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Oris Aigbokhaevbolo: Would Fela Have Welcomed French President Macron to his Shrine?

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The only way to meet the President of France as a Nigerian is to be a high-ranking politician or be very rich or famous.

If none of these describes you, then you’d have had to make do with being one of a few hundred people to have received an invitation to the New Afrikan Shrine this past Tuesday 3 July.

So when the bearded R&B man turned actor Banky W, as host, said we should sit anywhere as there is no VIP section in the shrine, he was half-lying. In a sense we were all VIPs. But even so the seats closest to the stage were for the real VIPs: Macron and Governor Ambode. To prove their own importance, the men showed up several hours after the whole thing was to start.

I had arrived after an expensive and creative way of finding the Shrine: involving paying several bike-men to subvert the bumper-to-bumper traffic imposed on us all by these powerful men. I say find because none of the usual signposts leading to the shrine were present: No one asking me to buy “SK”; no smell of weed as compass; no suya sellers; no petty traders on the day they could make really high sales. Instead I was asked, very nicely, for my invitation. I whipped out my phone, more out of shock at meeting a polite policeman than anything else. But of course, it wasn’t really me he was being polite to. He was working with the idea that a person who could get an invitation to meet Macron was probably important. I laugh.

Now inside, the wait had begun. Banky continued with some filler nonsense about the “special relationship between Africa and France”. Does he even know what he’s saying? I wondered. The geographical incompatibility—the usual gibber that equates a European country to the entirety of the black continent. He was smiling his music video smile, unaware he was putting an exploiting country in the position of benign patron. But of course no one ever accused Banky of political consciousness. A video of platitudes for Macron from Trace TV succeeded Banky’s speech.

“As promised the president of the French republic is here,” Banky said around 9.45pm.

Macron met the artists Victor Ehikhamenor, Ndidi Emefiele Abraham Oghobase. Even as a Frenchman the combination of cameras and jostling meant art appreciation could take a hike, so the president made approving noises. In company of the Lagos governor, Macron then moved to the VIP section. Already we were informed that some persons already seated close to the stage had to leave. No VIP sections, eh?

The dance group Footprints of David performed a welcome number in Yoruba. Sitting with the governor in front, Macron wore no jacket on his long sleeved shirt; Ambode wore a t-shirt. Speech here, speech there, speech everywhere. It seemed strange that a Nigerian city was welcoming a foreign president with loads of talk and no pounded yam.

We are glad to have you in our midst,” Ambode said as Fela rolled in his grave at the idea of politicians taking over his son’s podium. A brief tour of the shrine became a tour of Macron’s face on other people’s phone screens. All of these important people became animated at the idea of a small, slim white man smiling into their phones. This welcome proved enough to empower the night’s guest to make pronouncements on Fela. “He was a politician because he wanted to change society,” said Macron.
He later said something more in the spirit of Fela: “What happens in the shrine remains in the shrine.” Apparently back in 2002 as a French embassy intern, Macron had visited the Shrine. He’s a cool expat kid then, pretty sure he was offered a few intoxicants.

I do believe we have to change,” he said in response to a different question from the accented Keturah King. “We have to build a new common narrative…this place is important for African culture.

Macron of course belongs to a generation of Europeans, of white people from South Africa to Australia, who want to shrug off the impact of the past while enjoying the riches that past has given their present. “My generation never experienced colonisation,” he said, adding that, “We have to move forward“. This of course is a no brainer. But, as someone said, “the past is never dead; it’s not even past.”

Today Paris is dotted with pretty produce made from the past and immigrants are asked not to seek it? As he went on, Macron’s smiling anti-immigrant stance turned up. Africans, he said, “have to build their future here in Africa and we have to assist them.” He then announced that there would be a culture season in France for Africans and by Africans. “We need new people to make a [new] narrative.”

So Macron came to ensure Africans stay put in Africa, while France gets a chance to see the best of African culture. Good girls might go to heaven; but the rich and famous go to Paris. The poor can inherit Africa.

Yemi Alade came on around 10.40pm with a medley featuring ‘Ferrari’, ‘Kissing’ and other bland Yemi Alade songs. Selected because of her deliberate courting of French Africa, Ms Alade split her music between both languages of her oeuvre. But her performance didn’t quite fit the atmosphere. Cameroon’s Charlotte Dipanda followed. Neither performer quite drew the attention of the Shrine. In fact, it seemed only the presence of the governor or the small white guy from France could do that—evidence of the inappropriateness of the selected singers, but also a tribute to Nigeria’s eternal worship of whiteness and power.

At some point in the night, Kunle Afolayan got Macron to do some acting surrounded by Nollywood royalty—Jide Kosoko, Ramsey Nouah, Rita Dominic, Omotola Jalade among them. “He doesn’t know,” whispered a friend of mine. “He will see himself in a film or two.” I chuckled. If it would take Macron to bring back the Afolayan that made Figurine and October 1 then the director’s sheepish smile onstage was permissible, but watching the gaudy mess onstage, I had a sinking feeling that Afolayan’s era of quality filmmaking might be over.
Mo Abudu, another believer in gaudy mess as cinema, asked Macron a few questions. To one question, Macron said he was available to act in Nollywood. Ms Abudu, in heels towering over the man, then asked how a Nollywood film could go to Cannes and win the Palme d’Or. I snorted. It seemed the kind of question the producer of such a film as Fifty would ask. Her real question was how can shallow good-looking films like mine win the prestige on offer at Cannes? The real answer is they can’t. But Macron, ever the diplomat, said, “I’m not the one to answer this question. Abderrahmane Sissako is the one to answer it.” The man who made Timbuktu came out on Macron’s prodding and gave a noncommittal answer. “Work hard and be patient,” he said. Ms Abudu clearly wanted an annotated roadmap to Cannes glory. No such luck.
Near midnight, the place was near empty as Ara the drummer performed, dancing her red hair for Macron’s pink face. Ambode, with no hair, whispered something in Emmanuel-with-the-good-hair’s ear. Ara approached and handed the Frenchman a gift. Youssou N’dour and Angelique Kidjo would be drawn to say a thing later. “Are you still alive?” asked Kidjo. “I don’t know about you but I’m tired.” She spoke for all of us.

Banky, who was still alive, launched into superlatives to bring on Femi Kuti. As always the eldest Fela son was manic on the keyboard. The dancing girls in green and orange ass-shaking gear appeared in their cages. Macron, whose country has “liberté” as first word of its motto, didn’t seem to notice their appearance.
A part of Femi’s song had the line “dem just dey lie”. If it was a line directed at politicians, he had two of looking him in the eye. But, of course, if Fela’s activism was reckless, Femi Kuti’s has been relatively risk-free. This endorsement of politicians was the next step. Some might even say it was inevitable. I asked a Fela scholar friend if my thoughts were uncharitable. Would Fela have gone this route?
Macron wouldn’t have gone near the Shrine were Fela to be alive,” said Kayode Faniyi, confirming my suspicion. “That’s assuming Fela didn’t ‘sell out’ in his later years, ease into a national icon of the sort endorsed by government. And given Macron’s paternalistic comments about Africa last year, ‘Beasts of No Nation’ might be on full blast. And really, Macron’s politics in France has so far been problematic, so yeah, it wouldn’t have been a nice reception.”

Femi Kuti bowed elaborately and thanked the governor. “He feels the pain of Africa,” he said about Macron, whose view on immigration seemed to have found a willing mouthpiece in Femi who said it was possible to have Africans stay here. Thankfully, he stopped talking and went back to playing music. He pulled Macron up and started shouting his lyrics in the white man’s face. The tired, non-dancing president reluctantly began clapping.

The event was at its end as Asa, Youssou N’Dour and Angelique Kidjo stepped up to dance too. These were the real VIPs of musicians, each with a seat around the politicians. And it seemed rather fair that for all of her fame, Yemi Alade was not nearby.
Watching the scene, I thought this was a fine gathering of great African musicians. But why had it taken a white man in Africa to bring all of them together?

Photo Credit: David Corio/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

Oris Aigbokhaevbolo is a critic and essayist. His writing on film, books and music appear in The Guardian UK and The Africa Report. He mentored critics at the Durban Film Festival and has attended critic academies in Germany and Holland.In 2015, Aigbokhaevbolo became the first ever winner of the Music/Entertainment Journalist of the Year award (AFRIMA). He tweets @catchoris.

22 Comments

  1. Jummy

    July 5, 2018 at 4:48 pm

    Could not read to the end. Gosh you seem like such a sour puss! Would be hell to hang with you.

    No I’m not saying you had to like the event or the fact that all that pomp and pagentry was made for a foreign president. I quite share your sentiments to an extent.

    But it seems like you had a bone to pick with everything and everyone. If you didn’t like the idea of Macron coming why accept the invitation? You’re the type of person to attend the wedding of someone you don’t like only to complain about one thing or the other the entire time. Seems like you attended with the intention of writing this mess later on.

    And yes Macron is right on one thing; AFRICANS FIX YOUR COUNTRY! France isn’t perfect but just drop the victimization abeg. Betwern 1960 and now who are the people that have been spoiling Nigeria? NIGERIANS! From inter tribal conflict to gross corruption, we are the ones doing ourselves.

    STOP EEEEEETTTTT!

    • 9ja

      July 5, 2018 at 5:31 pm

      @Jummy, other than the fact that Africa is not a country, spot on! 100%

    • Jummy

      July 5, 2018 at 8:08 pm

      My bad. I. actually meant to type “countries”

    • Manny

      July 11, 2018 at 1:40 am

      Take it easy. That’s how “critics” write. You would have had a fit reading the late Roger Ebert.

  2. Neki moyo

    July 5, 2018 at 5:00 pm

    I just heaved a huge *sigh*….and just see how celebrities were just doing ambassador of France already all over social media…we need to cut this whole facade of film we are acting to the rest of the world..
    Beautiful write-up???…..

  3. Ovadje

    July 5, 2018 at 5:12 pm

    The writers surmises: “The poor can inherit Africa”.

    That’s entirely up to Africans. Asians pretty much went through much of the same exploitative historical experience as Africans (sans the Trans-Atlantic slavery of course) of colonialism, repressive military and political regimes, and rapacious new-colonialism, but has somehow managed to turn their story around and can now hold the heads high in the commits of nations. An eternal demonization of whiteness is just as corrosive and destructive as the so-called “eternal worship of whiteness” proffered by the author.

    PS: While I may personally disagree with Mr. Macron on several fronts, I wholeheartedly sign on to the notion that the salvation of Africans primarily lies with Africans in Africa.

  4. Bim

    July 5, 2018 at 5:15 pm

    This is brilliant.

  5. Anon

    July 5, 2018 at 5:22 pm

    We all love Fela, but even the great man was not immune to the seduction of political power. My parents up to this day still recall with dismay Fela coming to Ghana to play for the corrupt and repressive Col. Achampeong. Just as many are presently taken with a smooth-talking European who supposedly gets Africa, many from a previous generation were taken by brutal despots clothe in anti-imperialist rhetoric.

  6. LemmeRant

    July 5, 2018 at 9:35 pm

    Finally something worth reading on BN

    Thank you. Thank you.

  7. Mo

    July 5, 2018 at 10:43 pm

    Amazing read and use of words. Love the way they weave in and out. I just wish you picked up both good and bad, this is not a balanced perspective.. @Jummy. Fantastic perspective

  8. tunmi

    July 5, 2018 at 11:15 pm

    Nah this is disgusting.

    Also Fela would have welcomed Macron, albeit without the fanfare. They would have talked, taken photos with the same expression he wears and that would have been the end of it.

  9. Xoxo

    July 6, 2018 at 12:00 am

    Dead men tell no tales

  10. yes maam

    July 6, 2018 at 12:01 am

    Mo Goes To Cannes, I have named the Nollywood movie. Directed by Kunle Afolayan, starring Banky W.

    • Sakura

      July 6, 2018 at 8:45 am

      Lol??????

  11. Vics

    July 6, 2018 at 11:20 am

    A very biased article, a critic should say both the good and the bad, Are you saying there’s nothing positive you learnt from that event. OK o…
    Also what’s with the new hate on MO Abudu, can we admit that she raised the standard for production in Hollywood or not? Fine, there’s still lots of room for improvement e.g content and casting but pls don’t refer to her work as a mess. Smh

    • Vics

      July 6, 2018 at 11:21 am

      *in NOLLYWOOD

  12. Ogor

    July 6, 2018 at 5:12 pm

    Funny how someone can earn a living from dishing out criticism…Such bitterness
    Everybody all of sudden knows what Fela would have done or not done
    But what do i know, i am not a critic

  13. Babe

    July 6, 2018 at 8:14 pm

    Nigerians don’t appreciate criticism. This was nicely written! Amazing choice of words and lovely sarcasm. If we indeed search our innermost hearts we’d agree the writer is saying the truth! But no we can’t stand the truth or not?!

  14. seuntyb

    July 7, 2018 at 1:56 am

    we are a country full of jokers. our so called celebrities are no different from the politicians we criticise, we all simply hypocrites. we the state of the country and the amount of deaths instead of the media to use this to draw global awareness to our plight we just joke and jive like house slaves happy so see our slave masters. our celebrities should use their platform more and not just reserve it to only when they get harassed by SARS officers. the worse is the ppl that would read this piece and insult the writer. we need to emancipate ourselves from mental slavery. REVOLUTION IS AT HAND

  15. Arik

    July 7, 2018 at 6:49 am

    Oris writes well but my problem is that he is always angry and full of bile. Never a joyful moment in his articles.
    I share his sentiment in the sense that I struggle to understand how Femi can justify hosting Ambode at the shrine. Macron had been in the shrine 2 decades back and wanted a feel of that. He could have just attended a Thursday rehearsal with security details attracted. The whole hypocrisy of that event was nauseating and having a Nigerian politics like Ambode holding sway at the shrine together with all the establishment fellows is against everything the shrine stands for. Macron is a lesser issue, Ambode was my main grouse. I would have not attended if given an invite ( and I could have gotten one). Going to great lengths to attend and not have one positive thing to say makes Oris seem way too sad a guy.

  16. mide

    July 7, 2018 at 7:23 am

    hmm… Interesting read

  17. Billionaire in grace

    July 7, 2018 at 10:52 am

    Interesting reading….please BN more of such articles

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