surprised if he were alive today, for the Lady has mastered the Fire Dance.
But sometimes it gets monotonous. If you have attended five editions, you will probably find yourself stopping mid-dance and telling yourself that this has become a routine: same faces in the crowd singing along with the band singing the same songs.
Sometimes you can’t but be bewildered when Ade Bantu sings, “Oiay, Efusa, said, Ibo man to me”. It sounds like glossolalia. Use Google. That is what it is made for. Type two words. Lagos Jump.
In the next edition, look out for the guy who jumps the highest after the sonorous call doubling as a command goes, Lagoooooooooooooos jump.
Let us compete.