|Founder of Fuji music, Chief (Dr) Sikiru Ayinde Barrister (February 9, 1948-December 16, 2010). Pic: c/o of Siki Oluyole Records.|
AS a teenage boy, growing up in Mushin, a Lagos suburb of the 1970s, I, subconsciously, observed the unfolding interest of the people in Yoruba traditional music. Irrespective of what religion anyone belonged, it was impossible not to notice how every dawn period in the month of Ramadan included the 'Ajisari' culture, a musical known then as 'were.'
An adaptation from Yoruba traditional music, 'were,' (pronounced as wayray), was used by the then local musicians to get Muslim faithfuls awake to observe the sahur (pre-dawn prayer and meal) ahead of the day's fasting. As practised then across Lagos and most parts of Yorubaland, 'were' music, which dates back to pre-independence period of Nigeria, also grew big to become a kind of festival in competitions outside its dawn origin. Between the early 1970s till date, 'were' advanced to be known as Fuji music, a genre that has produced countless celebrities as musicians. It is also of interest to note that Fuji's followership pool cuts across religious divides as the music has been stripped of its Muslim festival origin, over the decades.
One of the hot spots in 'Were' musical activities within Lagos of the mid 1970s was the Babalosha axis, specifically, Onifade Street, in Mushin. For example, No 33, a two-storey building on Onifade Street — where I had close to seven years of my teenage — was the residence of the matron to Monsuru Akande, one of the then popular 'Were' musicians. Akande's matron known as Mama Taju (Her eldest child being my namesake) was a co-tenant. To confirm the Mushin axis of Lagos as one of the hottest spots of 'Were' in the late 1970s-early 1980s, a Fuji music star known as Shina Akanni emerged from the next house (35 or 31 Onifade Street). Akanni, whose mother used to sell ogi, (pap) would become one of the then new generation Fuji stars whose music strengthened the growth of the genre.
This review is therefore being generated based on my tracking of Fuji music, from an informed trajectory of a genre that grew under my observation. In its nearly 50 years reign, Fuji music proved to be the most resilient of all indigenous Nigerian genres with native language contents. In fact, till date, there is no genre of indigenous Nigerian music that has the wide followership and fans based of Fuji music. From the late 1970s till early 2000s, nearly every street in Lagos, Ibadan and Abeokuta, among other big cities, had at least one Fuji music group, at the grassroots level. It was a movement that spread fast among youths.
After over 40 years of blossoming on the Nigerian cultural landscape, Fuji music started slowing down on the country's popularity graph so soon in the 21st century. A late 20th century genre of musical expression known as Afro hip-hop has set in and gradually poached into Fuji's fans' base in Lagos. And with the coming of Afrobeats too, the popularity of Fuji music has been widely punctured.
One of the leading artistes of the 'Were' or 'Aji-sari' (dawn singers) period, Sikiru Ololade Ayinde (February 9, 1948-December 16, 2010), popularized the music when he named his own style as Fuji. Basically, Fuji derives its identity from the Yoruba pop-culture of 'faaji' (enjoyment), according to its founder, Ayinde (who later added 'Barrister' to his stage name).
In musical contents, Fuji started as a largely percussion music with lead vocalist dominating much of the lyrical expressions and allowing for less chorus. But from the late 1980s till date, string instrumentations such as guitar and wind instruments have been added by most of the Fuji musicians. Traditionally, the original native instruments used for either 'Were' or Fuji include gangan (talking drum), sakara (ring drum), sekere and agogo.
It is important to note that quite a list of musicians also played 'Were,' not just in Lagos, but Ibadan and other parts of western Nigeria as well, earlier or at the same period that Ayinde Barrister did. Such artistes included Dauda Epo Akara (circa1943-2005)) and Gani Kuti, both from Ibadan. In Lagos, Monsuru Akande, Sikiru (Omo Abiba), Ajadi Bashiru, Saka Olayigbade, Ayinla Yekini, Bashiru Abinuwaye, Sikiru Onishemo, Ajadi Ganiyu, Ayinde Muniru Mayegun a.k.a. 'General Captain," Kawu Aminu, Jibowu Barrister, Ayinde Fatayi, Kasali Alani, among others also played 'Were' music. However, it seemed that Monsuru Akande (circa 1949 -2005) was among the first set of 'Were' musicians to record the music genre into vinyl in the mid 1960s. His recorded song did not change the name from its popular 'Were.' But Ayinde Barrister, who recorded his own debut album shortly after Akande's, named it Fuji. The name Fuji has stuck till date, replacing the birth name 'Were'.
Between the 1970s and till the first decade of the 21st century, Fuji music ruled the Yoruba language radio airwaves and dominated streets of Lagos as well as the rest of southwest Nigeria. While it's a fact that Lagos and the entire Yorubaland of southwest makes less than 15 percent of the total landmass of Nigeria's 923,769 km, the city has always been the country's arts and culture hub. From pre-independence era till date, nearly all successful musicians and others in the creative professions used Lagos to promote their works. The advantage of being Nigeria's capital city (1914-1991) fuelled the socio-cultural energy inherent in the Yoruba people who are the predominant ethnic group in the coastal state.
For Fuji music's phenomenal rise within a short period in the 1970s, Lagos, and by extension the rest of Yorubaland, were strong factors. Also, Fuji was favourite choice of most social gatherings and musical concerts of a lot of Yoruba in the diaspora during its over four decades reign, which spilled into the early 21st century. During the 1980s through 1990s, old generation of Fuji musicians such as founder Ayinde Barrister, Kollington Ayinla, Wasiu Ayinde Barrister (later known as KWAM-1, now K1 de Ultimate), and their young ones like Adewale Ayuba, Abass Akande Obesere, Saheed Osupa, Shina Akanni, Wasiu Alabi Pasuma, Sule Atawewe, Muri Thunder, among others always had schedules full of US, UK and Canada tours.
If anyone was in denial about Fuji music as a movement, Pasuma's career proved the genre's unprecedented huge followership. As of one of the most popular artistes of the genre, Pasuma's popularity among youths attracted musicians of non-Fuji, which asserted the strength of the former 'Were' street jam. For example, Pasuma featured in the early music debut of Darey Art Alade, in a single titled 'Fuji. It was no doubt that the strong followership of the genre then Inspired Darey to feature Pasuma and titled his single 'Fuji'.
As the 21st century Nigerian music started evolving with a lot of experimental mix of hip-hop and native lyrics, the dominance of Fuji music as a genre that had gained much fans base from Yoruba language, was challenged. The coming of artistes like Paul Play Dairo (son of a Juju music legend I.K Dairo), Remedies, Tony Tetuila, Maintain, Eedris Abdulkareem, and Azadus, among others from mid/late 1990s started changing the Nigerian music by blending of Yoruba lyrics with hip-hop tunes.
It is important to note that among all the other genres that thrived on Yoruba language lyrics (taking the Lagos advantage from the 1960s), Fuji music was the most resilient. Others such as Sakara, Apala, Juju, Highlife, Waka, that thrived in Yoruba language have faded out of popular tunes, even in the 1980s. For example, Juju was already fading away until Shina Peters' two back-to-back hits Ace and Shinamania (released in 1989 and 1991 respectively) revived interest of fans in Juju music. Till date, no Juju musician has been able to get as close to Peters' last two hits.
The late 1990s' energy of hip-hop and mix of Yoruba lyrics, which laid the foundation for the upsurge in the 21st century's Afrobeats was earlier, faintly though, noticed in the 1980s to early 1990s. Musicians such as Tony Okoroji, Mike Okri (Omoge) Daniel Wilson (Omolakeji), among others also had hits in the evolving trend of using Yoruba language to gain popularity. Yes, the blend of Yoruba language and foreign-influenced musical instrumentations with English lyrics first appeared in Fela Anikulapo Kuti's Afrobeat of the early 1970s. Fela's hits such as 'Jeun ko Ku', 'Shakara Oloje', among the Afrobeat legend's popular songs had lot of lyrics in Yoruba language.
For a genre like Fuji that controlled the Lagos streets and airwaves for over 40 years, its influence on the emerging Afro hip-hop and Afrobeats of Nigeria was not surprising. Hit songs of artistes like 9ice, Olamide, Korede Bello, WizKid, Davido, Wande Cole, for examples, are heavily Fuji in lyrics and tunes. Even though Bello's 'I don Get Alert' tune is basically in pidgin English, the tune has heavy Fuji flavour. WizKid's hit 'Pakurumo' is no doubt in Fuji, lyrically. Also, Adekunle Gold and Teni, consistently, have used the street slangs inherent in Fuji to boost their Afrobeats rhythms.
While every music of mixed Yoruba lyrics and hip-hop or Afrobeats should not necessarily be described as having Fuji flavour, the fact is that the latter has created a huge fans base in Lagos on which the current success of new Nigerian music scene is built. What's been referred to as Afrobeats and Afro hip-hop are not strange to Fuji music scene. One of the biggest hits in the history of Nigerian music, a song titled 'Talazo Disco 85' would readily have passed for today's hip-hop. The song came with unprecedented beats that won the hearts of millions of music fans, even beyond Fuji followership, and shot Wasiu Ayinde into big fame.' It was a remake of his 1984 song titled 'Talazo '84''.
Also, one recalls that Ayuba's hit song titled 'Bubble', released in 1991 had the contents of percussion in dancehall styles and rhythms that Afrobeats and Afro hip-hop currently flaunt. Ayuba's 'Bubble' brought a new flavour into Nigerian music space and courted fans of mostly young people.
Clearly, history of Fuji music has shown that the genre had predicted Afrobeats and Afro hip-hop. And that Wasiu Ayinde and Ayuba, would later be among the most popular artistes in Nigerian music history, confirmed their high level of creativity, in 1984 and 1991, respectively.
Currently, Fuji music's popularity is really slowing down, going into the third decade of the 21st century. Ayinla, Ayinde (K1), Osupa, Ayuba, Obesere, Akanni, Shefiu Alao, among others are all still active. However, their efforts as aging stars need the vibrancy of the young artistes in keeping the Fuji music genre going far and regaining it's past glory.
What's the future of Fuji Music?
A brief revisit of how parents genres such as Sakara and Apala went off the radar of active studio recording in the past four decades may give an insight into the next future of Fuji music. With the emerging vibrancy of the socio-cultural spaces of Lagos and other cities in southwest of the pre-independence era, modernization of traditional Yoruba music genres were on the rise.
From that era emerged musicians like Yusuf Olatunji (1905-1978), Haruna Ishola (1919-1983), Ayinla Omowura (circa 1930s-1980) among others who played either Sakara or Apala till the 1980s. While each of the three artistes like Ishola and Omowura (Apala) and Olatunji (Sakara) made huge successes of their careers, there were quite a number of others who did not make success from music. Other musicians of the modern traditional Yoruba genres included Ligali Mukaiba, (Apala); Abibu Oluwa, Salami Alabi Balogun a.k.a Lefty, Saka Olayigbade, Oseni Ejire (Sakara), to mention few.
Why is Sakara and Apala no longer attracting many new artistes on the popularity radar after the deaths of their major proponents? These two once popular genres started losing popularity simply because they were not widely played during their reign.
For Fuji music, its strength lies in the fact that, for nearly 50 years (starting from its 'Were' origin), had created a movement; popular as a street jam. Despite Fuji's seemingly dropping on the popularity graph of Nigerian music space, currently, its streets strength is still intact.
The ability to implore Fuji music's streets strength advantage lies, not in the works of the aging stars, but in new energy. The young and emerging Fuji musicians have the advantage of age, energy and modern digital distribution networks to make the genre recover it's lost strength and get stronger, going into the next decades of the 21st century.
-Tajudeen Sowole is a Lagos-based critic and Art Advisor.