Don’t Copy, Create: On Fifteen Afropolitan Vibes Magazine Covers
Afropolitan Vibes, the monthly concert and meet fest for Lagos’ creative sorts is already legendary for the spectacular good time to be had – but it’s also remarkable for its capturing of the zeitgeist of remarkably resurgent period of ebullience in Nigerian cultural creativity – an energy captured in its magazine; initially conceived to reflect and preserve the peculiarities of each month’s concert – it now has a life of its own. Here, exclusively for What’s On Africa, Dami Ajayi reflects on these delightful visual riffs which are, he says, “an impressive corpus of cover art experimenting with photography and digital imaging.” The joy of these covers is that they are instantly collectable art, the only prerequisite being attending the monthly concert at Freedom Park every third Friday of the month.
Covered by the graphically-altered portrait of a stylish lady rendered in psychedelia, the first edition of the AV magazine was a breath of fresh air. The lady in the picture, sporting an immaculately trimmed Afro, had a blank stare and seemed familiar too. She might be the everywoman you see at the show leaping into the air save for hoop earrings. She is perhaps the female subject of that Hugh Masekela song, Woman of the Sun, a modern Afropolitan woman who knows Gaborone as well as she knows Greenwich Village.
The female form is an abiding interest of popular art. Women feature generously in the magazine. The second edition features a woman too but not in an exclusive sense. This cover is adapted from Njideka Akunyili’s painting of a retro-house party with intimate dancers—males and females—all caught in the swing of jollity. The lady is in a short dress (this time with hoop ear-rings) and she is staring out of the cover, perhaps at every potential reader.
The third edition cover is a delightful collage of physical gestures and popular figures, and unsettling stares seeking a visceral reaction from the reader.
A studio picture of the members of Agbero International lined in an unusual arc with the band leader and vocalist, Ade Bantu, staring down at an empty chess board covers the fourth edition. The presence of something unpredictable haunts this image, echoing the promise of new, and sometimes dangerous discoveries that Afropolitan Vibes offers; the fifth edition of the magazine is altogether more playful, with an almost surreal depiction of a concert in session. Two pairs of legs are caught mid-air on stage against the backdrop of an audience in different stages of ecstatic dance.
My personal favourite is the cover of the sixth edition that brings back the single female model. The photographer staggers down to show her felt brown ankle boots, one foot resting against the mud blocks of what used to be a colonial prison on Lagos Island. A caveat peers down at the model, with the Afropolitan Vibes insignia is stamped into the picture, another caveat that cannibalizes the initial caveat.
In retrospect, the cover for Afropolitan Vibes Issue 8 is the most heart-wrenching and moving one so far. Featuring the picture of three young faceless school-age girls in school uniform moving away from the camera lenses, one must pause to reflect on the cultural relevance of such subtle protest. The Chibok girls are still at large and more than a year has passed.
The ninth issue of the magazine features a humourous reference to imitation culture – a hilarious picture of a man wearing only his trousers and at the mercy of an incompetent-looking tattoo artist. The picture is captioned, “Don’t copy. Create”.
Issue 11 features a delightful, retro reference – a newspaper page of weekend events in Mainland Lagos circa the Sixties.
The band members made a comeback once again to grace the twelfth edition but the arrangement is more intimate and perhaps better realized than their appearance in previous issues, including #10, and #6.
The fourteenth cover is a sketch of an Owambe party replete with a talking drummer and several assertive dancing fingers pointing skywards. Dance is almost synonymous with Afropolitan Vibes, the biggest monthly concert in Lagos that has gradually grown from an event into a culture.
The treble clef installation art on the wall stands out in the fifteenth edition’s cover with a relaxed man in locs resting his head on a beautiful woman’s laps. This speaks to what music does to a man’s soul and a Bob Marley tune, Satisfy My Soul, seems to lend itself to this assertion.
The best part of these covers is that they are carefully considered designs with meanings that speak to Nigeria’s contemporary issues and pre-occupations. Looking deeper has never been more rewarding.
One can only wait for the next cover to find out what this energy is about.