Masked singer, Lagbaja in a new interview has revealed reason why he has been covering face for the ast 3 years and more.
Lagbaja who is believed to be Bisade Ologunde is an ex-GCI student and a prominent member of Field House.
See excerpts from his chat with City People below:
When did your interest in music start?
Probably, fifteen years ago. But up till now, I don’t know why I went into music. I have been asking myself a few questions: Why did you go into it? How did you really come about this music thing? What is the interest? What do you really want? Is it fame? Is it money? However, I found it has nothing to do with these things because one can equally make money much faster from other things than music. If anybody wants to make quick money in music, there are styles of music that one can play. If you’re creative, quick money is guaranteed. An example of that is Juju or Fuji. I asked myae1f when the interest in playing this type of music started, but I found it really difficult to pinpoint, except I remember that as a kid, I used to mesmerize with musical instruments.
How long was this?
I will say when I was about ten years old. I used to peep into people’s houses just to watch their piano. I was intrigued by my first contact with a saxophone, I was about nine to ten years then. There was this guy whose father had just bought a saxophone. He was a white boy living somewhere behind where I grew up.
Where did you grow up? (Laughs) I always avoid this question.
I love to separate the concept of Lagbaja from whoever is behind the mask. I’ll like the concept to grow beyond who is behind the mask. Before me, there was someone, and after me, I hope to have other people who will be Lagbaja, Lagbaja, for me, it is more of a concept than the individual behind the mask.
Does your music have anything to do with your parental background?
…I will contend, but I think there are some contributions because I was exposed early to culture generally. I was exposed to watching epic drama presentations from people like Kola Ogunmola. At a tender age, I watched him perform live on stage. I have also watched Duro Ladipo’s Oba Koso when I was a kid.
I was 12 years old when I watched Kurumi. I think these type of things affect one’s growth, perception of culture and arts generally I grew up in an environment where we had Ayan families. I attended traditional parties and, celebrations where you watch people dancing and making merriment.
Does this explain the strong Yoruba influence in your music?
Certainly. The whole thing is the total picture of all my influences. I think the traditional culture had played a major influence.
You have been part of a number of groups. Can you talk about it?
(interrupts) What group do you know me to be a part of?
I assumed you were part of colours, which I believe was the most recent thing.
Lagbaja was never part of colours. Bisade was part of colours. People say Bisade is Lagbaja which I always deny. I have no business with Bisade or whatever.
At what point did Lagbaja emerge?
Lagbaja as a concept, I’ll say about twelve or thirteen years ago.
How did it come about?
Initially. I wanted to find an image that will represent the common man. But I found that the word, common, sounds derogatory. I thought of the word like ordinary, everybody, nobody and just somebody and from that, I picked the concept that the common man was a nobody or even somebody because it’s faceless. In trying to depict that facelessness, it struck my mind that the mask was the fastest way to show a face that has no face because the mask itself is a face. It gives you another view and another face, but behind that mask, there is actually a face. So the mask was used to depict the so-called faceless common man. But in doing that, I came up against practical problems because as a musician, you have to play, you have to sing. To play saxophone, it has to reach your mouth, you have to hear clearly on stage what is happening. All these affected the development of the mast because the initial thing we had for the faceless mask was the carved African mask. I found out that it was difficult to work with and it communicated a different thing entirely to people.
All they saw was a masquerader and that was all they were thinking about. I wasn’t projecting the direct masquerader thing, although I love the arts. I could include the dance steps of the masquerader, I could put up the act in the performance. But the whole concept was new to the people, all what they thought was that I was trying to be a masquerader playing musician.
So, I discarded the original mask and looked for something else. I discovered that a leather mask was easier to work with to give an impression. But what I found out was that people were relating it to the boxers, I mean wrestler’s mask that was predominant in the days of Mill Mascaras and stu1f like that.
Ultimately, I found out that the whole idea was lost until we got to the use of cloth. I still found out that the message was lost.
People were more interested in ‘who’ is behind the mask. It wasn’t like some marketing gimmick or some hide your face, so that the concept will be mysterious. I found out that the concept was working well for me. There were things I was pining for. For example, I love to be free and independent to go anywhere without being pointed at or disturbed. The mask concept achieved that purpose. Everything was working together naturally and this was the way it was meant to be.
That was like some seven to eight years after the initial idea came.
You said the idea is about 12 years old now, how come we are just beginning to hear of Lagbaja?
One might have an idea naturally, it might take a while to crystallize. Initially, I had something that couldn’t work or communicate the essence. People will think you are hiding your face because you’re afraid to confront people. I think that would have contributed to my initial hesitation. Furthermore, it was so large in my mind that I did not have the means to put it together. I thought it will cost a fortune.
So, for the entire 12 years, the Lagbaja concept was just on your mind?
(…cuts in) yeah, about seven to eight years.
But at what point did you start?
I think about four-five years ago.
How did it manifest itself, were you mentioning names or were you beginning to perform?
It was a concept, but when I thought I want to go ahead and do something like making a recording to introduce the general idea or probably make a video that will communicate the essence of what I had in mind, I had to sit down and find a name and since the initial idea was a faceless person, somebody who is actually nobody, somehow, the word Lagbaja just dropped into my mind as the perfect word that symbolizes the whole thing.
Why the concept of Lagbaja and not Temedu, which is also another Yoruba related word for anonymous?
Lagbaja came to my mind before Temedu. Even if it came to my mind, I will prefer Lagbaja.
When you hear people saying Tom, Dick and Harry, Tom comes into your mind before Dick and Harry and when you look into the genre relationship between Lagbaja and Temedu, there is Lagbaja, there is Temedu, there is Lakasegbe, Lamohin and so on. I have heard a story about the relationship between Lagbaja,
Temedu and co. but I think Lagbaja just dropped to my mind faster than Temedu.
My sympathy has always been with the people. Personally, I detest the word common man. I believe that everybody is a creature of God. I don’t subscribe to the concept being thrown around both in cultural and religious circles that some people are created to be unequal to others. I don’t subscribe to the view that some people are born to serve other people. I subscribe to the concept of hard work to achieve eminence.
But how does it affect your music, does it restrict your music to a particular style?
It doesn’t. The first set of people who came into contact with my music were not those you would call the common man. Over time, it has filtered down to the so-called common man. But funny enough, it didn’t start from there because I choose to be myself and not to be pretentious and try to do what I cannot. I feel that wherever I am, people appreciate the value of my work.
For example, a beautiful woman, whether she is of the royal family, whether she is literate or illiterate, there are some values in our culture that will make everybody to agree that this is a very beautiful woman. In the same vein, you might not have the money to buy a Mercedes Benz, but everybody who sees it will appreciate it as a finely built car.
How do you create your songs? Is it that you sleep and an idea just comes to your mind?
Ideas cane to my mind all the time. Sometimes, they cane as songs, like “Cool Temper.” The song just came to my mind, but the lyrics are not as they are in the final recording. What came to my mind was “Kuulu, Kuulu Temper”. I tried to sing as it came to my mind into a tape, as I started singing, my mind just went to a verse and the verse was in the final recording. What came into mind was a pure entertainment song.
What happens when an idea comes to you and you are not somewhere you can sing into a tape recorder?
At times, I lose the melody. Sometimes, what I remember are the words. Sometimes, I scribble down the words only to find out that when the thing comes as a song, the precise melody might have been lost. But I can get to a point when I don’t really feel like recording because I feet if it is a real song, l should have some substance in the form of a melody.
Why is it that a lot of your songs are devoid of critical overtones like say Fela?
Like I said, the image of Lagbaja in the minds of people is not the image of Lagbaja in my own mind. It is going to be contradictory if I am to make political statements. I should not be covering my face, if I should be making utterances that I think should touch the lives of people in terms of their political thinking.
What that means is that I’ll be directing some comments against the people who I think are destroying the nation politically and I should not be covering my face because what that will communicate, to me, is cowardice.
You tend to make use of folk songs in your music. How do you explain this? What do you intend to achieve?
I think we have some of the best music that has ever evolved. I have listened to all kinds of music.
The only music I don’t listen to is classical music. It does not communicate to me. The only classical music I listen to is pure piano, but it’s like I found out that the most beautiful music that communicates with me comes from our culture. I will like people all over the world to appreciate the depth of our culture.. ‘The first record was in Pidgin English, the second record is in Yoruba, and most of the songs are folk. They are called folk but to my mind, no song comes from heaven. One man somewhere in history must have composed these songs. It might have changed with time but it must have been started by somebody. They call folk because we can’t trace the history. I will like to document this even for future generations to hear, to learn and to know. That’s a project I am working on.
How do you enrich your knowledge of the Yoruba culture, since you want to go into its folktale, culture etc.?
It’s through books and people. Although, in the last two years, I have not done that. I used to go and sit with my grandfather. I just talk with him, speak with him and listen to him talk. At times, I record a few things from what he says and I learn a lot from it. I hope to compile these in a document. It will be a kind of document that would allow anybody who studies it in future to learn sane other things from it. I also love to watch Yoruba plays.
Although, nowadays, it’s mostly videos and a lot of them are done in contemporary languages that are devoid of the original thing that can make you learn. A lot of them are also done with concepts of Juju, to the detriment of other aspects of our culture. Nevertheless, I learn a lot from them.
In an interview granted two years ago, you said that you’re still experimenting with several types of indigenous music until you find your level. Will you say you’re still on that?
There is nothing like I have not found my level. I’ve not found my level because, for me, I love to keep experimenting. I foresee a situation where I can play music that might not be commercial. I can choose a project that will just be what I feel like documenting and I know that it might not appeal to the larger market. I hope I’ll still be in a position to have some financial independence to cope with that kind of project. I would rather not like to invite sponsors to do something like that.
I’ll rather do it exactly the way I fed about it. The way I am thinking about it is not along with its commercial viability. I might make a few Compact Disc (CDs) with it and be sure it will be there for ages.
Let’, talk about your sax, how did you start?
I have always loved the sax. There was this guy who had the sax when I was a kid, but I didn’t know it was a sax. I had wanted to buy an instrument you know, I was actually saving to buy a bass guitar, but when I got to where they had a bass guitar, I saw sax, and I had always loved the sax anyway, I bought the sax but I wasn’t playing much. I learnt to play seriously about three years later. As I grew up, I was exposed to jazz, I can’t recall how but I remember that I have been hearing something about what I eventually found, out was jazz. In the late 70s, there was jazz-funk and this enhanced my interest. It led me to more jazz. I also found out that the instrument that interested me most in jazz-funk, was the sax.
To play the sax, are there somethings one has to abstain from in order to maintain dexterity?
I am self-taught. In my environment, there was no teacher and as I said initially, I didn’t start wanting to play as a musician but it’s like I just developed the habit even in other things I do. I discovered that it’s not as difficult as most people think. I don’t drink and I don’t smoke. I exercise regularly to enhance my good health and this doesn’t make me feel any side effect from playing or blowing. I can play for six hours without making any difference.
Let’s talk about your albums. You have two now. Your first album was more of an admixture of Pidgin English and Yoruba. Why did you decide to do it like that?
My first album was released in late ‘93. The initial recording was done about 18 months earlier. The songs in the second album had been composed earlier, but I decided to keep them to my chest. Like I said earlier, the way they came to me then was the way I put them down. I can say I was less aware then, but today, I think I am a little more aware. Aware in the sense that as I was playing then I had all kinds of considerations. I wanted to be heard by a vast majority of Nigerians, so I opted to pidgin, which in my opinion was taken to the height by Fela, who also initially started singing in Yoruba and later moved to pidgin. I also found out that my general level of awareness shows in my work, that was why I went to the level where I didn’t care whether everybody could understand the language I was speaking. I opted to do the songs the way they came to me. I have a song called Owo Eko, Eko Lo Ngbe. There was the temptation to translate it to “Lagos money na Lagos he go stay”, but I decided against it.
Do the songs just come to you?
I think it was more like an experience. The phrase was not a new phrase. People say things like Owo Eko, Eko Lo Ngbe from time to time, but I wanted to communicate a message which was actually the second chorus of the song which was actually Owo Eko A Ba Mi Dele (I’ll reap the fruit of whatever I sow); that is exactly what I really wanted to say.
What about Baby Ta Ni Ko Fe Wa?
Baby Ta Ni Ko Fe Wa, came to me just like that, but it’s a colloquial term and that was how it came to me.
How about the injection of dialects like Ijebu that came in. Do you just bring that to enrich it?
I could have done it in my own colloquial Lagos Yoruba, but I opted to do it more like the way it sounded initially, that’s why you have the Ijebu language.