One good Friday morning, specifically on the 12th of April 2024, I entered @lemighariokwu Direct Message (DM) on Instagram to ask if he was free for a chat. His response shocked me‘ – Sure, although I have an appointment with someone today, could you make it to my studio later?’ I agreed, and that’s how the destined meeting happened.

And the rest is history!

I spent that evening with Lemi Ighariokwu, popularly known as the King of Covers, who successfully designed 26 album covers during the Afrobeat legend Anikulapo Kuti’s lifetime and 3 more after his “ancentralization”.

Me, being an inquisitive storyteller always hunting for stories, I took this moment to reeducate myself on our beautiful story and realign myself with our history. I introduced myself as an explorer of culture and an unapologetic Christian.’ He looked at me, smiled, and said, ‘Africa.’

That was the needed spark that initiated our conversation.

The foundation laid on us is fear which is embedded in religion and politics, said Lemi. ‘I believe in reincarnation because spirituality is way different from religiosity’. If it were about religion, we would be the best country in the world. This is why I have made it a commitment that for the rest of my life I will be documenting our history as peoples of Africa. Documentation is one of the missing links between us and our ancient history, especially the glorious days we had in Africa.  I have observed that the old system was originally designed for Africa not to work, and this is what has brought about our miseducation, not education. It’s no longer a system of colonialism but now “kolomentality”.

Why did you agree to this chat with me:

I don’t refuse anyone because I am consciously telling the story so that when I also join the ancestors, there will be enough material. This is my 50th year in the business of design; I have been doing this since my first album cover for Fela in 1974. At that time, I was 19, and Fela was 17 years older than me, and you can never know because of the synergy between us while working.
I have followed this form of relationship I had with Fela, and today 95% of my friends are Gen Zs. I always try to keep them informed, so they are not misinformed. If anything, I believe I was born ready for the mental liberation of our people, to make our people more organic, natural, and cultural.

What was it like working the Fela?
Fela loved and respected me because he saw that I was always very inquisitive, ambitious, and loved to read as he also loved to read. So the first time we met, the connection was so easy.

I am mostly a visual learner, a self-taught artist who didn’t learn art in a formal school, Fela gave me total freedom to express myself as an artist; he never told me what to do. I think I was born ready for the role I played with the legend.
Fela was all the greatness, madness, music, method, and magic imaginable. I am unapologetically upholding the legacy of Fela.

By 1978, I believe my mission with Fela was fulfilled as I left after four years of working together. It was preordained; it was not by accident. The combination was fire, which is still here to date. I had the very rare privilege of witnessing Fela’s process from scratch, I saw firsthand how the ideas for some of his songs were born.

How did you approach the album cover designs for Fela?

I approached the design of Fela’s album covers from a philosophical point of view, I sought and loved knowledge that laid the foundation for self-knowledge/awareness. Conversely, Fela’s ideas were more innate and focused on ensuring the audience understood his message. All of these helped me to birth the ideas used in the designs. Also, my ability to listen to the still small voice from within, I would say is the greatest thing that helped me in crafting those designs.

A word for the people

Dear readers, we have to be consistent and intentional about knowing our story and history, freeing ourselves from mental slavery, which is more dangerous than chains. We all need general information about life, and that is how to be wise. Seek information, conduct research, ask questions, and seek out a mentor. Follow and respect the process.

Remember, Babylon was not built in a day.’

This story was contributed by Adebayo Abayomi a Nigerian documentary photographer from Kwara State, who is passionate about publicizing underreported issues and telling health, social, environmental, political, and cultural stories from local communities.

He is available for related assignments anywhere in the world.

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