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Lagbaja

Source: nigeriafilms.com

Lágbájá always wears a mask on stage and in photographs. He discourages any focus on himself as a personality, preferring that the curious direct their attention to his eclectic, uplifting afrobeat music and probing lyrics instead. This makes it difficult to put together a standard artist biography. But no matter. Nothing about Lágbájá is standard.

Lágbájá says that the spiritual and rhythmic power in Yoruba drumming is the true source of his music, and also Nigeria's other popular forms, juju and fuji. In fact, while he is often presented as an afrobeat bandleader, Lágbájá plays all these styles and more. His 12-piece band blends western and traditional Yoruba instruments. Wireless guitars, bass, sax and keyboards and samplers play alongside dundun, sacred bata drums, sekere, akuba and other classical Yoruba elements. The sound is aggressively modern and ancient at the same time.

Lágbájá's professional success came about in crowded, gritty Lagos, Nigeria's 15+ million capital. The year was 1993, and the country's presidential elections had just been annulled, paving the way for the rise of Sanni Abacha, perhaps the country's most notorious dictator. Amid fear and oppression, Lágbájá's visionary songs fell short of Fela Kuti's firebrand confrontations of earlier decades, but went well beyond the gentle lyrics of more mainstream singers. It seems he hit exactly the right balance, encouraging people to imagine a fairer, more peaceful society.

And then, of course, there was his unusual, selfless presentation. Lágbájá's anonymity and elaborate costumes invoke the ancient tradition of Yoruba Egungun (ancestral) masquerades. His song lyrics update the satirical aspect of Egungun, focusing attention on various undesirable social types: the habitual liar, the sugar daddy, the cynical old man, and the gossip. Lágbájá also takes on the bigger issues facing Nigeria today: overcoming ethnic differences, bringing about meaningful political reform, rebuilding democracy in a traumatized land.

Lágbájá's 1996 release C'est Une African Thing , topped Nigeria's charts that year, with trenchant hits like "Coolu Temper" and "Bad Leadership." That year, Lágbájá was a featured artist in the International Red Cross-sponsored campaign called "WOZA AFRICA," an attempt to draw world attention to the plight of "child soldiers" in African conflict zones. The campaign featuring Papa Wemba (D.R. Congo), Lucky Dube (South Africa), Youssou N'Dour (Senegal), Lourdes Van-Dunem (Angola) and Jabu Khanyile (South Africa) and Lágbájá, toured to major African trouble spots and culminated in a Paris concert. Lágbájá's image appears on the cover of a book documenting the project.

In 1997, Lágbájá followed in the footsteps of Fela Kuti and King Sunny Ade by opening a nightclub in Lagos. He performs the last Friday of every month at the Motherlan' Niteclub. In 2000, Lágbájá released three CDs in Nigeria, WE, ME and ABAMI. Together, the albums amount to a meditation on the role of individuals in society. "We have been moving away from the traditional institutions that put community at the front of society," he told Afropop. "We grew up knowing that you were part of a bigger community and that you were supposed to contribute to its growth. But over time, especially when we started having dictatorships and corruption started to grow, individuals in power started looting the treasury and corruption became a very big thing, and then everything turned into a very selfish individualistic thing. Far from what things used to be. I believe that [these albums] say that we should go back to the way that things used to be, where I was my brother's keeper and we were all part of a society, and we placed the interests of the group above the individual personal interests… You can see the same picture from ethnic nationalism. When you see ethnic groups fighting each other, groups that have lived together for many years now killing, maiming and looting, you are not thinking about 'we.'" Lágbájá won six national Nigerian music awards in February of 2001, including "Artist of the Year," "Producer of the Year," and "Album of the Year." His international debut, WE before ME was released on IndigeDisc in June, 2001, shortly before his first concert tour of the United States.


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