Album sleeve illustrator, Ghariokwu Lemi made a return to Ghana after 33yrs of his last visit with late Afro beat King Fela Anikulakpo Kuti in 1976. With his deft fingers, he singularly designed 26 cover sleeves out of Fela’s discography of about 70 records that were produced. To him that feat was his call to fame comfortably strapped to Fela’s progress, starting with the “alagbon close” album that was released in December 1974. At the time, he was only 18yrs and the love story between him and the man, whose name “Anikulakpo” means death in my pocket, begun.
"Those works specifically helped to brand Fela as a rebel, a rebel leader, a revolutionary, political activist, a humanitarian and otherwise,” Lemi said in his introductory remarks at the Alliance Francais Arts Exhibition Gallery in Accra to showcase his artworks as part of his world tour programme, the last place before making it to Accra was the in UK where he also exhibited at the Bass Festival 09 in June.
The exhibition in Accra was a prelude to an afrobeat musical concert dubbed “AFROBITTEN” organized under the auspices of the French Embassy in Ghana, which featured Wunmi(a former backup vocalist for Fela), Ayetoro Band (put together by Nigerian composer and also former pianist for Fela, Funsho Ogundipe) and Atongo Zimba(a Ghanaian musician who also spent 4yrs studying music in Fela’s shrine).
At the Arts exhibition gallery, Lemi was poised to share his experiences and interact with Ghanaians and expatriates who had come to admire his works and also to hear stories about Fela; a lecture he said he was ready to give for 5hrs running non-stop for anyone interested.
He also recollected how he became an instant star in Nigeria, “for the first time in Nigeria, after the press reviewed Fela’s music, they also reviewed the album cover and I became an instant star.”
Ghariokwu Lemi has a variegated style of painting; laying out a selection of his portfolio of designs in Accra, one would have easily suggested that those pieces of art works on display were done by different illustrators. Interestingly the 53yr old man started his profession as an album sleeve illustrator in 1973 by self-tuition, researching, asking questions, trying out new techniques and blueprints he encountered. He has been able to develop this eclectic style without attending any arts institution. Since then the humble and self-made man has gone on to design over 2000 album covers both in Nigeria and internationally till date.
Upon invitation by pidgin music rapper, Wanlov the Kobolor, Ghariokwu Lemi reappeared in Ghana with fond memories and feeling at home. Then living in New Jersey, Kobolor sought after Lemi’s services via email on completion of his afro-beat inspired debut album, Green Card, which tells the thoughts of an immigrant in the United States.
Indeed in 2007, after meeting up with Kobolor in New York at “Fela-bration”, the green card album sleeve illustration became the latest addition to his works for a Ghanaian musician after designing for the late King of Highlife E.T Mensah, Bunzu Soundz, and Hedzelo Sounds (in 1976 for the acclaimed Ghanaian music producer, Faisal Helwani, who passed away in 2008). Ghariokwu Lemi told the AficanCourier that he’s currently working on the album cover sleeve for Yabba Funk, another Ghanaian group based in the UK.
Before leaving Accra for lagos, Lemi did not hide his admiration and respect for Ghana and Kwame Nkrumah, whose Centenary celebration is currently underway.
“Kwame Nkrumah laid a strong foundation for Ghana and it can never be completely scattered, I hope all African leaders learn from this great man”, he said giving the assurance to return more often to interact with young people as an effort to exchange knowledge.
In praising the country, he began with an advise and a wish, “Ghana, keep on doing what you’re doing, you’re a beacon light in West Africa”, he said,” you’re a good example to follow, I wish my country Nigeria will follow, because positivity, genuine awareness, integrity and consciousness towards whatever we do is a very vital fibre for human production and development.
Ghariokwu Lemi has upcoming exhibitions that he says will outdoor his new form of art to replace himself after 35yrs of professional work, starting from Lagos-Nigeria on October 3rd and 16th at UK’s Black History Month.