FAB L’Style

FAB L’Style is the global voice of established & emerging luxury. An international, fashion, art, beauty and lifestyle magazine in English based in Vienna, Austria. Ever mindful of equality, we embrace the diversity of inclusive beauty, and having a sustainable mindset.

My First Time Being Called a Legend — Lemi Ghariokwu

Artistic FAB L'Style Magazine ICON Cover of Lemi Ghariokwu highlighting his achievement in the creative industry

In this exclusive chat, we delve into the multifaceted life and career of Lemi Ghariokwu, a revered artist and designer known for his iconic Fela Anikulapo’s music album covers and commitment to African consciousness. From his groundbreaking collaborations with brands like Ashluxe and KEEXS to his personal journey of self-discovery and cultural advocacy, Lemi Ghariokwu shares his passion for connecting with the younger generation and fostering a deeper understanding of African history and identity. His reflections on art, music, and social issues offer a profound insight into his mission to inspire and educate. Stay up to date on the newest in the world of Fashion, Arts, Beauty and Lifestyle; Follow FAB on Instagram.

FAB: Your recent collaboration with Ashluxe is very exciting. How did it all start? 

Lemi Ghariokwu: The collaboration with Ashluxe was exhilarating. I love working with the youth and feel like one myself. I focus on the youth demographic, as 95% of my friends are Gen-Z and Millennials.

For us, it’s about legacy. As Pan-Africanists, we’re often disheartened by the global positioning of our people. We feel embarrassed because we don’t know our true history and have lost our identity. We lack awareness of our true history and identity, and many of us prefer other cultures over our own. It’s crucial for people like me to connect with young people to help liberate ourselves from mental slavery by learning our true history, not the stories of Mungo Park or Mary Slessor, nor Jesus or Muhammad—tools of colonization. Every other race has its own culture and traditions. Indians, Japanese, and Chinese all have their religions and are progressing, except in Africa. I am a preacher of African consciousness.

FAB: This is not your first collaboration in fashion. In 2015, you collaborated with KEEXS, a socially conscious footwear brand founded by Babajide Ipaye. What has it been like for you since 2015? 

Lemi Ghariokwu: It has been rewarding. I always see the glass as half full. The challenges come and go, but when the going gets tough, the tough get going. I’ve endured and thrived.

This year marks 50 years since I started designing album covers. My first cover for Fela was in 1974. My career has taken me around the world. I am self-taught and didn’t study art formally, which was initially upsetting for my father, who wanted me to be a mechanical engineer. Eventually, my family became proud of me, and more importantly, I am proud of myself.

I have a collaboration coming up with a Pan-African organisation in Abuja. They have young architects, and they want me to speak about my life and how architecture reflects our culture and traditions. Many of our architectural structures are foreign. For instance, Isale Eko has Brazilian architecture. I designed my house with a flat roof, which I believe is more suitable for Nigeria and more resource-efficient.

I’m also collaborating with a 24-year-old artist who was inspired by my story and dropped out of school at 21 to pursue art. We’re working on an event called “DemoCrazy” on June 12. His company is called “Lewa.” I’m happy with my life.

FAB: Take us through the creative process of designing the “Outside the Box” collection with Ashluxe Fashion.

Lemi Ghariokwu: For creatives, the process can vary. Sometimes a brief takes time to develop, and other times it’s immediate. Ashluxe was producing a documentary about Fela’s life, and someone at Sound City recommended me. They wanted to collaborate for their fifth anniversary, and I thought it would be fulfilling to give back to the younger generation.

The team reached out to me, I connected them to my agent, and we began communicating. They needed artwork for the project, and despite my busy schedule, I committed to it. I had just 48 hours to complete the work. When I was meditating on what message to pass to the young people coming to the event, “they should learn to know who they are ” popped up in my mind. If you know yourself, you think outside the box, and you’ll keep thinking outside the box. That’s how the idea came about.

For the colours, I ran a printing business for 25 years. I know about screen printing. The colours had to be simple and limited. I asked for their favourite colours. They mentioned two colours, which I included in the visual. I sketched a box and worked out how to put the logo on it. While I worked, I constantly told myself to think outside the box. That’s how I came up with the design. I sent it in, and they liked it. Everything worked together. The ad came out and was excellent. I was proud. We need to know our story and grow into who we are.

FAB: What’s your most memorable exhibition or collaboration?

Lemi Ghariokwu: It’s difficult to choose. In 2003, I was in New York for the Big Black President exhibition. Many memorable things happened there. It was the first time I was called a legend, and it was by white people who told me my artwork had introduced them to Fela’s music. Unknown to me, I was just in Shomolu, making my designs. I realised then that my work had significant value.

During that trip, my 3-month visa was expiring, but I was booked for university tours. My British manager got me an immigration attorney who helped me extend my visa for another three months. Another memorable moment was when an American immigration officer recognised me and expedited my entry process.

I’m content and grateful for my achievements. It’s challenging to be a star; it involves a lot of work. I receive numerous interview requests for documentaries and magazines, and I’m happy to serve this purpose.

We need to learn about our progenitors. I’m working on an exhibition for the end of the year with a section dedicated to the unsung heroes of our country. People that were not taught to us in school. These efforts require intentionality, which is essential for progress in Africa. Our government is often a puppet of the colonizers. I encourage young people, especially women, to join politics. Educating women means educating a nation, and I believe they are the anchors of society. If women embrace Pan-Africanism, it will positively impact future generations.

FAB: You changed your name when you stopped being a Christian. What influenced your choice? 

Lemi Ghariokwu: I abandoned religion in 1979 after studying at the College of African Institute with Fela. My mother raised me as a Roman Catholic, and I even read the Bible three times. I wanted to be an altar server. One day, after reading “Stolen Legacy” by George G.M. James, I realised we Africans had been brainwashed. I stopped going to church and changed my name from Emmanuel Sunday. My mother, though initially upset, eventually understood my decision. She calmed down later and said, “I knew I gave birth to a rebel.”

I’m concerned about Nigeria’s current situation. In a recent interview, I was asked tribal questions, which can incite division. My fear is coming to pass, and I’m not very comfortable with Nigeria. For the interview, I had been sent twenty questions earlier. I was slightly taken aback when they told me what the documentary was about. When the crew came over, I told them I was going to answer their questions as a pan-Africanist. They smiled and said Seun Kuti had confirmed the reservation. The list of questions included tribal questions. When it starts, it spreads like wildfire.

During the last election, tribal instincts grew. Everybody started getting conscious. At a lecture in Wisconsin, I said that I am not a black man but an African. A student in class disagreed with me. She said she wasn’t an African and that the black people in America fought for so long for their freedom. Therefore, she’s black American and not black African.

Since the last election last year, tribal consciousness has grown in Nigeria. If we’re not careful, things might get worse. My parents are from Delta State. I was born in Agege, Lagos. I’ve been in Lagos all my life. I’ve only been to Delta about six times. I consider myself African, beyond tribal lines. I am an African, and we are brothers and sisters.

FAB: You are also a musician with an album. Should we expect new albums soon? 

Lemi Ghariokwu: Yes, I’m planning to do some recording soon. I have a home studio where my young son is learning to mix and produce music. Interestingly, I have a full, unreleased album recorded in 1986, with the final mix done in 1988, featuring artists like Majek Fashek and Chris Ajiko. I recorded it in the same studio Fela and Chief Ebenezer Obey used to record at. I collaborated with Daniel Wilson in 1992 for the album “Original Bad Boy.” One of my songs, “Omolakeji,” was a hit, and we even shot a video for it.

Daniel came over from Port Harcourt. Before he left, they gave him a list of people he needed to meet in the entertainment industry, and I was on the list. He sought me out, and we became friends. I had done him a favour at one point. He was stranded in his taxi because he couldn’t pay. He brought the taxi to my place, and I paid the bill. Later, he came, and he said he wanted to record an album. I played him the album I recorded in ‘86/‘88; he loved two tracks in it. He chose “Omolakeji” because he wanted to connect with the Yoruba people. We went to the studio, and when the company listened to the song, my song was among the potential hits. I used to design album jackets for EMI Records and Ivory Music, and Daniel Wilson insisted I print his album jackets as well.

Fun Zone: #FABFastFive

Lemi Ghariokwu: Italy.

FAB: If you could only eat one food for the rest of your life, what would it be?

Lemi Ghariokwu: Rice and dodo.

FAB: What would you do with an extra hour in a day?

Lemi Ghariokwu: I would listen to music or watch content on YouTube.

FAB: What are the most valuable lessons you’ve learned in life?

Lemi Ghariokwu: To work hard and put all your energy into what you do.

FAB: If you could time travel, where would you go?

Lemi Ghariokwu: I would go to the Egyptian civilisation—Alkebulan.

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