By Alex Bratt

20 August 2015 - 01:59

Photo courtesy of Stranger Lagos, used with kind permission.
In Lagos, you find out about good events and places by word of mouth or through Facebook. Photo ©

Stranger Lagos, used with kind permission.

Just as we launch UK/Nigeria 2015–16, a new season of cultural exchange between Nigeria and the UK, the British Council's Alex Bratt recommends some cultural highlights in Lagos.

Fashion (and coffee): Stranger Lagos

In Lekki, just off Lagos Island, in the southern part of Lagos, on a residential, suburban street, you can find a boutique and café called Stranger. It's one of the more expensive areas in Lagos. The houses are all behind six-foot walls with iron gates. You wouldn't ever think there was anything behind them, except people living their lives, but then you start to discover all of these companies and businesses that you otherwise wouldn't know about.

There's a premium on external advertising, so some of these businesses avoid having shop fronts, and you find out about them by word of mouth. A lot of places have Facebook profiles or are featured in Okay Africa. If you're interested in a particular thing, it's good to find it on Facebook, and then you receive automated recommendations, and that's how you build up a collection of good things to do. You just need to check the opening hours and turn up at the right place rather than just saunter along.

If you visit Stranger that way, you knock on the door, head in, and then you come into this incredible clothes shop and café, built with bits of really modern design and bits of Lagos iconography, e.g., road signs and bricks to build tables and shelves. It sells lots of Nigerian designs and pocket squares made with traditional dyeing techniques. It's got a Japanese coffee drip and a selection of malt whiskeys, and they hold special nights there with film screenings and baked goods. The coffee is the best coffee in Lagos. It's brewed in vacuum siphon filters – they have iced coffee as well, and tea and whiskey from all over the world.

Stranger Lagos is owned by a guy called Yegwa, who's really friendly and collects Yohji Yamamoto. Sometimes, that's also for sale.

Music: Freedom Park, Afrika Shrine and others

Freedom Park is one of the few green spaces in Lagos. It used to be a colonial prison, built in 1882. The exterior of the park is the original prison walls, and there's still some of the original buildings inside. It is a real haven. The stages are often used for music nights or theatre performances (including the Lagos Theatre Festival, in which the British Council is involved) and there are also lots of outdoor food places, including the only vegan or vegetarian restaurant in the whole of Nigeria, but also Chinese food and pizza. They show football on the big screens there.

They have a night on, called Afropolitan Vibes. It's on on the second-last Friday of every month and is run by a guy called Ade Bantu, who's got a band, and they invite people to perform with them. London artist Afrikan Boy played there, but also Yemi Alade, who just won the MTV Africa Award for Best Female. She's got a song called 'Johnny', which everyone should hear:

Freedom Park has got a really amazing design. Even though it's this place where you go to have a good time, they haven't forgotten the history, so there's a museum area that talks you through the history of the site, but it also features a stage where the gallows used to be. It manages to be thought-provoking, not just fun.

One thing you definitely have to do when you're in Lagos is visit the Afrika Shrine. Fela Kuti used to play at the original Shrine. It was burned down by the government in 1977, and they rebuilt it. It's basically a giant industrial building on Lagos mainland, with barbecues, food, drink and pool tables. Every Thursday and Sunday, Femi Kuti (one of Fela's son) plays there, unless he's touring. He usually plays for three hours. He has a huge band – saxophone, keyboards, singing – and 20 dancers, and it's like nothing else on earth. Again, you have to follow it on Facebook to check whether it's on or not. It's free on a Thursday.

There's also Wizkid, who's just been remixed by DrakeDavido is very popular. It's very infectious, you hear it everywhere in Nigeria. You absorb it, kind of by osmosis, and before you know it, you're singing along.

Pop-up events: A Whitespace Creative Agency

There's a place called A Whitespace Creative Agency, in Ikoyi, which is a mix of older buildings and skyscrapers. Again, you'd have to follow them on Facebook, because they don't always have something on. It's a gallery and a place for events. They do lots of fun stuff. For example, they do a series of pop-up events, which might be chefs from around the world, film screenings, music. Pop-up shops drive me to despair elsewhere, but when it's somewhere where the infrastructure is not conducive to your standard kind of shop – rents being so high – it's different. Surely, there'll come a time when the place is saturated and it becomes equally annoying, but it's just so different in Lagos – it's quite good fun.

Film: Lagos Film Society

Nigeria is famous for its own film industry, known widely as 'Nollywood'. When in Lagos, you can't ignore it, in so far as it's very popular and it's on TV everywhere. It is worth a huge amount to the economy and dominates DVD sales. It's also really popular in the diaspora community. If you're not familiar with pidgin (a hybrid of English and Nigerian dialects), it can be hard to keep up with the dialogue.

In the big cinemas, they don't tend to show Nollywood films. Hollywood dominates. There's a cinema called Film House which was set up by a guy who used to work for Odeon and Silverbird Cinemas – they both show blockbusters.

And then there is also this alternative, small industry, as well as the places to go with it. The Lagos Film Society runs films at the Nigerian Film Corporation, which is where the federal government film department used to be, but is now largely deserted. It's an interesting old building. They do screenings of independent African films, but also work with the Goethe Institut to show films from around the world. It's a kind of film club, where you can meet people on the weekend, have a chat, and some free food and a drink.

The Goethe Institut itself, just opposite Freedom Park, is really active and puts on a lot of events. Sometimes, they put on music nights on their roof, from where you can see all of Lagos. They have a library, where you can learn German. They have exhibitions in there, as well.

As for film, I'd recommend Gone Too Far, which is about a Nigerian who's gone back to live with his family in Peckham in Southeast London, and really embarrasses his kid brother by chatting up all the locals. It's very good.

UK/Nigeria 2015–16 is a major season of arts work in Nigeria aimed at building new audiences, creating new collaborations and strengthening relationships. Join the conversation on #UKNG and follow British Council Nigeria Arts on Twitter or Facebook for regular updates.

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