On the sidelines of a recent voyage to Nigeria, in Lagos, I set out to visit the Kalakuta Republic Museum in Ikeja.
It sounds like the place par excellence to gauge and review the career and vision of one of Africa’s most renowned musicians of all times, now of blessed memory.
In the absence of clear co-ordinates to easily locate said museum, I am mistakenly led to Fela’s Shrine.
On the other side of the road, four men, in their 40s and 50s are spotted smoking marijuana.
One of them says: “Good day sir you are welcome to Fela’s Shrine.”
The other rushes towards me and in a tipsy mode, asks me: “How may we help you?” while inhaling and exhaling thick fumes of the drug.
Hearing of my destination, he says “the museum is further down”.
In fear of the unknown, I instruct my Uber driver to search for the Kalakuta Republic Museum.
Asking here and there and moving from one street to another, I finally locate the museum in the complex labyrinth of criss-crossing roads in Ikeja.
On a white wall of a two-floor building, I read “Kalakuta Republic Museum”.
At first sight, the message may remind connoisseurs of the phrase “Kalakuta souvenir” by Manu Dibango, a living legend of African music and pioneer of the Soul Makossa. Inside Fela’s museum, two things capture the visitor’s attention: pictures depicting the good old days of the legend as well as his bedroom.
Unfortunately, the girl serving as a guide knows little or nothing about Fela, his life, his 27 political convictions and source(s) of inspiration.
Her answers to most questions from visitors are largely monosyllabic: “Yes, no, why, how?”.
At best, she says: “I have no knowledge of that, it could be possible, why don’t you find out?”
Among the visitors on the day of my visit was Jeffery from Lagos Island.
“Fela remains an African legend. It is annoying that this museum is scanty, not well-known and receives little attention,” he laments.
Further in our discussion, he says: “This place has the potential to fetch huge sums of money for the local government in particular and Nigeria in general on condition that the museum be rehabilitated, publicised, qualified staff recruited and a sound policy put in place to keep the legend alive.”
As I admired pictures, relics and remnants of Fela’s musical instruments on the second floor of the museum, I spot faint fumes of smoke going up in the direction of the sky. Looking more keenly through the interspaced black iron bars, I see two men and a lady smoking cigarettes and something wrapped in an ordinary white paper. Oops! Here they are again (marijuana smokers).
Sensing my bewilderment and incomprehension, the guide smiles and tells me: “Sir, no room for panic. This is Fela’s residence and smoking is allowed”.
As I walked out of the Kalakuta Republic Museum, my curiosity led me to Fela’s grave located in front of the late man’s residence.
Immediately, it occurred to me that if the authorities of his country are “reluctant” to immortalise him and his works of art, today’s outstanding Nigerian musicians such as Whiz Kid, PSquare, Davido, 2Face Idibia, Flavour, Timaya and their peers, could use small fractions of their huge fortunes to remodel the legend’s museum.
He was a multi-instrumentalist, musician, composer and pioneer of the Afrobeat music genre.
I was attracted by one of his admirers who opined that “Fela was the best, the king, the master...”.
- lManyanye Ikome, on a voyage to “Naija”.