LET'S MEET AND GREET MR. FUJI
WITH Fuji music now acquiring an electro rock edge - in keeping with the ever evolving, fusing and borrowing tendency of African music, it is becoming difficult, if not impossible, for this generation to recognise the relevance of Mr. Fuji himself, Alhaji Sikiru Ayinde Barrister in the scheme of things. He was the one who gave the music the name. He first performed its variant from were in 1965.
Ayinde Barrister is credited with creating the fusion that brought about the musical genre. "If you know the meaning of Fuji, you know its love," he once explained in an interview. "I inherited that word, fuji from 'Fuji Mountain' in Japan, the mountain of love. It consists of love, peace, harmony; being your brother's keeper, something nice." Continuing, he said, "When I created fuji music in the year 1965, I knew I wanted to sing something about love, peace, harmony, that kind of thing. I wanted a name that would be very easy for everybody to pronounce. And I thought that a four-letter word was good. Love is a four-letter word. Fuji is also a four-letter word."
Born in 1948, Barrister began playing were music at the age of ten, singing at night during Ramadan, to wake up Muslims in readiness for the next day's fasting. "It was Muslim music at the time but people wanted me to turn professional with it," said Barrister. "I thought I should create something very rich from that. Because I wanted my music to get across every religion and not only Muslims, for every tribe not only Yoruba, and that is the reason why I created fuji music in 1965."
Fuji music has not only become rich, as music for dancing, it appeals to all and sundry irrespective of tribe or religion. In terms of richness, emphasis has been placed on rhythm where percussion instruments of varying sizes and types are employed along with group-vocal harmony singing of the call-and-response type. There is actually no basis for complaining about the contemporary state of the music's fusion which is taking it into the realm of hip-hop. Barrister himself started this fusion.
"There was a very great change between were and fuji. Were music is purely for Muslims. I really changed it and created my own style of music. I borrowed about 30 percent of the were music to create my own music. The were music in it now is not more than about 5 percent," said Barrister in 1991. But today, the were element has completely disappeared, giving way to a typical social music type which derives its essence mainly from percussion - with singers running social commentaries that are actually not structured to fit into any particular melodic frames.
However, with continuing fusion, fuji is currently borrowing from highlife and juju. Definitive melodies are beginning to emerge with the introduction of the saxophone and guitar. But in those days, instruments were specially selected to perform specific roles.
"We had just a few local instruments at that time," says Barrister. We had talking drums, cow bell, agidigbo (thumb piano) and some others. The agidigbo has since been extracted from it. Then I included many other traditional things, Shakara (a small frame drum). One leads, and the two small shakaras play different things. Then I had this jazz drum and Hawaian guitar to make it westernised. I had keyboard. I had a lot of other things. I had Iba calabash, the sekere (calabash shaker) brought in when I changed to fuji music."
A lot of dissonance and dischords can now be heard with the new, emerging fuji groups who are grappling with today's fusion - because they are not painstaking enough. They do not spend time to make sure that there are no atonalities. But Barrister took pains. "Although we used western instruments, we practised and played the music first, using traditional instruments, to make sure that everything was fine." And by fine here, he means that he ensured that the band was in tune and was not sounding flat or dissonant.
This format worked so well for him that Wasiu Ayinde who struck out on his own from Barrister's outfit immediately made it; and he is perhaps the biggest fuji act on the scene today.
Up till the eighties, Barrister's biggest competitor was Kollington Ayinla. But they both were very successful because their approaches to fuji were completely different. Barrister's rendition was based on the were progressive structure with a dash of apala, while Kollington's was rooted in juju and awurebe.
Barrister has enjoyed international exposure even though his music has not generated a global flavour. The nearest to it was his release of Fuji Garbage, the LP, in the eighties. The music was in the same fuji tradition. What was different was the message he tried to convey in English. Nevertheless, the album sold. It gave him widespread acclaim in that English speaking audiences were able to understand his vocal rendition which became the entrance point for listening to his intricate rhythms.
"I used the title, Fuji Garbage in Nigeria on the record that gave me fame," he said in an overseas interview. Why garbage? Well, when a white man says 'Ah, this is bad,' that means it's good, the opposite thing. I wanted people to know this is really good. You know, back home, some musicians like to sing abusive songs and all this type of thing. If somebody's singing something about me to tarnish my reputation, its not for me to reply with similar abusive songs. I haven't got time for it. So I decided to drop all this thing in the garbage."
Usually when Nigerian acts travel to Europe and America, they play mainly to Nigerian audiences. In some cases, the performing venues are situated in concentrations where you have Nigerians. In the case of Barrister who played in Britain in 1978 with as many as 35 sidemen and in 1981 with 30 bandsmen also appealed to white audiences. And this was for reasons of the traditional, percussion instruments that dominated the sound of the ensemble. In 1986, Barrister toured 18 states of the United States of America, returning the following year for a three-month tour.
Among Lagosian Yorubas and in fact in most of the cities in South Western Nigeria, Fuji has become the main social music type. Highlife was the thing up till the late sixties until juju music took over in the 70s with Ebenezer Obey and Sunny Ade dominating the way Ayinde Barrister and Kollington Ayinla did with Fuji.
However, in order to retain the identity which Ayinde Barrister gave to fuji, care must be taken not to allow the tendency for continuing fusion and evolution to completely obliterate the were element out of existence; and consequently, the musical genre itself.
Perhaps the most ridiculous fusion one has heard so far is the one recently articulated by Wasiu Alabi who in fact can be regarded as the influential figure behind the new wave fuji. His experiments with hip hop is pardonable but the incursion into reggae sounds completely out of place - with Fuji lori reggae on ABCOM Music stable. The video even found him dancing the rastafarian dance of Bob Marley. So, where exactly is he taking Fuji?
This fusion is ephemeral, and has not been properly articulated to marry both musical cultures together into a solid, well grounded amalgamation.
After all, fuji is the music of Muslim Yorubas, evident from the Arabic vocal inflexion. Originally, it did not accommodate guitars. The initial Hawaian type was just to give some exotic flavouring to the music. The configuration did not include bass guitars or any such western instruments that could complicate the music in terms of introducing chord structures and progressions. It gave the impression of a portable, itinerant sound created by singers and multiple percussionists.
Sikiru Ayinde Barrister is still around, only he has lapsed into semi retirement. Maybe he should continue to perform so that his influence could instruct the present.