He was facing the stage, arms akimbo with perspiration gradually gluing a purple polo shirt to his back. Oblivious to the hordes of spectators in the cavernous warehouse, the light skinned man bobbed his head and snapped his fingers to the band’s high-energy polyrhythmic melody. Afrobeat prince, Femi Kuti had wandered among the mortals and their plastic furniture to listen to how the music landed when it leaped off the stage.
It was rehearsal night at the New Afrika Shrine (NAS). And just my luck—on the only free day I had to visit the site—this scion of a deity was holding an open practice session.
Femi made his way to the pit in front of the stage, ear cocked towards the podium, arms furiously playing imaginary shakers, feet; two-stepping. He was swimming in the groove. That is, until he sharply raised his hand. There was a slacker in the horn section. Bounding back up, he went from brass-to-brass until he found the culprit. A trumpet player couldn’t hold the melody. Its tricky pirouettes, at first a slippery bar of soap in his hands but then; after wide-eyed concentration and Femi’s steady gaze, he grasped it.
Then, with Femi at the keyboard, the band banged out the delicious jam, again, and still, a second, third and fourth time. Welcome na de shrine where rehearsals are not a joke.
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