a fräulein in a rough world
culture. popculture. culture. anything missing?
was gibts denn zur Maske des Dirigenten zu sagen, bevor mir da nur doofe witze und vergleiche einfallen?
das hilft wohl (nicht, dass ich das vorher gewusst hätte…):
The simplest idea, rooted in another culture is sometimes a challenge to translate in all its potency. Such is the case with Lágbájá. In the Yoruba language, Lágbájá means variously, somebody, anybody, everybody and nobody, in particular. It is a specific reference to the identity-less. In this lies its power. For Lágbájá wears a mask to obscure his identity and sings on behalf of Africa’s faceless masses. It is the words and the concepts rather than an individual identity or personality, which rise to supreme importance in this music. Always performing in a mask, identity obscured from the audience, Lágbájá is as much metaphor as personality.
Lágbájá arose from Lagos, the same gritty urban commercial capital of 15+ million Nigerians, which gave us Fela Kuti, King Sunny Ade, Oliver deCoque, Barrister and numerous other seminal African musicians. Like these many predecessors, Lágbájá is a product of that urban environment and the spirit of his times. First emerging in the wake of the annulled Nigerian presidential elections of 1993, which ultimately swept Dictator Sanni Abacha into power; this was a dark time in Nigeria. It was a time where people literally feared to speak their mind in public or private, where killings and disappearances became commonplace and where the common people had no one to take up their cause. Into this darkness came Lágbájá, speaking words of wisdom to the masses. Less confrontational than the words of the late Fela Kuti and more direct than the proverb and metaphorically based messages of King Sunny Ade, Lágbájá posed a model for how to rebuild a better society and to renew Nigeria. The message resonated with the masses, both because of its simple truth and because of the medium. For Lágbájá’s anonymity and elaborate costumes also invoke the ancient tradition of Yoruba Egungun (ancestral) masquerades.
In Yoruba cosmology, the wise spirits of the deceased and other unworldly beings serve a role of intermediary between God and humanity. Such spirits are seen as closer to God and therefore able to act as an effective go between for humanity and their creator. Periodically they manifest themselves as physical beings in the form of Masquerades, where their words and actions impart wisdom, which is considered to have emanated from a higher source. In particular such Egungun or masquerades are known to manifest in times of critical social challenge. In many ways, Lágbájá carries this tradition into the modern world. Emerging from a time of social challenge, he brings words of wisdom to the people. The absence of a personality forces his audience to focus on the message and gives the words greater power. On deeper look, the lyrics carry powerful messages in a variety of voices familiar to Nigerians. A part of Lágbájá’s brilliance is in the creation of a wide range of cultural caricatures, which are put forth through song to convey a message: the habitual liar, the sugar daddy, the cynical old man and the gossip. As such caricatures have been used throughout traditional Yoruba performance culture to speak about undesirable social habits or to point the way towards a more equitable society, Lágbájá develops these characters to talk about the vast problems facing Nigerians today. How can we face the challenges of rebuilding democracy? How can the youth rise up to be a stronger generation than their forebears? How can we stop this petty fighting amongst us and see that we are all struggling together?
Lágbájá’s music has many levels of depth and appeal. On the simplest level, the music features catchy refrains and great arrangements with instant appeal. His unique ensemble contains half western instruments and half traditional Yoruba instruments. Wireless guitars, bass, sax and keyboards and samplers are matched by dundun and sacred bata drums, sekere, akuba and many other classical Yoruba instruments for a sound which is at once poppy and ancient. Drawing on a wide range of influences from traditional rhythms to juju, afrobeat, fuji, pop, jazz, rock and more, the music speaks to a wide audience. Remarkably, in its specificity towards a local audience, Lágbájá’s words and music speak universally about the challenges that face us all. There’s also a lighter side. Such songs as “Feyin E” (smile) and “Konko Below” (meet me down there, sometimes misspelled “Koko Below”) are just simple dance fun, celebrating the need to remember life’s simple pleasures.
Since 1993 Lágbájá has grown in popularity to become one of Nigeria’s top artists. In 1996, Lágbájá’s C’est Une African Thing, became Nigeria’s most popular album of the year. Anthems such as “Coolu Temper” and “Bad Leadership” provided powerful messages to a popular and danceable beat. Lágbájá swept the country and jammed the airwaves like a new craze.
In 1996, Lágbájá was a featured artist in the International Red Cross sponsored campaign called “WOZA AFRICA,” attempting 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 with a live concert in Paris. The resulting documentary book sports a powerful picture of Lágbájá as its cover image.
Come 1997, Lagbaja opened Motherlan’ in Lagos, where he performs the last Friday of each month to this day. Lágbájá also performs at a wide variety of concerts and events in Nigeria where he is one of the country’s most popular performers. In concert, Lágbájá, who provides lead vocals, saxophone and occasional bass lines, fronts a virtuoso ensemble of jazz musicians grounded by the heavy rhythms of the traditional Yoruba drummers. Musical and visual depth is added by female harmonies that provide a striking counterpoint to Lágbájá’s powerful stage presence. Visually stunning, with engaging stage routines, a night with Lágbájá transforms any venue into a piece of Africa.
In 2000, Lágbájá released three CDs in Nigeria, WE, ME and ABAMI. The trilogy of albums was compelling individually, while working together as a thematic set. Their massive popularity, paired with Lágbájá’s growing impact as an artist, led him to win six national Nigerian music awards in February of 2001, including “Artist of the Year,” “Producer of the Year,” and “Album of the Year.”
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