Waiting for Paradise as re-defined by the masked one

Published: Wednesday, 20 May 2009

As Lagbaja is set to break his silence with two new albums, he embraces culture but disowns hip hop

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’Nonye Iwuagwu


Once you see a pregnant Fulani woman, you can be sure that the child she will produce is going to be light in complexion. Rather than pausing to take any reservation from some scientist on this proverbial philosophy, one can simply link it to the music of the unrepentantly masked man, Lagbaja. Based on the profile he has built in the past 15 years or so, you can be sure that even if any album that comes from his stable lacks any other element, its entertaining quality will be intact.

This, again, is one of the major factors that define the two new albums he is about to release simultaneously. In Sobolation and Bling, two of the songs that are already being promoted, for instance, Lagbaja treats social subjects of gossiping and artificial life style in a satirical and light manner that promises to keep even those guilty of the syndromes laughing and dancing. Far from being idle, talking drums, horns and the guitar give the songs a filling experience, while the back-up singers banter in slang in the kind of call-and-response that also define most of his earlier works.

Incidentally, although Lagbaja is vey excited that he is dancing back into the market again, after a hiatus that has worried a good number of his fans, he appears to have been so much scared by pirates that he is keeping the title of one of the albums to his chest. He gives one as Paradise, however.

His words, ”I am proud to say that to the glory of God, we are coming with two albums. I don‘t know about many people who have been able to do that - Don‘t say I am blowing my own trumpet o. But the truth is that the last time we had two albums together was 2000. This time around again, we have two, and we are very happy about it. But the only one whose name I will tell you is Paradise, because it has a message very dear to my heart. God created this country and made it for us like Paradise. We are the ones that cause all the wahala on ground.”

From a distance, the title, Paradise, could make one think that the Egungun musician himself may have gone the gospel way. Perhaps, Lagbaja has ‘met Christ‘ and become ‘born again‘ as the clichés go. But he says his album is far larger than such a religious genre. He notes that he has done gospel numbers when occasions demanded such, but ”Lagbaja is not a gospel artiste the way you or other people are defining it,” he adds. ”I play music - secular music. That is my calling. I could play in any style. But, as I said, this is not to say that one genre is good or bad. As a matter of fact, some of the most powerful music is church music. It is probably church music that many of us grew up with. Yes, we could hear, Gbadi-gban-gbadi, gbadi gbangbadi on the road, but we also grew up with Christian music tradition. So, for me, there is no conflict at all.

”As usual, in Paradise, there are also songs that are yeye songs. For me, what we call some yeye songs do not mean they are meaningless. They just mean songs created for fun; as in saying, ‘Let‘s enjoy ourselves.‘ In Paradise, there is alujo and everything danceable. There are songs in English, pidgin etc.”

Lagbaja is still tidying up the marketing and distribution end of Paradise. For one, the pirates that are ever lurking in the market are preventing his sleep from being restful. Piracy had, indeed, scared Lagbaja so much that he had found it difficult to release Africano Party Two, which has been on the card for some years. But he says plans are now on to release it probably before the end of the year, even though he has had to remix it to eliminate some areas he considers outdated. He says piracy, in Nigeria, is tough, entrenched and institutionalised - with some marketers insisting that unless an artiste sells at a particular price, they will either not touch the work or even get it pirated.

Lagbaja acknowledges the influence of afro beat in his music, but insists he does not play afro beat. ”But Fela is a big influence on me,” he adds. ”In my music, you get juju with my talking drum; hear afro beat and other influences.Will you call Skenkele afro beat? Will you call Faraway afro beat?”

While noting that, contrary to speculations, he and Femi Kuti are in good terms, he adds that afro is still doing well internationally.This is evident in the fact that a good number of musicians now play afro in the US and beyond. The reason it is not very popular in Nigeria is that it is complex.

”So also is Africano. If you are playing computer programming music, it is a different ball game. In a place people can read music, scrore and analyse music, they will like to play afro or africano. But the noise that we hear in Nigeria is the noise of Hip Hop. Hip hop? Well, good. No problem. But the bottomline is all about trying to ape America. The question we must always ask is: what do we have ourselves to offer. But I am not blaming anybody because you have a right to choose what you want to be.”

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