Benin’s Gangbe Brass Band heads to Lagos to perform at the spiritual home of Afrobeat, Fela Kuti’s New Afrika Shrine.
Editor’s note: This film is no longer available online.
Benin’s exuberant Gangbe Brass Band have been touring the world for 15 years, but playing at Fela Kuti’s legendary New Afrika Shrine in Lagos is a highlight for them.
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We follow Gangbe Brass Band as they set off to perform with Femi Kuti at the famous Afrobeat club and reconnect with relatives who migrated to Lagos, Nigeria.
In their encounter with their hero Femi Kuti they connect with contemporary ideals of pan-Africanism and find themselves immersed in a world of new ideas.
Gangbe Afrobeat tells the story of a confident, upbeat Africa that no longer solely aspires to the European dream.
By Arnaud Robert
The border. The unending border – full of tension, crowded and incredibly hot. In Europe, they always talk about Africa, as if it was a solid, coherent whole. And you discover – in a bus filled with the best brass band ever, full of Beninese horns – that crossing the Nigerian border from Cotonou is the most challenging thing you can do in a month of filming in both countries.
For the past 15 years, I have been following Gangbe Brass Band as a music journalist in North America, travelling around the Caribbean and several European countries. On each journey they spoke of their fascination with Nigerian Afrobeat and the internationally renounced singer Fela Kuti. I thought it would be a good idea to travel with them to Lagos.
|We follow Benin’s colourful Gangbe Brass Band as they head to Lagos to perform with Femi Kuti at the legendary New Afrika Shrine [Al Jazeera]
When we finally crossed the border and arrived in the city, we drove directly to The Shrine, the club that Fela Kuti had founded some 40 years ago.
I knew that Gangbe had already played at New York’s Carnegie Hall and in the most prestigious festivals around the world. But just seeing the pictures of Fela, who died in 1997, on the walls of the club and to shake the hand of his son, Femi Kuti, seemed to be more overwhelming than anything they had ever experienced before.
At the creation of Gangbe some 20 years ago, the young Beninese musicians had in fact met Fela, who acknowledged their talent. This short encounter is considered, by them, to be the most important blessing they have ever received. So the journey to Lagos was crucial.
I was amazed to see the band on stage there but also in the streets of the Chinese market and interacting with Nigerians as if they had come from another world. Although they are neighbours, there’s a profound gap between Benin and Nigeria. This film is about the dialogue; the bridge created by music between these two stories.
|Gangbe Brass Band perform with Femi Kuti, on saxophone, at The Shrine, the spiritual home of Afrobeat [Al Jazeera]
One of the most impressive experiences in Lagos was when I followed Gangbe around the neighbourhood of Makoko, a gigantic slum on the Laguna, which is inhabited almost exclusively by migrants from Benin.
When they saw Gangbe dancing with their horns, even the youngest kids – those who hadn’t seen the land of Benin – were singing the Gangbe songs they had listened to on Beninese radio and TV stations. It was profound to see how the culture, even for those people who had made the choice to live in this city full of promise, was really the foundation, or the core, of their lives.
Throughout my journey, I discovered that not only is music a universal language, which is an already well known cliche, but that megalopolises from the south such as Lagos can act as cultural magnets. I can truly say that the lives of the members of the Gangbe Brass Band – and certainly mine – have been changed by this incredibly short journey.