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Lemi Ghariokwu (free)

  • Ingraham Hall 1155 Observatory Drive Madison, WI, 53706 United States (map)

Fela Kuti's favorite album-cover artist speaks as part of the Africa At Noon lecture series. Info

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Nigerian graphic designer Lemi Ghariokwu has designed more than 2,000 album covers, but he’s best known for his work with Fela Anikulapo Kuti. Ghariokwu will be speaking about his relationship with the Afrobeat legend as part of the UW-Madison African Studies Program’s long-running Africa At Noon lecture series. Ghariokwu designed album art for 29 of Kuti’s albums, developing a confrontational style that complimented Kuti’s pointedly political music. Ghariokwu and Kuti had a very close relationship, with Kuti giving the young artist an extraordinary degree of creative freedom. 

Mixing collage, painting and political cartoon, Ghariokwu’s covers offer his own interpretations of Kuti’s political songwriting. His first cover for Fela was for Alagbon Close, a fantastical painting of Kuti as a giant bursting from a burning prison as a whale upturns a police boat. The photo collage cover of Zombie positions Kuti facing down gigantic military figures, critiquing the Nigerian government’s frequent attacks on Kuti. On Kuti’s 1989 album Beasts Of No Nation, Ghariokwu takes Kuti’s lyrics even further, depicting world leaders such as Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan with horns and bloody fangs. Ghariokwu still remains active as a graphic designer today, as the continued interest in Fela Kuti’s music has kept him in high demand. Ghariokwu has plenty of stories to tell about his tumultuous relationship with Kuti, so expect a lecture full of entertaining anecdotes. —Ian Adcock