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Cityscapes: Lagos, West Africa’s playground


Cityscapes: Lagos, West Africa’s playground

Cityscapes | Explore the vibrancy of what Lagos has to offer and visit scenes in monochrome with Dele Meiji Fatunla.

The traffic is a horror show, and there are too many people, but there is something irresistibly vibrant and exciting about this city by the sea that doubles as the teeming business hub of Africa’s largest economy. It is definitely a playground but one for the adventurous – the perfect place on the continent to re-invent yourself. With new hotels and bars springing up, despite a national recession, Lagos is also a place where the party might slow down but never stops. In recent times, pleasure concentrates on the Island, notably the districts of Ikoyi, Lagos Island and the Lekki Pennisula, but the adventurous should get off the beaten track and check out neighbourhoods on the mainland particularly Yaba and Ikeja, that offer pockets of culture and excitement.


The best way to hear music in this city of greats is to stand on a street corner, and listen out for the sounds of the city, but as you are likely to very quickly be sworn at for being a swegbe, mumu or any other choice local epithet, your best bet is to respect yourself and find some of the places in Lagos that will indulge your passion. For the music that Lagos is famous for, Fela’s brand of music Afrobeat, you need go no further than The Shrine in Ikeja. Bogobiri House, a boutique hotel and bar, which runs open mic events that draw a crowd every week, and the iconic Freedom Park, based in the old colonial prison in the city, which hosts ‘Afropolitan Vibes’, a monthly Friday night shindig, usually fronted by big names. For those of a classical bent, à la European classical tradition, you could do worse than hang around the Civic Centre, and the Muson Center (short for Musical Society of Nigeria). If your boat is Afrobeats music, which has put Nigeria on the map lately, any of the clubs that dot the Island will provide.


Lagos is a market; there is something here to buy for anybody who has money. For a sense of how Lagosians themselves shop, head to one of the busiest markets in Africa, Balogun Market; if you’re feeling braver you can go to some of the busier and more boisterous markets on the mainland. For a slightly more curated experience, keep to the Island and check out Alara, a new clothing and luxury store, designed by awardwinning architect, David Adjaye, it also boasts what is reputedly one of Lagos’ more luxurious restaurants.


Everyone visiting Lagos should bravely or boldly seek out a bukka; these are rough and ready local food joints, mostly aimed at the lunchtime crowd, but a convenient way to encounter Nigerian fare at eye-blinkingly low prices. You could do worse than visit the Amala Spot in Ikoyi or Ghana High Commission on Lagos Island; for something a little more rarefied, Nok at Alara boasts exquisite cuisine in a beautiful atmosphere. Lagos’s food culture is increasingly sophisticated and global, you can find everything here, from Italian restaurants to vegetarian cafes, but for trusted recommendations and the latest tips from “in the know” foodies check out the blog  EAT.DRINK.LAGOS.


Bouncing back from decades of decline, Lagos’ cinema-going culture is on the rise; local offerings still play second fiddle to Hollywood productions, but this is changing – you can catch screenings of the best Nigerian film productions at cinemas across the city. For something a little off the beaten track, check out Film Sundays at Stranger in Lekki.


Lagos is a fertile city for literature, home to some of Africa’s biggest  and edgiest literary voices, notably Toni Kan, Chimamanda Adichie and A. Igoni Barrett; to get a sense of Lagos as a writer’s city, check out Jazzhole for books, and literary events. Lagos has a growing art scene: two notable spaces to check out are Re: Le gallery, and the Centre for Contemporary Art in Yaba.


It can be easy to forget that this city of 20 million people is at the edge of the sea, so it’s worth taking some time out to find the places that remind you of it, notably Ikoyi; if you’re keen on nature and tranquillity, head to one of the quiet gems of Lagos, the Lekki Conservation Centre. If you are about the beach life, Lagos has numerous private beaches; check out Oniru beach on a Sunday for a chilled atmosphere, or for something a little more secluded arrange a visit to Pop Beach Club at Ilashe. 

Insider’s interview


‘Lagos is to me what New York was to the photographic masters of the past: a place I feel most connected to, without having the burden of work commissions. I have a self-ascribed mandate to tell its stories as I perceive them, and to be an ambassador for the amazing energy that the city radiates. I see this city as my muse and canvas. I’m lucky to be here especially at this moment in time. The world is going through a lot of changes; cities are the first reflections of these changes, either positive or negative, and Lagos especially is also enjoying something of a renaissance, with global interest across all sectors. It’s nice to be able to put a claim to what is often rumoured to be the next frontier.

The arts are respected here, more and more. The institutions and individuals investing and participating in the arts are very passionate and innovative about what they do and things are improving but could be better and we will get there.

What is necessary to survive in this city, is to fall in love with it and what it offers. Don’t compare too much as that robs you of its uniqueness. Be very adaptive, tolerant, patient and open-minded. The jewels of the city are not obvious and it can easily go from zero to a 100 real quick, so adventurousness is also a valid trait to have. In terms of what I am doing in the city right now? Same as always, asking the question: what if I strip Lagos of its colour? But more to the point, I am curating and showcasing what I have found so far to achieve the objectives of the Monochrome Lagos project (www.monochromelagos.com ) Lagos informs my work in its entirety. My work is a visual journal of how I relate with the city and vice versa.’

Logo Oluwamuyiwa, Founder, Monochrome Lagos project

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Written by Dele Meiji Fatunla

Dele Meiji Fatunla is a writer. He runs Gateway for Africa, a blog on events, culture and creative economy with a focus on Africa and its diaspora, and is communications Manager for the Royal African Society. He blogs at www.delemeiji.com Follow him on twitter @delemeiji

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