We Were On Top of the World': Fela Kuti's Queens and the Poetics of Space
The Afrika Shrine, Fela Kuti's night club, and Kalakuta Republic, the urban commune over which he presided, were iconic spaces in the Nigerian postcolonial imagination. However, these spaces only acquired countercultural stature when in the early 1970s young women began inhabiting them in pursuit of a life in the performing arts. The Queens, as the women were fondly known, became indispensable symbols of the Afrobeat movement. Yet, their contributions to Afrobeat have enjoyed no sustained research. This essay argues that a historiography of the Queens as social agents need account for the ways in which they navigated and aestheticized everyday social spaces beyond the Afrika Shrine. I suggest the concept of 'stretching out' space (to Kalakuta's everyday life) as critical to developing both a nuanced understanding of the Queens' contributions to Afrobeat as well as their quests for individual and collective agency. I draw on a combination of personal interviews and theories of everyday life performance to argue for a more dynamic engagement with spatiality. This essay not only rethinks the Queens' contributions to the Afrobeat subculture, but it also reconstitutes the everyday as a dialectical space of contestation around gender and agency for working-class women.