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'Finding Fela' Archives: The Iconic Album Art Of Ghariokwu Lemi

We revisit Ghariokwu Lemi's iconic Fela Kuti album artwork ahead of Finding Fela's theatrical release.

Finding Fela,’ the new Fela Kuti documentary from Academy Award-winning director Alex Gibney, begins its North American theatrical run on August 1st. To celebrate we’ll be finding Fela in our Okayafrica archives with a look back at our favorite Fela-related videos, galleries, remixes, interviews and much more.


Nigerian graphic designer, fine artist and illustrator Ghariokwu Lemi occupies a unique position as the creative genius behind twenty-six of Fela's iconic album covers. Christened 'The Artist' by Kuti himself, the vivid social realism of Lemi's works created between 1974 and 1993 provided a fitting visual accompaniment to the singer's derisive anti-establishment lyrics with its cross of distorted collage, illustration and caricature.

After a chance meeting in 1974 with veteran Nigerian journalist Babatunde Harrison who was friends with Fela, a then-18 year old Ghariokwu was given the opportunity to design his first album cover for the musician. This inaugural assignment, for the authority-bashing Alagbon Close, came after Kuti's mistreatment at the hands of the Nigerian police and depicted a larger-than-life Fela breaking free from the titular jailhouse while defending his Kalakuta Republic from baton-wielding policemen. The whirlwind success of this cover placed the young self-taught artist squarely within the afrobeat legend's inner circle.

Lemi's cartoonish renderings of Kuti's lyrical indictments featured commentary on the social ills plaguing Africans due to media brainwashing and highlighted oppressive policies from corrupt governments. As the foremost visual translator of one of most outspoken musicians the world has seen, Lemi's illustrated sociocultural critiques were as confrontational as the songs they depicted. His pictorial narratives lambasted political greed, police brutality, skin bleaching, lack of basic utilities as well as scathing takedowns of those with political power.

In an interview with Okayafrica last year, Lemi shed some light on one of his most famous sleeve designs — for Fela's Beasts Of No Nation — which featured several world leaders as bloodsucking beasts with fangs and horns adding, "I have never received a negative response to date, 25 years on. I just think the art speaks for itself; one can never run away from the truth." Besides his work with Fela, the highly prolific Lemi has designed over 2000 album covers for a wide range of artists including Bob Marley, Antibalas, E.T. Mensah and Gilles Peterson and has seen his work exhibited all over the world. Watch Lemi discuss his career beginnings in the video below. Click through the gallery above for a sampling of the artist's most famous sleeve designs for Fela Kuti.

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Fela Kuti and Ginger Baker. (Photo by Echoes/Redferns/Getty Images)

Remembering Ginger Baker's Afrobeat Collaborations With Fela Kuti

After Cream, Baker spent several years in the 1970s living and recording in Nigeria, most notably with Fela Kuti.

Ginger Baker, pioneer British rock drummer and co-founder of the band Cream, passed away yesterday. He was 80-years-old.

"Baker had been suffering from myriad ailments, including chronic respiratory illness and osteoarthritis," Okayplayer reports. "On September 25th, his family asked fans to keep Baker in their prayers, as he'd reached a critical point that warranted hospitalization. And [Sunday] morning, they informed fans on Facebook the drummer had 'passed away peacefully.'"

Baker was well-known across the world for his work with Cream, the group he formed alongside Eric Clapton and Jack Bruce.

Once Cream disbanded—and short stints with projects like Blind Faith and Ginger Baker's Air Force—the drummer turned his attention to Africa, eventually building a recording studio in Lagos, Nigeria.

The documentary, Ginger Baker in Africa, follows him as he traveled by Range Rover from Algeria to Nigeria, across the Sahara Desert. Once he reached Lagos, he started setting up the studio. Though it took some times to figure out, and several setbacks, Batakota (ARC) studios finally opened at the end of January 1973.

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Photo courtesy of JM Films

Watch Tiwa Savage's Striking New Music Video for '49-99'

On her latest single, the artist references Fela Kuti and addresses poverty in her home country.

Tiwa Savage shares her latest song and video "49-99."

The pulsating track sees the artist referencing Fela Kuti's famous "49 sitting, 99 standing" line from his 1978 song "Shuffering and Shmiling." Throughout the track, the Nigerian artist sings about the pursuit of money in her home country, offering commentary on widespread poverty.

"'49-99' is a term coined from the hard life many Nigerians go through," explains the artist in a press release. "A transit bus serves as a case study. It ought to have only 49 seated passengers, however due to poor economic conditions, we often have nearly twice that number of passengers standing (99)."

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Video: Mr Eazi On How He's Helping Young African Artists Grow

In 'Moments With: Mr Eazi,' the buzzing Nigerian star tells us about Banku music, being a serial entrepreneur, and how he's been pushing young African artists through his emPawa initiative.

Mr Eazi stopped by our offices in New York City during a packed round of promo around his new emPawa platform.

The Nigerian star sat down with OkayAfrica and spoke in-depth about his early days, how his friends all pooled money to help him get started, how his famous 'hat' look came about, the blend of Ghanaian & Nigerian sounds that make up Banku music and more recent things like collaboration with J Balvin and Bad Bunny.

Watch our Moments With video with Mr Eazi below.

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Asa 'Lucid' cover.

The 14 Songs You Need to Hear This Week

Featuring Asa, Patoranking x Busiswa, $pacely, Vagabon, Shane Eagle and more.

Every week, we highlight the cream of the crop in music through our Best Music of the Week column.

Here's our round up of the best tracks and music videos that came across our desks, which you can also check out in our Songs You Need to Hear This Week playlists on Spotify and Apple Music.

Follow our SONGS YOU NEED TO HEAR THIS WEEK playlist on Spotify here and Apple Music here.

Check out all of OkayAfrica's new playlists on Spotify and Apple Music.

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