By Anote Ajeluorou
For those who were on the music scene in the 1990s, Lekki Sunsplash concerts might still ring a faint bell. Held in the sprawling beach of Lekki with coconut trees waving their plaited leaves overhead, the ocean waves rolling and crashing on the beach land and rumbles of music issuing from loud speakers, it was a grand Lagos musical narrative long lost. It also had a favourite beer as sponsor, and music on the open air felt right, with reggae still the dominant music.
All the stars of the 1990s, mostly reggae artistes, were at their best. Name them – Majeck Fashek, Ras Kimono, Orits Williki, Blackky, the funky mallam with a flashlight, Zak Azzay and the many new voices coming up - they peppered the music scene with their various reggae styles, and the eager, restless Lagos crowd found it a wholesome outlet to unwind. Lekki Sunplash was to make way for the entrance of the revivalist Plantashun Boiz era (the trio of 2face Idibia, Blackface and Faz) towards the late 1990s, when reggae seemed to have run its course and was petering out. Private radio station Raypower 100.5 FM had just hit the scene and the duo of Kenny Ogungbe and Dayo Adeneye were extending the frontier in promoting a new, sassy Afri-pop culture that inevitably gave birth to the current somewhat ‘unmusical’ sound dominating the airwaves.
But that was the time when an artiste’s stagecraft or musicmanship was the hallmark of music performance; he didn’t have to mime to his CD playing on the turntable. Rather, the musician had the full complement of the band he commanded; it was how music was done, and still continues to be done among real musicians. Not the current fad (invariably started by the Plantashun Boiz; 2faces’ fame rests on such ‘unmusical’ style) of miming to a CD and strutting the stage with a bevy of butt-wriggling girls!
The world’s acclaimed way of making music is being able to play an instrument; that is what Ade Bantu has come to reaffirm, with his monthly gigs at Freedom Park (FP), the old colonial prison turned into a showpiece of cultural engagement. Third Friday of every month is it. Last Friday was no exception, as the Nigerian-German-born pelted his huge audience with his redefined Afri-pop culture alongside many like-minded artistes. Drawing heavily on Fela as inspiration and often times playing the maestro’s music, Ade Bantu has engrafted his brand of Afi-pop music called Afropolitan Vibes into the skin of his followers, and they are hooked like flies to palm wine, a precious liqour actually served at the show to anyone initiated on the famous brew.
It has been a slow start for the Afro-German who performs a unique blend of Afro-funk, -pop, -hop and highlife, but it has since caught on like wild fire. And so at the amphitheatre located on the east side of FP Ade Bantu set up shop some eight months ago, and from there, he’s been urging, ‘Lagos, jump!’, and the city denizens of the night time have been happily jumping along to the rhythms of his Afropolitan Vibes with uncommon zest. It started with a modest a crowd, as he admitted, but now there isn’t room enough at the amphitheatre to accommodate the over 3,000 strong young and sassily mixed audience of Nigerians, Asians, Americans and Europeans of all ages that throng FP every third Friday to jump with Ade Bantu.
Many other artistes share the Afropolitan Vibes’ stage with Ade Bantu, and he makes the most of it. From Adeniji the Heavy Wind to rap maestro, Victor tha Viper, with his raunchy raps that send the women into rapturous ecstasy (the writer, Lola Shoneyin, couldn’t stop herself from being seduced on stage to dance) and Seyi Shay and her unabashed, almost vulgar ‘unmusical’ lyrics were all there, not forgetting Daddy Showkey and many others.
Next month Ade Bantu is shifting base to the main stage located on the west end of the prime culture and tourism place, a spot made infamous as the execution ground of condemned prisoners. Now, the souls that perished on that spot will also jump alongside Ade Bantu, happy now to be serenaded, as some sort of appeasement for their restless souls cut short too soon by colonial justice.
Oddly, no fee is as yet charged from the thousands that throng the show every month except the N200 entry gate-taking. But this is not sustainable for a show that has shown so much promise from start. It isn’t just Ade Bantu; it’s the band that he performs with, and the numerous other artistes that he attracts to the stage. Surely, they can’t be performing for free all year round! As he moves to the larger stage next month, perhaps there’s need to rethink strategy. Even when Lekki Sunplash had popular lager as sponsor, it still collected fees back in the days. Afropolitan Vibes, in concert with FP, can start small with a token entry fee on the day of the show while FP returns to its N200 gate fee the rest of the month for those addicted to the many allures of the Food Court. Asking show attendees to donate, as Ade Bantu currently appeals to fans with a begging calabashes would certainly not do. It would amount to very little at the end of the day, and he would continue to count losses. Except perhaps sponsors of Afropolitan Vibes are doling out enough to keep the show going.
But even as Ade Bantu is set to move Afropolitan Vibes to the main stage next month, there’s a sense it will also overflow in no time. Then what, or where next? Afropolitan Vibes is the only show that commands the open air space with a great ambience, and it appears unstoppable in its march to making its indelible print in music performance history. Will it move to the National Stadium or Teslim Balogun Stadium in downtown Surulere? Lagos, like all Nigerian cities, is built to choking point without an eye for the cultural or relaxation needs of the people. There are no large spaces earmarked to accommodate a sizeable number of people. And so, Ade Bantu might just jam FP to the brim with an eager Lagos crowd still hungry for good music, and go home in ruing it if he continues to offer Afropolitan Vibes for free.
For now (next show is October 17), Freedom Park will continue to be home to Afropolitan Vibes and good music, and music lovers of ‘Lagos’ will continue to ‘jump’ to the commands of Ade Bantu in the freedom of open air performance FP offers!