The scene was Friday night at the May 2016 edition of the monthly Lagos concert Afropolitan Vibes, which celebrated its third anniversary in March. It was also the first paid edition of the show, after three years of a free show except for the 500 naira ($3) fee for entry to the Freedom Park, Lagos Island venue. This was an altogether important development that cut the crowd by a casually incalculable percentage. No longer the sweaty jumpy arena from prior editions, the Freedom Park grounds had room for any attendee wishing to perform a mini-elaborate dance.
Skales started off with the song ‘I'm for Real’, his mickey mouse patterned outfit a tad curious for a rapper - although in the years since his signing to Banky W’s EME record label and his exit from same, he has remade himself as someone “who can rap and who can sing” as declared on 2012's 'Baddest Boy'.
“When you hear me sing,” he called out, “I need you to follow me, even if you go chop mouth." Another song went by and finally, it was time for his major hit, ‘Shake Body’. "This song means a lot to me," he said, then began to sing,
Perhaps because it was sung live, it lacked the bounciness of the studio version. It proved adequate in persuading the crowd to dance, enough that as the Afropolitan Vibes tradition goes, a girl climbed the stage to ‘shake body’, as the song implored.
“Thank you very much,” Skales said as the song wound down. "God bless you guys." And he was gone, sharing a manly handshake and hug with Ade Bantu.
“Afropolitan Vibes make some noise,” said the tall, skinny Bantu bandleader, as he proceeded to lead a few songs. "For our next guest,” followed the music interlude, “we've been trying to get him for three years. We all grew up on his music."
The guest, Mike Okri, singer of several hit songs in the 80s, showed up in a white traditional outfit, a chain around his neck and chubbier than the slim man on the back of his cassettes all those years ago. His songs were a kind of human carbon dating: the people who could sing after him the words, “hear your papa, hear your mama, life go better for you" were of a certain age, from an era before the 90s.
"What's your name?” Okri asked a lady who got onstage, ready to dance.
"Shola," said the lady, a well-known Afropolitan Vibes faithful.
And then the song started. Titled ‘Omoge’, roughly translated to young pretty girl, the song was the tune to a certain generation’s youth. The lady, as she had done many times before, began to move, gyrating gracefully in time to the song, as Okri’s arm clung to her shoulder. Members of the Lagos literati present laughed knowing the joke in the scene playing before them: Shola was Lola Shoneyin, a poet, novelist and the convener of Ake Festival, a popular international book festival taking place yearly in Nigeria. A few years ago, a report on the Afropolitan Vibes concert dubbed her ‘the twerking novelist’.
Dancing over, Shoneyin slipped back into the crowd and Okri performed ‘Rhumba Dance’ and closed with ‘Time na Money.’
Having witnessed a good show, the audience moved to a live DJ playing contemporary pop tunes elsewhere on the Freedom Park grounds, chatty, with no audible complaints over the new 1500 naira ($8) gate fee. Ade Bantu’s partner, Abby Ogunsanya, could be seen holding a bag. Asked how the concert’s first paid show went, she responded, as she counted some notes, “It went well.”
It was dark, but a smile may have passed across her face.
The Afropolitan Vibes concert takes place on the 3rd Friday of every month. Venue: Freedom Park, Lagos. Gate fee: 1500 naira ($8)