Afrobeat and Berlin, 41 years of exchange

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The love story between afrobeat and Berlin started with the legendary Africa 70 concert at the Berlin Jazz Festival (Berliner Jazztage) 1978 where Fela Anikulapo Kuti wowed the world, resulting in his best quality video/audio and musical performance ever.

Seek it on Youtube

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That Berlin ’78 show started a multi-generational exchange between Afrobeat and Germany, which was reflected on Sunday 24th March 2019 at the Haus der Kulturen der Welt Berlin. The hall of about one thousand two hundred Afrobeat lovers was packed with fans standing and dancing on the isles.

Femi Kuti and the Positive Force have been playing in Berlin and all around Germany since the late 1980s. Afrobeat fans in Germany peculiarly seem to grab the message and the gigs are often sold out whenever Femi Kuti is in the city. After a tour of Paris and Oslo, Berlin was the grand finale.

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The words of a friend and a top Berlin Deejay, Daniel Wang who saw Femi Kuti and the Positive force for the first time sums it all up on his Facebook post.

 

“NIGERIA MEETS BERLIN!

I made some new friends and saw a fantastically energetic concert last night at the Haus der Kulturen der Welt here! In fact, I’ve never seen an audience in that former congress hall dance so much and get so excited. The majority (but NOT ALL) of the audience was indeed educated liberal-left middle-upper class Germans wearing black and beige and sitting stiffly in their chairs.. But 2/3 through the show, Femi got everyone on their feet and dancing! Hahaa, what a sight 

I must confess, it’s the first time I’ve ever seen Mr. Femi Kuti perform. (In fact, it all happened by chance.. I hadn’t even planned on going.) The band was incredibly tight and funky, but never overbearing – the brass section left a lot of open space throughout the show for the keyboards, guitars and most of all for Femi Kuti to sing and talk on the mic. He has a surprisingly tender and very precise, melodic singing voice which sounds like the soft prayers of a child, alternating with the passionate rage of a preacher. The themes which he discussed were predictably dark (corruption, poverty, poor infrastructure in Africa, migrants, the false claims of religion, Mozambique etc.) and at a few moments the repetitive arpeggios of the songs felt a bit like desperation. (No clever Euro-pop chord changes!) But then the band would jump back into joyful jamming and one would sense hope and excitement again, like a rousing sermon in a temple.

One of the most astounding bits was Femi (early in the show) and his son (later) both performing extremely long, beautiful notes on the saxophone via “circular breathing” – like the singing technique practiced by certain Tibetan (or Nepalese?) monks – where the musician never pauses to take a breath because the air is going out and in at the same. Amplified on a warm, resonant saxophone, the effect was truly trance-inducing.”

 

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We attended the concert as part of the preparations and gathering of materials for the Eyes of A Lagos Boy Photo Exhibition on Femi Kuti and the Positive Force for Felabration 2019. Photos and videos of vital backstage scenes were made. Being able to witness the band in their element was key and that was achieved. Seeing a good number of the audience dance to the music and listening attentively to every word is fulfilling. Nigeria’s message to the world, beautifully channelled through the Positive Force is something to always be proud of.

 

 

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Bolaji Alonge is an artist, international photographer, actor and journalist from Lagos, Nigeria. His visual language speaks of the wonders of nature and human exchange, urban culture and searches for historical continuity in a world that is sometimes heavily fractured. He is also a globetrotter who has travelled around the world during the last decade documenting exotic culture and history. In May 2017, Bolaji organized his “Eyes of a Lagos Boy” photo exhibition at the prestigious Freedom Park in Lagos.

His second solo exhibition “Urban Culture – Historical Continuity” was held at One Draw Gallery, Ikoyi, Lagos in November 2018, establishing Bolaji’s brand of photography to a new audience, receiving great reviews from artists and art lovers worldwide

In February 2019, Bolaji showcased his work at Baza Studio in New York, The event was attended by the Nigerian Consul in New York, UN officials, art curators, musicians, artists, press and art aficionados. More projects in New York are planned for 2019.

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