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Afrika Shrine: A sanctuary where high and low converge for fun

Afrika Shrine: A sanctuary where high and low converge for fun

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Afeez Hanafi

An Assistant Superintendent of Police at a special formation in the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja, ASP Adamu is a lead detective, who shuttles between the FCT and Lagos with his team in hunt for high-profile murder, kidnap and robbery suspects. Dogged and smart, Adamu and his team had recorded a number of breakthroughs in their two domains and beyond, smoking out prime suspects from various hideouts.

But the operatives had had their fair share of puzzling moments too; times when they went blank after exploring several intelligence reports at their disposal to track down criminals without result. In those moments, Adamu, being the team leader, is expected to think things out and make incisive decisions that will set the team to the path of success.

 The 43-year-old recently found himself in one of such precarious situations when he led the team to Lagos to bust a car snatching syndicate. After tracking the suspects to different parts of the metropolis for about one week without a headway, Adamu decided to seek solace in Afrika Shrine – in search of fresh ideas to spurn the team on to success.

“I got a lot of inspiration at the Shrine and coming here has become part of my lifestyle. As a detective, I task my brain a lot. At times, I feel I am going crazy, especially while trying to crack high-profile criminal cases and track down the perpetrators. Whenever I find myself in such a situation and the case is in Lagos, I come to the Shrine to keep my head and move on. As a team leader, I have to live up to the expectation and get things done,” the officer told our correspondent during a chat at the Shrine on Sunday night earlier this month.

Subtly nodding his head to the rhythm that oozed from the arena stage several metres away from his seat at the rear, Adamu gazed into space for some minutes before a sudden roar diverted his gaze to an outstanding finesse jointly displayed by a radiant group of dancers on the stage.

 “The inspiration is now coming. Tomorrow (Monday), we will get at it again and in a couple of days, we will bust the syndicate,” Chidi added with a wry smile taking a sip from a cup of brandy on his table.

In the dead of the night, it is daybreak in the hallowed entertainment arena crowded by fun seekers. Well lit and resplendent, the centre accommodates people from diverse backgrounds and class. It is Afrika Shrine, an outdoor entertainment centre in Agidingbi, the ambit of Ikeja, Lagos, where the rich and the poor, the educated and the illiterate bask in the rituals of culture and habit.

Founded by the late Afrobeat maestro, Fela Anikulapo-Kuti in the early 70s, Shrine as it is simply called, is a haven where people of divergent personalities, creed and beliefs converge to seek relief from the hustle and bustle of their engagements in the metropolis.

 Shrine is usually at the peak of its life during Felabration, an annual music festival help in memory of the late Fela. The entertainment arena is also electric on Sundays, when Femi Kuti – the son of the late music icon – and his band treat thousands of “worshippers,” comprising people from all walks of life to thrilling Afrofunk lyrics at a ticket fee of N500 each.

 For Mila, an expatriate, who lives in Lekki, an upscale Lagos community, Shrine has become her second home, where she relives fond memories she had with her family far away in Netherlands. She danced and smoked intermittently for the better part of the performance which lasted for about three hours that Sunday night.

“I’ve been in Nigeria for a while and this is where I have fun. It’s a home, sort of, and great experience for me. I really love the Afro beat,” Mila said in a short conversation with our correspondent before she resumed the fun, dancing freely with co-whites and blacks down the stage.

Fifty-two-year-old Akinwale Johnson is an art enthusiast from Akute, a suburban community in neigbouring Ogun State. For him, Shrine reflects on the radicalism inherent in the late Fela’s music.

“I only come here when Femi is around to perform. I am a big fan of Fela’s and I love the ideals of his Afro music so much. So, whenever I watch Femi singing, I conjure up the messages that Fela passed across in his songs. In my shop, I have a number of Fela’s portraits,” he said as Femi drew the curtain on the show with the track: “As we struggle every day…see this leader wey suppose jail, na im my people don dey hail.”

A former worker at a plastic producing firm in Ilupeju Industrial Estate, Mushin, Lagos, Joshua Babatunde, had been having troubling times with sustenance after he lost his job in July 2017 during a downsize in the company. The Ekiti State indigene had, since then, gone into phone repairing, using his paltry income to fend for his wife and three children.

While employed, the 35-year-old took time out every weekend to club with his friends, but that luxury had gradually disappeared following his sacking.

 His depleted financial strength, notwithstanding, the ex-marketer had found in the Shrine a reprieve from the hardship that life suddenly heaped on him.

“The friends I used to take to clubs and spend on deserted me. At times, I spent N20,000 in the club. I now repair phones and help people to download songs in their phones. I use the little money I make to cater for my family. I had to cut down on my fun and at a point, I stopped clubbing. About three months ago, I ran into one of those friends and we hit it up again after he narrated how things had been tough for him too.

“He was the one who told me I could have a feel of the old good times at the Shrine if I could afford only transport fare, to and fro. Since I have been coming here, I find ‘big men’ that buy drinks and chops for me even though I don’t know them before. They never look down on me. That is the spirit of the Shrine; it is fun,” he revealed.

From its restaurant section, the snooker court and the boutique to the Shawama joint and skoochies kiosk, pomp oscillates seamlessly on the Shrine premises.

 Afrika Shrine is home to a series of cultural aesthetics to behold. Engraved in an African map portrait hung at the centre stage of the arena, Fela was flanked by the portraits of great African leaders such as Nelson Mandela, Thomas Sankara, Patrice Lumumba, Kwame Nkrumah and renowned Black-American human rights advocates – Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jnr – whose ideologies emancipated the people and made the world a better place to live. Indeed, the setting of the images around the stage is not accidental. The scenery creates an aura of socio-political criticism and advocacy for social change embedded in Fela’s Afro music.

The boutique in the shrine also comes handy in showcasing African satorial outfits. It stocks tie-and-die native dresses, trousers, belts as well shoes made of locally sourced materials. Within the boutique is a gallery section filled with beautiful artifacts, sculptures and beads.

 “This place is more than business for me. It creates an African experience which I treasure so much. I have been here for 11 years and I enjoy every moment of my stay,” Chike, a native of Onitsha, Anambra State, who runs the boutique, told Saturday PUNCH.

During his historic visit to the Shrine on Tuesday, July 3, the France President, Emmanuel Macron, echoed Chike’s sentiments when the 40-year-old spoke glowingly about the essence of the Shrine in preserving African culture.

Macron had said, “I think it is such an iconic place for had lot of African people and African culture. …Shrine is a cultural hub, an iconic hub and is very important for me first on a personal level, and that is why I want to say with a lot of humility that I recognise the importance of this place; I recognise the place of culture in this current environment.

 “This is African energy. The one I discovered here in Lagos when I was 23. The one I am glad to see is still thriving several years later. The one I hope many Europeans will get to know; the one that is far from the African prejudice of misery.”

Memories in the Shrine

  “Drugs are not allowed in the Shrine.” That is the inscription at the entrance of the iconic centre. But as imperative as the text reads, its import is not for “the initiates” in the shrine. After all, of what relevance is the note to the personality of the late multi-instrumentalist who founded the arena? And when Macron warned that “matters of a shrine remain in the shrine,” he succinctly expressed the spectrum of untold experience that unfolds in the entertainment hub.

The pomp in the Shrine percolates its surroundings, where a flurry of activities evolves altogether. At nights, the surroundings are alive with groups of youths and lovers basking in drinking and smoking spree. Different kinds of trade boom by the roadsides to satisfy the urge of every night owl.

The whole stretch of the pathway to the monument is an avenue for street urchins to make money from owners of fleet of cars parked along the Shrine corridor.  It costs between N300 and N500 to secure a parking space, especially at late hours when fun is at top gear.

Rash, as he is popularly known among his cronies, has been a regular face at the centre for close to a decade. Every now and then, he would saunter down the pathway to direct oncoming visitors to where they could park their cars while also offering some parks of a drug substance for sale.

 “I come here all the way from Ojota every day to have fun and do business. It is a free world here and nobody, not even policemen, will stop you from living your life the way you like,” he told a young man who appears to be a first comer at the centre.

 Aside from the beat that escapes from the Shrine, some fledgling musicians entertain gatherings within the surroundings with a mix of hip-hop and Fuji music amid the jingle of shekere – a musical instrument made of gourd entangled in a net of beads.

There is no doubt that the Shrine is an expression of African culture and traditions on one hand and the ideals of the late Nigerian Afrobeat pathfinder on the other.

In an interview with Saturday PUNCH during the week, Yeni, Fela’s daughter, said the entertainment centre had, in fulfillment of its essence, served as a melting point, unifying  people regardless of their status and backgrounds since it came to being 18 years ago. And what is more, the recent visit of the France President had further bestowed a new lease of life on the centre.

“The place is memorial to my father and it is for the masses. That is why the gate fee is just N500 and on other days, it is free. It is a spiritual place. We play Afrobeat, which is the authentic African music. There is a live band and we portray our Africanness. Expatriates come and enjoy themselves. They tell their friends who also come,”

At both ends leading to the Shrine is a thriving transport business for cab drivers. Unlike in the daytime when they are in competition with other various commercial transport operators, they are well patronised by fun seekers returning to their homes or going elsewhere. And for Akeem Abdullahi, a taxi driver, that is where a chunk of his fortune lies.

“I no longer bother myself with the low patronage during the day because I am very sure I will make enough money at night, especially on Thursdays and Sundays when Femi holds concerts if he is in the country,” Abdullahi said, before he rushed to receive two lovers approaching him to take a cab after an exciting stay in the shrine.

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