Album cover of 'Beasts of No Nation', 1988. 

Lemi Ghariokwu is a Nigerian artist, who is best-known for designing cover artwork for Fela Kuti and other musical acts from Africa. He has been dubbed the "King of Afro Pop Art". Together with artists like Cal Schenkel (Frank Zappa), Hipgnosis (Pink Floyd) and Pedro Bell & Overton Loyd (George Clinton) Ghariokwu is one of the best known album cover artists who gave one specific musician or band a visual identity. Some of his album cover art makes use of sequential illustrations and speech balloons. 

Early life and career
Ghariokwu was born in 1955 in Agege in Lagos, Nigeria. His birth name is Emmanuel Sunday, but he later changed his name. His first name, "Lemi", was based on the fictional detective 'Lemmy Caution' in Peter Cheyneys' detective novels. Ghariokwu, however, knew him from the comic book adaptations and his friends felt he shared a physical resemblance, hence his new name. Ghariokwu attributes his artistic side to his mother and sister. As a child he  enjoyed drawing household objects and cartoon characters like Walt Disney's Mickey Mouse. However, his father wanted him to become a mechanical engineer and sent him off to the Yaba College of Technology Secondary School. Yet Ghariokwu returned to his earlier interests and started making portraits for people in his neighborhood.

Fela Kuti
In 1973 a pub owner asked Ghariokwu to draw a huge painting of kung fu legend Bruce Lee, since the film 'Enter the Dragon' (1973) was such a success. As luck would have it, a journalist, Babatunde Harrison, saw the poster and wanted to see more of his works. During his visit he noticed a drawing depicting Fela Kuti, which Ghariokwu had drawn as an alternative album cover for Fela Kuti's record 'Roforofo Fight' (1973). Since Harrison knew Kuti personally he introduced the young artist to the Afrobeat musician, which kicked off a 25-year long collaboration. Ghariokwu illustrated the front and back covers of almost all of Fela Kuti's albums, including classics such as 'Alagbon Close' (1974), 'No Bread' (1976), 'Kalakuta Show' (1976), 'Yellow Fever' (1976), 'Zombie' (1977), 'Sorrow, Tears and Blood' (1977), 'No Agreement' (1978), 'Shuffering and Shmiling' (1978) and 'Beasts of No Nation' (1989).

Despite Kuti's insistence, Ghariokwu refused to be paid. In his opinion the artworks were done out of love for his music. So instead, Kuti signed him an official document, which gave him free access to his concerts. Ghariowku mostly worked at Kuti's home and enjoyed complete creative freedom.

Other album cover work
Apart from Kuti, Ghariokwu also designed covers for other African musicians, such as Osita Osadebe, Sunny Adé, Miriam Makeba and Lucky Dube. Outside the continent he illustrated covers for Gilles Peterson and Bob Marley. Throughout the 1970s ,Ghariokwu also published political cartoons in Young African Pioneers, making one colour and one black and white cartoon a week. Some of these were used as rebellious posters by the YAP Movement, until they were banned by the government in 1977.

Cartoon by Lemi Ghariokwu

Ghariokwu is a socially conscious artist, interested in the black civil rights struggle both in Africa as well as abroad. He criticizes colonialism, war and racism, but also problems within the African community itself. As a committed Pan-Africanist, Ghariokwu tries to counter stereotypical ideas about his continent and portray a more positive image. His work is a mixture of colourful painting, collage and cartoons. His album covers for Kuti are visualisations of his song lyrics and follow a narrative pattern. One of his most well known designs is the cover for 'Beasts of No Nation' (1982), which depicts Congolese dictator Seko Seko Mobutu, Nigerian tyrants Mohamed Buhari and Tunde Idiagbon, South African Prime Minister P.W. Botha, U.S. President Ronald Reagan and British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher as demons. The cover gained more notoriety when the British satirical magazine Punch reprinted it in their pages.

The back cover of Fela Kuti's 'Zombie' (1977) is notable for featuring a tiny comic strip by Ghariokwu. The story illustrates the lyrics of the song 'Mister Follow Follow'. Ghariokwu depicts a black African who blindly obeys his superiors. As they cross a cliff, the blindfolded man plummits down, while his superior safely walks to the other side. Even in the water below, Mr. Follow Follow doesn't understand how he was duped. His superior mocks him and reminds him that "he'll never catch up" with him. 

Lemi Ghariokwu has designed over 2,000 album covers in his 40 year spanning career, including for Polygram Records, Kennis Music, EMI, CBS, Sony and Ivory Music. His work has been exhibited worldwide in many museums, from Lagos, New York, Norway, Paris to London. The Museum of Modern Art in New York keeps his painting 'Anoda Sistem' in their permanent collection, while he also holds a dual membership there. In 2004 he was nicknamed "King of Covers" by the British music magazine Observer. To promote the Broadway hit musical 'FELA!' in 2010 Ghariokwu sprayed and painted a bus full with images of Fela Kuti. This 'Fela-bus' became an official marketing vehicle.

Comic from the back cover of Fela Kuti's 'Zombie', a visualization of the song 'Mr. Follow Follow' which criticizes the African submission to the West.

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