Saturday, July 11, 2009

Fela Kuti and fury

We stopped by the Africa Shrine today. The Africa Shrine is the performing space that Fela Kuti built back in the 70s. Kuti was an ardent political activist in a time when Nigeria was ruled by a military junta as well as being an aredent supporter of pan-africanism. He is one of the huge cultural heroes of Nigeria and of pan-africanists as a whole. The shrine was interesting and dissapointing. It is an open air space with a corrugated tin roof that looks like it could seat a few hundred people, with a large stage at one end and a bar and elevated seating on the opposite end of the space. There are portraits of Fela and other performers who have come to the shrine and a bunch of signs with little aphorisms and proverbs that celebrate African unity and warning against AIDS. I would have gotten some nice pictures but the people who hang out at the shrine are not the type who would take kindly to being photographed. Everyone in there was smoking incredibly strong marijuana and there was a steady stream of people who came through, would buy a spliff or dime bag, drink a beer and then leave after an hour or two. It's a bit sad to see a spot of such cultural importance that is falling apart, a den for small time dealers, and filthy. It is what it is, I guess. Ak was able to get a set of 8 discs, part of the 40 disc Kuti discography and a tshirt, so the trip was not a total wash and it was an educational experience.

The trip back was a bit more traumatic for me. I now understand a little more why people would blow themselves up and kill everyone in the sight of the excess and callousness of the ruling elite. We drove through the suburb where we are staying, a monument to artchitectural gaudiness and excess, contrasted with a poverty that is absolute and heartbreaking. But today was the first time I was able to view much more of the neighborhood in the full glare of sunlight. There are homes here that are 20 room mansions, with plaster friezes desgined to look like european chateaus that have adjoining plots where squatters live in squat shacks, standing water, and surrounded by trash. The contradiction is surreal and heartbreaking. But I have seen poverty before. Back home and now in three different countries. I have driven and walked through slums. Seen one and two room shacks that house multiple families. Deprivation and want no longer really surprise me, they mainly engender sympathy and the desire to try and do something about it. But today was truly the first time I have ever felt fury. I use the word deliberately. It was not anger or disgust, but a mixture of the two that was greater than the sum of its parts. It was at once cold and white hot...such poverty, such clear want, amidst such extravagance and empty excess...I felt that I wanted to shatter the large windows, smash the plaster angels and cherubs that adorn the walls, and burn the very foundations of these homes and the people within them.

We're going out again tonight. I shall try and have a good time.

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