Category Archives: Music Photography

How I shot Fela Anikulapo-Kuti

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In my youth sometime around 1990, I heard that the great Fela Anikulapo-Kuti and his mythical, Egypt 80 band was coming to Paris where I lived at the time. I purchased a ticket and decided right there and then to shoot the show. It was 1990, hip-hop was in it’s golden era, baggie jeans and all. I could not get a press pass from my usual connect and needed to shoot the show. My gear then was a Nikon FM2 with a series of lenses (Ilford HP5 Plus film). I decided on a 50mm prime lens and headed out, when I got out of the Metro station I put the camera in my briefs and walked up to the concert hall looking confident and metallically endowed. The bouncer padded me down.

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I saw him look at my privates with envy, “don’t even think about it..”, he gave me the nod and I went in, for once being black played in my favour (I got the benefit of the doubt). Scoping the zone in front of the stage for the best position, I chose a spot that gave me a clear line of sight on the stage but kept me from the bouncer’s eyes.

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The concert started, I pulled out my camera. Seun Kuti who must have been seven or eight at the time, took to the stage. He opened for his dad. The master came on and started his yabbies… someone yelled out, “Zombie!”, another, “Roforofo”.. The master smiled…”go and buy the record”…

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The master was in majestic form, “Just like that”, “Movement of The People Political Statement Number 1″, “Big Blind Country”, and maybe “Condom, Scallywag and Scatter”…one after the other, symphonies of percussion, woodwind, guitars and horns. An onslaught of sound, bassline you could hang your clothes on, an invitation to dance…

 

Hugh Masekela wrote a song titled Fela, “If you ever go to Lagos Nigeria and you wanna go dancing go and see Fela..”

Dancing in the mind of a master composer. Prophecies and resistance, stance and swag, swagger never stagger… never relent..

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The orchestra was majestic and epic and the king was regal, taking time out to monologue about the barbaric system that governed us and why we should never relent… and never allow them to dictate who we were.. they are not us and we are not them…

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Hugh Ramopolo Masekela (South African Musician)

The biggest South-African musician for most Nigerians is Mariam Makeba, she was the struggle, in her we saw the pain, the grace, the ability to retain one’s dignity in such dark times. Her music was familiar and foreign at the same time. And when she danced we saw beauty in motion, sensuality and class.

Miriam Makeba 1959 (tournage de King Kong)

She single-handedly started the fixation some Nigerian men have for South African ladies. She came to Nigeria for the first time in the 1960s as a member of the ANC and as a freedom fighter but also as wife to Hugh Masekela.

Mariam Makeba (1960s)
Mariam Makeba (1960s)

A friend told me Masekela plays an Orlando Julius tune at each concert, any of these three tunes: “Asiko, Awaade and Going back to my roots” (this information needs to be confirmed, but there’s no doubting Masekela’s admiration of Afrobeat and Orlando Julius). They both worked together in the US and were involved in the disco classic, “Going back to my roots”, which shares a lot with “Ashiko” but for which Orlando was not properly credited.

The Boy's Doin' it
The Boy’s Doin’ it (Dedicated to Fela Ransome Kuti)

The song was originally written for Lamont Dozier (LP, “Peddlin’ Music On The Side”, 1977, Warner Bros). Masekela was also friends with Fela and he spent sometime in Nigeria staying and playing with him in the late 70s. He dedicated his album, “The Boys Doin’ It”, (LP, 1975, Casablanca Records), to him. The album contains a song titled Ashiko, composed by O.J Ekemode AKA Orlando Julius).

Lagos, 2013, Greatness and Style
Eternal Style, HRM, Lagos, 2013

I met Hugh Ramopolo Masekela when he came for Lagos Jazz Series 2013 I was shooting the festival for the Organisers and had full access. He was practising Tai Chi behind the live stage and had a timeless quality like he was hewed from polished granite. We (Folarin my creative partner-at the time- and I) approached him afterwards and asked if we could shoot him privately. He agreed and when he had an hour we took him to the RadissonBLU, set up lights backing the Five Cowries Lagoon and started shooting.

HRM, Lagos 2013

He had tales for years, the one that stuck was when he was about 17, already a working artist and a member of the cool set of black bohemians. He and his girl at the time, were widely recognised as two of the sharpest dressers around. Alf Kumalo came round looking for a shot for Drum magazine. He told Masekela, “I need you to jump up with your hands spread out like so”. “I knew right away it was a bad idea, but Alf had a way you know, he was very persuasive a bit like you guys…”.

Hugh Masekela by Alf Kumalo 1957
Hugh Masekela by Alf Kumalo 1957
Hugh Ramopolo Masekela
Hugh Ramopolo Masekela (reliving the moment).

The picture came out and it was serialised, it epitomised for many, that bubbling effervescent, jazz revolution that was happening at the time in South Africa.” “My girl saw the picture and thought, very rightly that it was the corniest thing ever and she left me.”

“You know what…. I saw her recently and she said, ‘we could have grown old together but you had go take that stupid picture”.