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Author: Christopher A. Waterman
Title: Celebrity and the public in Yorùbá popular music video
Publication info: Ann Arbor, Michigan: MPublishing, University of Michigan Library

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Source: Celebrity and the public in Yorùbá popular music video
Christopher A. Waterman

Evanston, IL: Program of African Studies, Northwestern University
no. 8, pp. 3-4,7-10, 1994
Issue title: Institute for Advanced Study and Research in the African Humanities: Media, Popular Culture, and 'the Public' in Africa
Author Biography: Christopher Waterman is Head of the Ethnomusicology Program and Chair of the African Studies Committee at the University of Washington in Seattle.

Celebrity and the Public in Yorùbá Popular Music Video


Introduction: Popular culture and 'the public'

I have argued elsewhere that popular music has, since at least the 1920s, played an important role in the construction of "pan-Yorùbá" identity (Waterman 1990a). In this paper, I explore certain connections between contemporary Yorùbá popular music and "the public." Two conceptions of the public have dominated recent sociological research. In the first, associated with the work of Habermas (1989), the 'public sphere' is imagined as a zone at the intersection of state and society, part and parcel of the development of bourgeois society in Europe. [1] A second perspective—common in research on public opinion—views the public as, alternatively, a concrete social formation or a category, unified by patterns of taste and consumption. In this paper I want to develop a third perspective, one closely connected with the production, interpretation, and uses of popular culture: the public as people imagine it, and as they locate themselves within it. From this viewpoint, the "public sphere" is not a neutral zone within which discourses are played out; it is a product of discourse, a particular kind of space, richly textured in people's imaginations.

The ultimate goal of Yorùbá verbal and musical performances—ranging from "deep Yorùbá" genres such as oríkì oríle (Barber 1991) to the most self-consciously cosmopolitan styles of popular music (Waterman 1990b)—is to intensify experience and enhance the prospects and image of local actors. But the "local actors" themselves are not seen as stable, fully-constituted givens; rather, the process of performance is one of consolidating personae out of diverse, multifarious, overlapping materials, materials often borrowed from other people—a process that suggests a highly sophisticated conception of personality as an assemblage of traits, a product of sustained attention from others (Barber and Waterman, forthcoming). The social production of "personalities"—the big shot or gbajúmo, a term which Abrahams (1981:233) etymologically derives from the phrase igba ojú mo ("two-hundred eyes see [him]")—is thus intimately and necessarily bound up with the reproduction of 'the public.'

The idea that identity has something to do with location, both in the sense of lived-in places and the localities (tropical or otherwise) of discourse, is indicated in the language used by academics to describe processes of identity construction, e.g., "the establishment of subject positions." The term " 'subject position" seems to imply a kind of fixity; in this paper I will emphasize another important aspect of emplacement in Yorùbá popular music: the portrayal of movement. Yorùbá musicians cannot exist if they sit still, for accumulation and movement are linked, both in performance and in popular images of the musician. The social history of popular music under and after colonialism provides rich evidence of the links between performance, motion, and identity, and of the privileged role played by a mobile cash-earning middle layer of urban society—sailors and railway men, teachers and clerks, truck drivers and laborers—in the creation of "new" syncretic styles. Almost every jùjú and fújì musician I know, regardless of age or community of origin, has a repertoire of stories about travel, about nocturnal encounters with forest spirits (iwin) on the way home from gigs, the accumulation of patronage, friendship, and sensual experience, "wonderful" (i.e., horrifying) traffic accidents. In performance practice itself motion is verbally represented in texts, mimetically evoked by the flow of musical sound, and actualized in the dance movements and gestures of performers and audiences.

In somewhat more abstract terms, the portrayal of celebrity in Yorùbá popular music is oriented in relation to a vertical plane (a sort of tradition/modernity continuum, rhetorically expressed in depth metaphors) and a plane extending horizontally from the kin-group, the neighborhood, and the broader imagined pan-Yorùbá community out to the nation-state and beyond. From this perspective, the public construction of subjectivities has less to do with the triangulation of a fixed z-axis—here is where I am vis-a-vis tradition and change, the local and the exotic, the essential and the epochal—than the imaginative configuration of habitable places and alternative pathways among them.

The substantive focus of this paper is fújì, presently the most popular genre of Yorùbá-language dance music, and a relatively new medium of Yorùbá popular culture, the music video. Fújì music videos are multi-media spectacles centered on charismatic superstars. In them, the band-leader is presented as a diversely-constituted super-ego who draws exotic commodities and styles into a discursive field grounded in local ideologies and social relations. The bedizened celebrity moves through a succession of scenes, styles, costumes, and discourses, surrounded by friends, admirers, and patrons, and exerting his control over 'deep Yorùbá' (ìjìnle Yorùbá) idioms, imported commodities, and women. Although the ostensible subject of the videos is the star himself, multiplying and imprinting his image on everything around him, the juxtaposition of texts, musical cyclicity and texture, and visual imagery in fújì music videos also presents idealized models of the very public whose attention sustains him. These stylized representations of movement and accumulation suggest a range of alternative subject trajectories, just as they embody, reproduce, and extend the concept of a cosmopolitan Yorùbá-speaking public, unified by shared origins, interpretive competence, and patron-clientage relationships.

Fújì music videos

Fújì is a genre of Yorùbá-language popular music, performed live at parties and life-cycle celebrations—naming ceremonies, weddings, funerals, and business launchings—and distributed in mass-reproduced form on LPs, cassettes, and music video. The superstars of the genre, Alhaji Dr. Sikiru Ayinde Barrister and Alhaji Professor Ayinla Kollington, appear on television every day, and their music, played in taxi-cabs, buses, bars, and market stalls, is a ubiquitous feature of the soundscape of Yorùbá towns. In recent years, fújì has outstripped its major competitor, jùjú music, in terms of record and cassette sales and the vigor of the genres' respective segments of the live music economy. An average LP release by the Alhajis Barrister or Kollington sells 100,000 to 200,000 legitimate copies, and five to ten times as many bootleg cassette copies, distributed through informal networks.

The origins of fújì are historically associated with modernizing Islamic movements, institutionally grounded in Muslim voluntary associations and primary schools (Ansar-Ud-Din, Nawar-Ud-Din, etc.). Fújì is an outgrowth of ajísáàri music, customarily performed at around 3 a.m. during the Ramadan fast by groups of young men associated with neighborhood mosques. [2]Fújì emerged as a marketing label in the late 1960s, when former ajísáàrì singers Barrister and Kollington were released from active duty in the Nigerian Army, made their first recordings, and began their periodically bitter rivalry. Barrister is widely, but by no means unanimously, credited with coining the term fújì, which is variously linked in folk etymologies with the Yorùbá word fáàjì (enjoyment), with Fuji film (a prestige item and symbol of cosmopolitan identity), with Mount Fuji in Japan (evoking images of spirituality and tourism), and the European musical term 'fugue,' symbolizing artistry, sophistication, and authorial control.

The instrumental battery of fújì bands, derived from earlier Muslim-associated popular genres such as sákárà and àpàlà, is centered on several types of drums. The most important of these are the hourglass-shaped pressure drum ('talking drum'), an important symbol of pan-Yorùbá ethnopolitical identity, and a circular ceramic frame drum called sákárà, associated since the late 19th century with Muslim identity. Fújì bandleaders have also experimented with bàtá drums—closely associated with the thundergod Zàngó and Egúngún masquerades—and kàkàkí, the long trumpets used to salute sacred kings in northern Yorùbáland. Appropriations of Western instruments—for example the Hawaiian or pedal steel guitar, keyboard synthesizers, and drum machines—have largely been filtered through jùjú, a competing genre of popular music with roots in Afro-Christian culture. [3]

Figure 1

Performances at all-night celebrations are the main source of remuneration for most fújì musicians, although the importance of record royalties and booking fees increases as one moves toward the top of the superstar hierarchy. LPs and cassettes released by record labels account for only a small percentage of sales; the bulk of mass-reproduced music involves pirated dubs of commercial recordings, and recordings made on portable cassette recorders at live performance events. Live and recorded fújì performances are not "pieces" of music in the Western sense; they are more like meandering paths than bounded "works." Diverse motifs, styles, texts, and registers are alternated and layered: a given performance may move through a succession of Yorùbá folk songs and proverbs, Muslim cantillation, Christian church hymns, highlife classics of the 1950s, jùjú songs, Indian film themes, talking drums and drum machines, and dance moves derived from break dancing, martial arts, and football. In an introduction to his 1989 video Music Extravaganza, Barrister provides a concise description of his compositional procedure: "a series of musics, artistically composed; one style, another style, one style after the other. Fújì," he continues, "is an artistic composition whereby styles are utilized within the structure of the music." One could go a bit further and suggest that style is the structure of fújì music.

Yorùbá popular music video, a form which began to attract a mass audience in the early 1980s, is bankrolled by Lagos-based record labels (Orikun Ibusun, Decca W.A., EMI). The videos are planned, shot, and edited by entrepreneurs who gain technical experience working for the Nigerian Television Authority and taping naming, marriage, and funeral ceremonies on private commission. A sound recording is produced first, and the video is more or less synchronized with the rhythmic flow and rhetorical patterns of the performance. The visual channel is used to present various aspects of the superstars charismatic persona, and to reinforce a sense of emplacement and of movement between places roughly parallel to that established by the textual and musical channels. The medium of video projects the intensively syncretic and aquisitory aesthetic of fújì into multiple sensory dimensions.

Rented from video clubs, purchased in the marketplace, and broadcast on national and regional television, music videos traverse "public" and "private" domains. They are viewed in peoples homes and in a variety of public settings (beauty parlors, bars, voluntary association centers). My experience of watching music videos in peoples homes in Lagos and Ibadan suggests that even in the most domestic settings the viewing of music videos is neither "private" nor "passive": guests come and go, and people talk almost continuously, a running commentary which is often less about the music than the bandleader (his wealth, his costumes, his fancy car, his sunglasses, his girlfriends).

A few verbal snap-shots will give a crude impression of the pastiche-like texture of these videos:

  • Yorùbá proverbs concerning character, destiny, and the supernatural are enacted as mini-plays by popular television comedians
  • A brief clip of the Cameroonian football star Roja Mila kicking a goal and shaking his buttocks in celebration becomes the basis for a dance step called "The Roja Mila," the directions for which are sung in a tense, nasalized vocal style evoking the muezzin's call to prayer
  • A high-fashion models nylon-clad legs are carressed by the cameras gaze as the bandleader approvingly compares them to Roja Mila's legs, and to the legs of Argentine footballer Maradona
  • News clips of Nelson Mandela's release from prison and reenactments of the Sharpeville massacre, taken from a commercial film, shift into close-ups of hair-cut styles (the Mandela, the Burkina Faso, the Santana) and then into footage of the bandleader in military uniform leading an exuberant crowd including a few Rastafarians down a Lagos street
  • A proverb about the power of the lion over subordinate animals is visually overlain with images of lions, in the form of travelogue-style footage and rampant lions supporting a European crown
  • A child dances to the fújì groove in a disco, sporting jeans and a backwards baseball cap, his image refracted by mirrors and spinning lights; moments later, the same child appears in traditional Yorùbá dress, cruising through the lagoon in the back Barrìsters motorboat (Figure 1)
  • The bandleader sings a song about the inevitability of death, while an actor painted in blue with white skeletal patterns, drawn straight from the Yorùbá travelling theater tradition, does away with a succession of dramatis personae: a group of children, a poor farmer, a Christian preacher, a Muslim àlùfá, an oba, and a wealthy merchant. When Death enters the bandleaders parlor—outfitted with fancy stereo equipment and expensive furniture—he is dismissed with a contemptuous wave of the hand. The superstar is immune to Death, at least within the framework of the ongoing performance: if you kill the singer, you kill the song. (Figure 2)

The play of images, styles, texts, and a wide ranges of quotations and citations is oriented around the celebrity personality, who moves in and out of a series of scenes. Even when he praises his wealthy patrons, consorting with them on-screen, the effect is to augment the bandleaders' personality. Oneiric glimpses of mosques, sunsets, dancers' bottoms, aquariums, talking drums, bush spirits, and plastic flowers circulate around the multi-dimensional persona of the fújì superstar: pious Muslim, good-timing ruffian and man-about-town, master of "deep" Yorùbá idioms, millionaire entrepreneur and transnational porteparole.

Some unifying techniques of fújì video

The shifting textures, images, and motifs of fújì videos are unified around a core set of techniques. Among the most important of these is the invocation of "deep Yorùbá" rhetoric. Fújì singers constantly incorporate bits and pieces of òwe (proverbs), oríkì (epithets, praise names) and other genres of verbal performance. Certain stereotyped phonological, syntactic, and semantic patterns—repetition, parallelism, the naming of individuals and groups—are one of the main means by which such "traditional" items are recognized by modern urban listeners. If, for example, a fújì singer uses a formulaic pattern which links the colors of a series of birds—the blue touraco parrot, the red àlùkò, the white cattle egret—to a series of natural materials—indigo, ochre, chalk—listeners are immediately aware that a traditional item has been cited. They may not all, however, be able to unpack the full range of alternative associations of each image—for example, the association of cattle egrets with misfortune—or relate a given item to the vast hinterland of related texts in various genres. What is important in this context is the knowledge that something "deep" has been cited, and that the singer has rhetorically connected himself, and his listeners, to a body of traditional lore regarded as common property. The technique of deploying items and patterns consciously identified (and objectified) as elements of "traditional Yorùbá culture" runs right through and helps to unify fújì performances.

A second unifying feature of fújì performance practice is, as I've already suggested, a high degree of intertextuality. Yorùbá poesis is perhaps best viewed as a huge pool of floating elements—proverbs, praise names, riddles, prayers, incantations, songs, divination verses, laments, witticisms—which performers draw upon in constructing texts relevant to their particular circumstances. In "deep" Yorùbá forms such as oríkì, the boundaries between textual items and between genres are highly permeable, are in fact expected to be permeated. As Karin Barber has phrased it, "not only are the units composed at different times and by different people; each performer of a collection of units, in the process of transmitting them, leaves her mark on them. The actual performer of any given text is only the last person in a chain of people all of whom have had a hand in the production of the text" (Barber 1984:511).

The model of the text as a contingent construction, a series of image clusters made up of separate and independent units derived from multiple authors and sociohistorical contexts, is clearly reproduced in contemporary popular performance styles. In fact, the reach of incorporation has been extended to include materials made available by Islam, colonialism, the African diaspora, and the global culture industry. As John Collins and Paul Richards have noted, "an important part of the appeal of "popular" music in West Africa is the range of references upon which it is based, and the delight an audience takes in decoding these influences and quotations. Listeners are reminded of the way they have come and the route they may hope to travel" (Collins and Richards 1982:132). This sort of intergenre and intercultural decoding is a very important source of pleasure for Yorùbá fújì fans. [4]

A third aspect of the production of significance in fújì videos is musical sound. It would be possible to set up an abstract continuum from text-focused genres such as oríkì to music-focused genres such as fújì or jùjú. In fact, all forms of Yorùbá performance combine these two principles in various ways: the efficacy of oríkì texts has something to do with the way they are uttered, with the timbral grain and intensity of the speaker's voice and the temporal density of phrases; and even the most dance-oriented music is likely to have rhythmic patterns built up from surrogate speech formulas. Any given performance of fújì music involves continual shifts in the balance between speech-mode and dance-mode. Some sequences are more densely packed with language than others; but throughout, musical sound unifies the pastiche of representations and arguments by providing a continuous and densely textured aural stream.

The rhythmic structure of fújì, like much West African music, is the product of relationships between temporally-staggered patterns, distinguished by pitch and timbre so that the listener can appreciate their "apartness" as they savor the densely layered cumulative texture. In a typical fújì band, variously-sized pressure drums (dùndún, gángan) and frame drums (sákárà) play interlocking patterns, while the sekere rattle, a calabash struck with ringed fingers, and a rack of tuned iron bells (agogo) played with sticks mark off the cycles of musical time. The agogo player, for example, typically plays a continuous stream of fast pulses, alternating regularly between his right and left hands. By setting up a motor pattern which shifts across the various bells, he generates a melodichythmic gestalt that can be varied in subtle ways (leaving out a stroke here and there, changing one of the constituent pitches, and so on). The brilliant timbre and high pitch of the agogo allows it to cut through the dense rumbling texture of the drum parts, and to serve as an orienting pulse for dancers and musicians alike. Rhythms shift subtly in the course of a performance, various aspects of a composite pattern being silhouetted for the listener by variations in the constituent parts. But variation is usually limited by the principles of rhythmic interlocking and cyclicity; if a supporting part is altered too much, the resultant rhythms unravel. Changes in metric organization (e.g., from 4/4 to 12/8) are usually bridged by the maintenance of a steady pulse at some level of the complex polyrhythmic texture.

Figure 2

The gross morphology of fújì rhythms does not tell the whole story. For a rhythm to draw the listener in and get them up and dancing musicians must make subtle microtemporal adjustments among the interlocking parts, tiny discrepancies between entrances which give musical time a flexible, organic feeling (Keil, forthcoming). Types of rhythms are distinguished not only by the macro-patterns created by the interlocking instruments, but also by the ways in which phrases "breathe" relative to the main dance pulse. The dance pulse is continually negotiated among the performers, and the difference between a first- and second-rate band, between a dead rhythm and a live one, a hit tape and a dud, a successful ceremony and a social disaster, has much to do with such subtleties. These flows and textures—vividly evoked in the metaphor of "rolling" which can be appled to music or to life in general (Zé kan yi?, Are things rolling?)—are central to the production of affective coherence in fújì videos. Verbal texts refer to, describe, and evoke places, while music establishes patterns of cyclicity and fluidly moves the performing/listening subject from one place to another.

Dimensions of the Superstar Personality

The portrayals of personality and spower in fújì videos cohere around certain themes, juxtaposed or superimposed within and across various media (music, sung and drummed language, visual imagery).

Master of Traditional Knowledge. The fújì stars control over "deep Yorùbá" knowledge is asserted through the use of formulaic speech. Bandleaders adopt nicknames such as "Father of Explanation," "Alhaji of the Elders," and "Owner of the Divination Figure for Creating Songs." Animal fables are often used to praise patrons and, more importantly, the bandleader himself:

A gbéré wa dé
Àwa ló lódù orin tuntun
Báwòko bá ń seré
Kyekye mááfohùn lye oko
Àròyé nise ìbakà o
Igbe kíké nise eye
Bólóògbùró sé lóhùn tó
Ó sì foríbale fOba orin
Àtàròyé ìbakàào
Àtigbe kíké ise eye
Báwòko ò mórin 'wáá
Àròyé kí nìbakà máa rí wí?
Igbe kí leye ó wule ké lásán-lásán?
Kí lolóògbùró óò fi ohùn orin ko?
We bring our show
We are the masters of the new song.
If the àwòko bird is singing
Let no other lesser bird make sound
Babbling is the work of the Canary
Chattering is the work of birds
However beautiful a voice the Speckled Pigeon has
She must still bow down before the King of Songs.
With the babbling of the Canary
And the chattering, the work of birds,
If the àwòko doesnt bring songs
What kind of babbling will the Canary manage to produce?
What kind of chattering would the birds bother to do?
What song would the Speckled Pigeon use her voice to sing?

In several of his recordings, Kollington cites a proverb about the power of the lion over subordinate animals—"its not just any forest animal that can face off with a lion; they will be beaten"—to position himself vis-à-vis competing bandleaders. This rhetorical strategy is supported by images of lions, derived from travelogue footage, and rampant lions supporting an English crown.

Fújì singers also rely heavily upon oríkì, although their use of them tends toward the broad and shallow end of the spectrum. The Barrister LP omo Aráyé opens with the following invocation, derived from the corpus of oríkì:

Emi lomo bá ò rígn, a ò gbdo sebo
Bááò rákàlà, a ò gbdo so sorò
Bá ò bá rí wolé-wòde, a ò gbdo wolé toba
I am the child of "If we don't see Vulture, we must not offer a sacrifice
If we don't get a Hornbill, we musn't perform the ritual
If we don't meet the guard outside, we musn't enter to see the king." [5]

Following the standard practice of oríkì performers, Barrister uses this formula, redolent of "deep Yorùbá" tradition, to establish his own performative potency, a kind of auto-oríkì ("I am the child of X..."). In fújì performance the citation of oríkì is more than a self-conscious way of invoking Yorùbá tradition: it is also a mode of linguistic self-actualization which activates the subjects potentialities. Barber (1994: 13, fn 2), for example, cites a story in which a man salutes himself with his own oríkì, thereby invoking the essential qualities embodied in the text, and enabling himself to solve a life-threatening problem. If few members of Barrister's vast audience are able to provide a detailed interpretation of his personal oríkì, the association of formulaic speech with the activation of self still carries substantial rhetorical force. Such citations of "Yorùbá tradition" reinforce the superstar's claims to "deep" knowledge as they help to configure the particular sort of public—a culturally and linguistically competent public—upon which his celebrity depends.

The Pious Muslim. Fújì music is associated with Muslim identity, and record companies generally time the release of fújì LPs to coincide with Muslim holidays (Ramadan, Id el Fitr, Id el Kebir, etc.). Many fújì recordings open with the standard prayer to Allah:

Là iláhà illa'llahu
There is no God but Allah

Segments of Qu'ranic text are frequently quoted in performance, usually in the relatively tense, nasalized, melismatic vocal style associated with Islamic recitation. In music videos images of mosques and of passages | the Qu'ran in Arabic script are common, as are references to popular Muslim individuals and voluntary associations.

Big Man/Man of the People. Idealized norms are expressed in the terminology used to describe call-and-response, leader-and-chorus singing: the solo call is elé, from the verb lé, "to drive something away from or into something else" and the chorus—conceived as an element of musical structure and as the social group responsible for its production—is the ègbè, from the verb gbè, "to protect, support, or side with someone." Robert Farris Thompson has suggested that "it does not matter, according the canon of African call-and-response, how many new steps or verses [a] person elaborates in his head; if he is of ugly disposition or hatefully lacking in generosity or some other ideal quality, then he may never be given a chance to elaborate his ideas in public. His creativity may be void if the chorus finds him beneath contenpt in a social sense" (1974:27). However, the "meaning" of leader-chorus singing in Yorùbá popular music has been tranformed as musicians have moved off the ground and onto raised stages; adopted amplification which effectively drowns out audience responses (apart from the practice of "spraying," or pressing money to the bandleader's forehead); and hired their own portable chorus to provide support. The "chorus-as-public" has been transfomed into a "public-as-audience."

Still, the links between professional musicianship and begging, and the general association of musicians with unsavory behavior, are important factors in contemporary portrayals of fújì superstars. The fújì scene is focused on the wealthy Muslim merchants—celebrities in their own right—who support the best-known bandleaders. On the other hand, fújì musicians typically go to some lengths to draw connections between themselves and "the common people." In the early 1980s Kollington adopted the honorific Baba Alátíkà, or Father of Ruffians, linking himself to an urban sub-culture of motor touts, ogógóró (distilled palmwine) houses, prostitutes, and "area boys." In tabloids focused on the popular music scene, the public was invited to share its interpretations of the "down-and-dirty" populist terminology coined by the bandleaders:

The use of the word "alátíkà" came first from the composition of Alhaj Ayinla Kollington. In that piece, Ayinla first described himself as "Baba Alátíkà"—meaning Alátíkà patron. Since then, the word Alátíkà has become a popular slang among certain sectors of the music public and especially Kollingtons fans. The slang "Alátíkà" is mostly used in public places like beer parlours, 'ogogoro' and 'burukutu' brothels as well as motor parks and market places....

On the surface, "Alátíkà" seems to mean "Atiraka" or "Atàpáta dide"—meaning self-struggling and self-supporting respectively. But viewed within the context of use, it runs counter to the meaning of the words "Atiraka" and "Atàpáta dìde." Essentially, the category of citizens that accepts the use of "Alátíkà" to describe themselves and their admirers is too known to need expatiation....

Could we understand alátíkà as one of the "nonsense words" musicians evoke to raise emotional sentiments? ... If you are proud to be alátíkà or know the origin or derivation of the word "alátíkà," drop a line to this column (The Entertainer [Ibadan], 9/82:14).

This characterization of the bandleader as "alátíkà patron" signals an important shift in the public image of the professional musician. The fújì superstar, to a greater degree than his "traditional" counterpart, now has people beneath him. He is a client of the wealthy, a patron of the poor. To the elites who support him he is a praise-singer; in the eyes of the wider public he is akin to a chief. Like the university-educated tabloid columnist, he simultaneously looks down at the public, associates himself with them, and, as a public personality, depends upon their response.

In their videos Barrister and Kollington often appear in public places—streets, markets, plazas—amidst huge crowds of common people, being joyfully cheered, carried on the peoples shoulders, and so on. If the bandleader draws wealth and influence from connections with elite patrons, another source of his power is revealed in such tableaus: his generosity and empathy towards the huge, and largely disenfranchised, population of fújì fans. In fact, this is the socioeconomic sector in which most bandleaders started their careers—the economically marginal world of auto mechanics, bricklayers, and local bands. Narratives of the successful careers of fújì stars, recounted in the tabloid press—sometimes accompanied by cartoons with blank speech balloons, to be filled in by the reader—provide vivid models of upward mobility. Of course, in the end the superstar returns to his air-conditioned mansion (e.g., Barristers sumptuous "Fújì Chambers" in Isolo) while the majority of his fans continue their 'self-struggle' for survival.

Master of Enjoyment/Playboy. Fújì musicians know how to party. They create and regulate special worlds of time and sentiment, texturing and pacing social interactions and encouraging subjective states such as igbadun (enjoyment, "sweetness perception") and ituraka (relaxation, "unfolding of the body"). The establishment of musical time is closely associated with the physical pleasure of dance. If music is a mimetic embodiment of dancing, bodies are also represented in song texts. Fújì lyrics frequently invoke a kind of playful sexiness, switching abruptly from themes of Islamic piety and "deep" Yorùbá philosophy to erotic teasing focused on references to ìdí or ikèbè (buttocks, the latter term perhaps evoking the image of bèbè, beads worn by women on their hips while dancing). Shaking buttocks are the consummate symbol of the pleasure of dance. One second-tier fújì bandleader in Lagos has gone so far as to adopt the honorific "Ikèbè King." In a recent video, Barrister adopts the line "Somebody jealous me, because of my ikèbè" as a repeated refrain (this might be construed as an anatomically specific mode of self-praise).

Images of women are ubiquitous in fújì videos. Shots of womens faces wreathed by plastic flowers, of women on the bandleaders arm or in his lap, women in the traditional buba and in high-fashion dress, women dancing (generally with their backs toward the camera) evoke one of the basic themes of Yorùbá big man discourse: control over women and over their reproductive powers. In the urban slang mode, flirtation and requests for display are common. In Fújì Garbage (1988), Barrister sings:

One day I was just merry-go-rounding
I saw two sisi ('sisters,' young women)
One sisi be secretary, one sisi be caterer
I say, "Ladies, excuse me, I want to be your lover"
Dem dey say "alright!"
I say I be musician, Doctor of Music
"Well," "alright!"
I'm musician and professional
I am proud of my profession

And then a leader-and-chorus pattern:

Dance the backyard He dey
Her sexy eyes He dey
Her beautiful legs He dey
Above all character He dey

Despite the seemingly salacious nature of some of the song texts, the portrayal of females in fújì videos tends to reinforce conservative norms concerning proper behavior, the importance of character over physical beauty, and the value of women as an index of male power and popularity. Textual and visual representations of women in fújì music videos are an important idiom for actualizing and reproducing male power. However, as suggested by the sequence cited earlier, in which Barrister compares a fashion model's legs to those of footballer Maradona, one must be careful not to assume equivalence with the use of women's bodies in, say, American beer commercials.

The Traveller. Although fújì bands regularly tour England and, since the late 1980s, cities in the US with major concentrations of Nigerian citizens or large audiences for African popular music, their live and recorded performances are generally not tailored for consumption by non-Yorùbás. Relatively few Yorùbá musicians have chosen to live permanently outside of Nigeria; the most commonly cited reason to leave home for the alluring but treacherous fields of transnational commerce is to "capture the golden fleece." In essence, fújì musicians tour overseas in order to raise their status at home.

If fújì superstars are big men, they are also transnational porte parole; they venture "outside," bringing home to their patrons and fans the latest styles, technologies, and images of transnational space. Fújì record jackets feature photographs of cars, planes, university degrees, designer fashions, sunglasses, wristwatches, and other indices of cosmopolitanism. The musician's role as sense-maker at the point of articulation between local concerns and global capitalism is charged with ambivalence and danger. Alhaji Kollington opens his 1990 hit Fjì Rpopo with a prayer to Allah, and then shifts immediately into a warning concerning the unreliability of friends:

Kìíse gbogbo ènìyàn lo f o dé
sora f'áyé mo tenun mn
Ìr oríìsíríìsí lo yí e ká o
Äni o rò wipé kò lè dà e o
Àwon lo se ik pá ènìyàn
Ìr díe, oj díe
O nlo j kí e erù ayé, má bá mi
Afeni tí Olórùn bá yon
Lo lè ko ayé já o
Ayinla Kollington, mnra bo mi o
Not everyone wants us to come back (from an overseas tour)
Beware of the world, I insist
Different types of friends surround you, oh
The people you think cannot betray you
They are the ones who will bring about your death
A few friends, a few days
That is what scares me about the world, help me
Only the person chosen by God
Can pass safely through this world
Ayinla Kollington, prepare me to proceed on my way, oh!

This quite typical sequence portrays the world as a dangerous place, a zero-sum game in which one cannot trust even friends. The narrator, portraying himself as the victim of his enemies' competitive machinations, establishes an empathetic bond with the listener, corroborating certain aspects of daily experience in urban Nigeria. The sequence ends with Barrister appealing to himself for salvation, another example of the rhetoric of self-actualization.

Competition for access to patrons and to overseas touring possibilities is fierce, sometimes involving the use of magical medicines and curses. On Fújì Garbage Series III (1991) Alhaji Barrister vigorously disputes rumors that he had been arrested for drug smuggling at Heathrow Airport:

Lead: Dey no catch me for London, na lie dem dey talk
Chorus: Ireńlá! Big lie!
Polici no catch me for London, na lie dem dey talk
Ireńlá! Big lie!
Immigration no catch me for London, na lie dem dey talk
Ireńlá! Big lie!

The superstar musician must construct patronage networks that overarch cultural, linguistic, and national boundaries. On the 1991 release Fújì Garbage Series III, Barrister opens with a description of his success in London

We dey for Great Britain where we perform for peoples enjoyment
We dey for Great Britain where we perform for peoples enjoyment
Òyìnbo (white) people dey dance Fújì Garbage for every corner
Naija (Nigerian) people dey dance Fújì Garbage for every corner
Jamo (German) people dey dance Fújì Garbage for every corner
Akátá (African-American) people dey dance Fújì Garbage for every pubhouse
DJs dem dey play Fújì Garbage for British-i radio
When I dey sing, people dey dance-i-o
When I dey sing, people dey dance-i-o

This text, swept along on an intensely charged dance rhythm, extends the image of local patron-client networks converging on the bandleader out over transnational space.

Mastery of American popular culture is also an important parameter of rhetorical control. On his 1982 LP Fújì Americano, Alhaji Barrister, singing in Islamicized style and imitating an urban African-American dialect, takes us to a dance party, warning that "Youd better dress well and move well; and dont fuck around with another mans babe, because that other man might be a mother-fucker. And a man with a .45 (millimeter handgun) is a man with an argument." These images index a general view of American culture as beset by endemic violence, an image bolstered by television shows such as Dallas and CHIPS. Fújì videos show the strong chroreographic and sartorial influence of Michael Jackson and mainstream rapper M.C. Hammer. In one recording, Barrister sings the praises of Akeem olajuwon, Yorùbá star center for the Houston Rockets, describing the art of dribbling in pidgin English and Yorùbá:

Baki-ball eré fll
Ä wa gbá sókè, a tn gbá síle
Baki number 1, baki number 2, baki number 3, baki number 4
O yára jù báàlù sín ewon
Bíi tAkin omo olájwon
Àwa gbà basketball
Basketball, an exciting game
First you bounce it up, then you bounce it down
Basket number 1, basket number 2, basket number 3, basket number 4
You throw the ball quickly into the net
Just like Akeem, son of olájwon
We dig ('accept') basketball

Although whites are rarely described in any detail in fújì texts, stereotypical images of the òyìnbo as master of technology are occasionally registered. In the song "Destney World" Barrister transports the listener to Orlando, Florida and describes in Yorùbá the wonders of òyìnbo technology: "We entered a big lift; suddenly the lights went out, and all the òyìnbos screamed, 'Oh, My Mother!' "

These scenarios of overseas adventures, aurally framed with imported musical technology, construct popular images of the West (Ilu òyìnbo) and trace the movement of the bandleader, wrapped in the protective garb of Yorùbá poesis, across the boundaries of culture and commerce. Few of Barrister and Kollington's fans have the money to fly from Lagos to Mecca, London, and Orlando. However, the cosmopolitan images, texts, and musical paraphrases of fújì video hold open the virtual possibility of such mobility, providing a schematic "map" of the superstar's trajectories.


Fújì singers often refer to a wide though vaguely specified mass of listeners, omo aráyé ("people of the world" or, more to the point, "people of the world who understand Yorùbá"). When, on his LP omo Aráyé Alhaji Barrister announces his intention to offer philosophical counsel to Yorùbá-speaking humankind, he is at once bolstering his own image as a master of "deep" knowledge and laying claim to a mass audience. The strategy of extending one's rhetorical pull over the widest possible field also involves particularizing descriptions of sub-categories within the mass audience. Perhaps most common is the identification of a succession of social types—market women, school children, businessmen, teachers, farmers, urban workers, and so on—claiming them as fans and inviting them to participate in the dance. These textual/visual representations are strategies for constructing "the public," an internally diversified social formation unified by patterns of musical taste and consumption.

The movement of the bandleader/superstar through diverse spatial and discursive contexts suggests, in mass-mediated form, that the enlightened fújì fan can study the Qu'ran and enjoy imported wine; adorn himself in agbada and fila or jeans and backwards baseball cap; interpret oríkì and operate a motorboat. As I have suggested, this public projection of charismatic identity depends vitally upon movement in time, visual space, and language; it is less the consolidation of a subject position than a tracing of alternative subject trajectories. "Yorùbá tradition" is home, but it is, at least potentially, a mobile home, a set of techniques for living in the contemporary world.

Yorùbá musicians and audiences regard performance as a mode of accumulation, as well as a means of expression. Yorùbá music videos are packed with representations of the bandleaders control over things and persons. They present a multimedia image of the superstar as a master of public performance, of the poetic texts, cool dance moves, and flowing grooves which draw his audience in about him like a garment. "Let the cloth of my popularity not be torn from me," sings jùjú star King Sunny Adé; "Cover me, please, cover me." When Barrister sings "My music is fanimorous"—a neologism formed by adding the English suffix "-ous" to the Yorùbá word fanimnra, meaning to be intimate with someone, or to draw something (people, clothing) close in around you—he reveals the links between popularity, adornment (perhaps the quintessential publically-marked mode of accumulation), and protection against uncertainty. Without a public the superstar musician is naked, a quintessentially private state, associated in public settings with madness. The public presentations of self upon which the production of celebrity depends always carry risk, the chance that ones flaws will be exposed, that competitors will succeed in their attempts to penetrate the protective layers of fans, patrons, and magical power.

Fújì bandleaders know, through experience, that the public which patronizes their music on a mass scale must be continuously defended and actively reproduced. "The Public," from this perspective, is both a socio-demographic aggregate and an imaginary space within people negotiate their sense of participation in a collectivity and formulate strategies for self-advancement. The fújì fan who appreciates the quotation of a Yorùbá proverb and identifies paraphrases from American popular culture, who takes delight in the latest Lagosian slang phrase, and marvels at the imported commodities which adorn the video superstar, affirms, through these interpretive moves, his or her membership in "the public." The verbal, visual, and musical images of big-shots and common people, leaders and followers, clients and patrons, lend "the public" a familiar social form, one with long-standing roots in mercantilism. Vivid portrayals of mobility, the accumulation of commodities, and the assertion of mastery over diverse technologies, styles, and discourses provide fans with a sense of extensibility and power, while at the same time suggesting an array of pathways to personal success. It could, I think, be argued that Yorùbá popular culture is, at its core, about the creation, maintenance, and exploration of options. While this concern with the "preservation of alternatives" (Barber 1994:13) is clearly one means of coping with the economic exigencies of post-Oil Boom Nigeria, it also has deep roots in the complex socio-political history of "Yorùbáland."

To paraphrase George Lipsitz citing Rahsaan Roland Kirk (Lipsitz 1990:3), popular culture "ain't no sideshow"; it is a primary mode of engagement between private and public aspects of self. Neither the expression of an organically unified weltanschauung nor a local franchise of the postmodern condition, fújì and other voraciously incorporative genres of Yorùbá popular culture are privileged loci for the production of celebrity and the subjective configuration of public space.


Barber, Karin

1984 Yorúbà oríkì and deconstructive criticism. Research in African Literatures 15(4):497-518.

1992 I Could Speak Until Tomorrow: Oriki, Women and the Past in a Yoruba Town. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press.

1994 The secretion of oríkì in the material world. Passages 7:10-13.

Collins, John and Paul Richards

1982 Popular music in West Africa: suggestions for an interpretive framework. In Popular Music Perspectives, ed. D. Horn and P. Tagg, 111-41. Göteborg and Exeter: International Association for the Study of Popular Music.

Habermas, Jürgen

1989 The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere: An Inquiry into a Category of Bourgeois Society. T. Burger, trans. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Lipsitz, George

1990 Time Passages: Collective Memory and American Popular Culture. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

Thompson, Robert Farris

1974 African Art in Motion. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press.

Waterman, Christopher A.

1990a 'Our tradition is a very modern tradition': popular music and the construction of pan-Yoruba identity. Ethnomusicology 34(3):367-79.

1990b Jùjú: A Social History and Ethnography of an African Popular Music. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

1. This 'sphere' is in Habermas' view a crucible for those critical discourses upon which the development of liberal democracy depends. If there is a public sphere in Nigeria parallel to Habermas conception, one in which critiques are formulated and debated, it is certainly more a patchwork of institutions, networks, and contexts—universities, labor unions, newspapers, electronic media, record labels, bootleg tape distribution networks, markets, ritual performances, beauty parlors, beer parlors, and periurban palmwine spots—than a well-defined zone. However, recent popular resistance to the Abacha regime's usurpation of the peoples right to be cheated by another generation of professional politicians does suggest the continuing evolution of something like a public sphere, situated in a thousand and more places.

2. Ajísáàrì groups, generally led by a singer who is accompanied by a chorus and drummers, walk through the neighborhood, stopping at patrilineal compounds to wake the faithful for their early morning meal (sáàrì). Ajísáàrì lyrics consist of Qu'ranic texts interlaced with Yoruba praise poetry and proverbs, performed with an eye toward extracting alms from the praises.

3. Jùjú musicians often complain that fújì musicians are 'musical illiterates' who have no idea what to do with such instruments as the Hawaiian guitar and synthesizer. In fact these instruments are used in fújì recordings as coloristic effects or signalling devices, or to play melodic sequences without harmonic support, a technique consistent with the norms of the genre. In recent videos, fújì musicians have begun to use chord patterns—usually an alternation between the tonic (I) and dominant (V7) chords basic to Western harmony—but these, too, seem to play a kind of rhythmic-cum-textural role, another interesting tone color used to mark the cyclicity of the drum patterns.

4. These qualities of Yoruba poeisis should not be equated with the Derridean notion that 'there is nothing outside the text.' Yoruba musicians and fans have a very clear understanding that music is a specialized mode of labor, practiced by particular actors and institutions in accordance with their interests.

5. Karin Barber (1984:517) has traced this very item through various 'traditional verbal genres, including proverbs, Ifá divination verses, and oríkì.

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