Felabration, an annual cultural extravaganza, has been a fixture since its inception in 1998. Conceived by Yeni Anikulapo-Kuti, it’s a vibrant tribute to the renowned Nigerian musician and human rights activist, Fela Kuti, who is celebrated as the trailblazer of Afrobeat music.
This celebration, which came to an end on Sunday, has earned its place as a global attraction, welcoming visitors from far and wide. It transcends being just a festival; it stands as a testament to the transformative power of music and the enduring messages of social justice and empowerment.
In 2023, Felabration carries the theme ‘Question Jam Answer,’ echoing the timeless words of Fela Kuti. This phrase, resonating with contemporary socio-political landscapes, symbolises a world brimming with questions, seeking elusive answers.
In the heart of October, from the 9th to the 15th, 2023, the stage was set for a week-long extravaganza where rhythms and melodies came to life.
So, as the days unfolded, music and dance intertwined, with each performance a story to remind. In the heart of Felabration, we did seek a celebration of culture and a memory to keep.
On the opening night, under the bright African stars, Oxlade took centre stage, and his music took flight. His performance, an enchanting delight, left the audience in the warm embrace of the night.
Under the moon’s gentle glow and the rhythm’s trance, the opening night belonged to Oxlade. “I’m happy and blessed,” he confessed, his voice like a river of soul, “especially in celebration of the legendary Fela.” His electrifying performance brought the audience to their feet, as he sang “Away,” “O2,” “Ojuju,” “Kulosa,” and “Myself,” weaving a sonic tapestry that mirrored Fela’s bold spirit.
But this celebration is more than a single star’s shine. It’s an African quilt woven with threads so fine. Diverse activities and performances in abundance you’ll find—a symphony of talent, a sight for the mind.
Oxlade was not the sole star adorning the Felabration stage. Skales, Ara, Aramide, and a constellation of talents illuminated the event. Their voices and rhythms, like echoes of Fela’s legacy, resounded through the night. In a harmonious tribute to the Afrobeat king, they proved that Fela’s music is timeless and boundless, a sonic inheritance passed down through the generations.
Fela’s influence stretches across the music industry like a river flowing through the heart of Nigerian culture. His Afrobeat, a fusion of traditional African rhythms, jazz, funk, and high-energy percussion, has left an indelible mark. “His contributions to the growth of the Nigerian music industry are undeniable,” a legacy etched into the very soul of African music.
Felabration isn’t just about music; it’s a platform where the heartbeat of society finds its voice. It weaves together melodies and messages, unearthing discussions that resonate far beyond the rhythms of the Shrine. “Everything is African music; nothing is taking the shine off anything,” it boldly proclaims. In the heart of these musical waves, Felabration becomes a crucible for ideas and social change, where the echoes of Fela’s activism continue to reverberate.
Amidst the electrifying performances, there’s a space for the Fela Debates. It’s a symposium, a gathering of minds and voices that ponder the questions that shape our world. “Who no know go know,” they declare, leaning on the global rise of the creative economy. With erudite speakers, like creative entrepreneur Obi Asika and writer Lola Shoneyin, they delve into the depths of our times, exploring how Fela’s spirit transcends music, influencing the discourse of our age.
In the fabric of Felabration, where beats and rhythms collide, a unique thread weaves through—the ‘Dress Fela’ fashion competition. Designers, like sorcerers of style, conjured garments that echoed Fela’s sartorial symphony. This year, we had three seasoned designers as judges: Frank Osodi, Ade Bakare, and Antony Soares, as the runway transformed into a vibrant canvas where fashion pays homage to the Afrobeat maestro.
As the runway curtain falls, Ayoola Alaso emerges as the virtuoso of ‘Dress Fela,’ impressing not only the audience but the discerning eyes of the judges. A triumphant moment in the spotlight, as she’s crowned, her designs echoing Fela’s eclectic essence. The applause reverberates, for she not only triumphs in style but is bestowed with more than laurels—N1 million—a testament to the value placed on creativity that mirrors the legacy of the afrobeat king.
Felabration featured school debates. In the world of ideas, where minds engage and perspectives clash, the art of debating has long been a cornerstone of education. It’s a stage where young voices find their wings, where critical thinking and eloquence take centre stage. “When I was younger, schools always had debate, but it’s no more,” Yeni Kuti laments, echoing the sentiments of many who recall a time when the debating societies in schools were vibrant and vital.
She’s not merely reminiscing; Yeni Kuti is calling for a revival, for a rekindling of the flame of debate in our educational institutions. “Government should pay more attention to schools,” she implores, emphasising the importance of public speaking and communication skills in learners. In the crucible of debate, the power of words is honed, and the seeds of leadership are sown.
Debating isn’t merely about winning arguments; it’s a training ground for life itself. “Debating is a civilised form of conversation,” as Mr. Chris Borna, head of the judges during the debate, aptly puts it. It instils the discipline of rules, the art of timekeeping, and the fortitude to withstand pressure. In the debating chambers, students learn to make eye contact, articulate their points with clarity, and add their unique voices to the discourse.
In the heart of Felabration 2023, the stage was a dazzling mix of musical genius. The line-up, carefully curated to honour Fela Kuti’s legacy, brought together a constellation of renowned artists and emerging talents. Each night, the audience gathered with bated breath, anticipating the next act, the next note, and the next piece of the ever-evolving Afrobeat symphony.
The stage bore witness to the likes of Oxlade, whose explosive performance swept the crowd into a passionate embrace of Afrobeat. Skales, with his infectious energy, moved to the rhythm of Fela’s spirit, taking the audience on a journey through time and sound. Femi Kuti, the heir to the Afrobeat throne, graced the stage with his iconic saxophone, a living testament to the genre’s enduring power.
Brymo, a pure-bred Afrobeat act and activist, enthralled the crowd with his protest lyrics, while CDQ, the indigenous hip-hop rapper, commanded the stage with an electrifying presence. Starkids Dance Academy painted the stage with their vibrant movements, and Uche Obi Drums filled the air with rhythmic enchantment.
These artists were not mere performers; they were custodians of Fela’s message, using their craft to question, jam, and answer in the language of music. Each night, the stage was a canvas where their voices painted the legacy of Afrobeat, carrying forward the torch that Fela had ignited.
The theme, “Question Jam Answer,” was not just a title; it was a journey into the soul of a nation after a pivotal election, a quest for answers in the rhythm of life. Each day was a new chapter, a fresh page in the book of African sounds. The New Afrikan Shrine and Freedom Park, like sacred temples, hosted daily concerts where the spirit of Fela danced to the melodies. The stage transformed into an arena where questions were asked, not only through lyrics but in the very heartbeat of the music.
Felabration is not just an event but a declaration, an ongoing narrative that underscores the relevance of celebrating music, culture, and social justice. It’s a platform where artists and activists, dreamers and doers, come together to continue Fela’s legacy of questioning the status quo, jamming to the rhythms of change, and seeking answers in the harmonies of justice.
As the final note fades into the night, Felabration stands as a testament to the unyielding power of music and the enduring significance of Afrobeat in our ever-changing world. Fela’s spirit lives on in the music, in the voices of those who dare to challenge, and in the hearts of those who continue to celebrate the unending journey of music, culture, and social justice. It is a reminder that, as Fela once said, “Music is the weapon of the future,” and that future is one we continue to shape at Felabration.