February 17, 2016
To many people, live music in Lagos is synonymous with Afrobeat and the enduring legend and iconography of its pioneer, Fela Kuti. However, as much as the spirit of Fela and the rhythms of traditional African, jazz and highlife vocals seep through a vast amount of the current music in Nigeria’s former capital, there’s an eclectic range of sounds that can be heard at a diverse range of venues across the city.
From hip life, highlife and Neo Soul to classical, the venues (both indoor and outdoor) that host the live bands or solo musicians that perform in this city are almost as diverse as the artists themselves. Here’s our selection of the best places to listen to live music in Lagos.
Bogobiri is such a well-loved institution in Lagos it often goes by the homely, shortened moniker of Bogo, for all those who stay loyal to the venue. Essentially two boutique guesthouse venues (the original Bogobiri I and the newer Bogobiri II), each have dedicated spaces for live bands or spoken word artists. Some of the names that have played here include Lagos favourites such as guitarist Keziah Jones and hip hop soul singer Nneka, as well as Afro Pop pioneer Orlando Julius, whose track record includes collaborations with Hugh Masekela and Motown producer Lamont Dozier. Even Blur’s Damon Albarn has been a resident and Lagos music aficionado during his early post-Blur days.
Regular music nights feature the house band that plays on the second and third Friday of every month, while multi instrumentalist and Fela Kuti peer Duro Ikujenyo plays on monthly first Fridays. A hip hoppy Don’t Drop the Mic session takes place on Saturdays at Bogobiri II for a younger crowd, while reggae sessions take place on the same night at Bogobiri I.
For a Fela Anikulapo-Kuti fix, all roads lead to the New Afrika Shrine in Ikeja on Lagos’s mainland. So much politics is enshrined in this venue, which is actually a rebuild, since the original burned down during Fela Kuti’s lifetime. The spiritual home of the Afrobeat pioneer, activist and all-round musical icon, the Shrine is run by Fela’s daughter Yeni, and as well as being a rite of passage venue for rising Nigerian musicians, it’s also where Fela’s sons Femi and Seun Kuti give regular live performances when they’re in town.
A type of chill out recreation area as well as nightclub, you could describe the Shrine as a large shed with an open yard for vendors selling hot or cold snacks. Inside the building, a further sense of Fela is given through some of his quotes that are displayed on the walls. A must-visit place, things get even livelier in October when scores of artists pack out the venue for Felabration, where a career-worth of Fela’s songs are replayed and performed during a weeklong celebration of the great man’s birthday.
Bringing the best classical, folk and popular music from Nigeria to the rest of the world’ is the mantra at the Musical Society of Nigeria (MUSON Centre). Established in Lagos in the early 1980s to promote strong relationships between Nigerian and non-Nigerian musicians, it’s the site for live classical music and musical theatre, as well as the annual MUSON Festival – Al Jarreau and Nigerian favourite Lagbaja have both featured. The centre is also the home of the well-established MUSON choir and Symphony Orchestra. Sitting in Lagos Island, between the National Museum and the City Mall, this venue is also a prime hub for education, with students learning everything from wind and string instruments to composition and voice solos.
An important cultural centre on Victoria Island, Terra Kulture is mainly thought of as a hub for African art and theatre. It does, however programme a good amount of live musical drama – much of which is self-produced. Saro the Musical (complete with 103 performers) was one such performance, which actually relocated to the Oriental Hotel, due to the size of the crew. Still, Terra Kulture runs a series of plays, musical or dance performances in-house every Sunday throughout the year.
Vintage and traditional African as well as Latin-influenced vinyl and CDs are sold inside the modestly fronted Jazzhole shop. The venue is also a bijou rehearsal and live music spot, all dexterously run by Kunle Tejuoso, whose design of the space – complete with a central DJ turntable and equipment – shows how serious he is about preserving Nigeria’s musical heritage. A producer of the Faaji Agba band of older musicians (most of them peers of Fela Kuti), Tejuoso has created what’s essentially a heritage space for older and upcoming musicians who often jam together in this important musical space.
A potential bonus, if you happen to stop by, is that even during the daytime you never know who you might be browsing the shelves or tapping your feet with, as casual visitors have included the likes of highly respected Malian singer-songwriter Salif Keita, as well as other international musicians passing through for Lagos-flavoured lyrical inspiration.
Who knew that what was once the Old Broad Street Prison on Lagos Island would one day be an open space for peaceful contemplation as well as live gigs? Freedom Park was redeveloped by architect Theo Lawson in 2010, in line with Nigeria’s 50th year of independence. As well as facilities that include a food court, pond and fountains, open-air Wi-Fi hubs, a museum and the Wole Soyinka Art Gallery, the park’s amphitheatre hosts Afropolitan Vibes on the third Friday of every month. These sessions feature contemporary musicians who lean towards the Afro-beat, Afro-funk, Afro-hip-hop, Afro-pop and Highlife music genres.
Virgin Atlantic operates daily direct flights to Lagos from London Heathrow, so you can easily visit these live music venues on your next trip.
Written by Nana Ocran