FUJI NOTES: Of KWAM 1, Alabi Pasuma and the politics of identity

KWAM 1 and Pasuma (Photo Credit: E4Unaija)

With the exception of the pioneering Sikiru Ayinde Barrister, no one has pushed Fuji away from the confines of its traditional jurisdiction like Wasiu Ayinde Marshal (KWAM 1). And apart from his infusion of modern sophisticated instruments into the genre, one largely understated way KWAM 1 has done this is by adopting a near-regal demeanor while performing on stage or chilling elsewhere, a style often misconstrued as arrogance in some quarters.

(Well, frankly, the ‘arrogance’ label can hardly be separated from the artist who knows his onions and KWAM 1, a supertalented showman, will never pass the Nigerian ‘humility’ test).

For decades, perhaps apart from Adewale Ayuba, KWAM 1 has been the poster boy of ‘mordern sophisticated’ Fuji, a sound heavily influenced by a fusion of R’n’B and jazz, with special facility for the use of guitar and saxophone and keyboard.

But at the heart of KWAM 1’s ambitious experimentation, there is a conscious restraint not to deviate from the essence of Fuji sound, a clearheaded desire to continually situate the sound in the context of its primary origin.

When, circa 2000s, he was approached by the dons from Kennis Music, then the rave of the moment in (pop) music production and promotion, he remained defiant and pledged not to divorce his art from traditional Fuji sound, even as he agreed to embrace other youthful artistes playing hip-hop. That clause, it appeared, withered the agreement.

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In recent time, Alabi Pasuma appears the one artiste who has pushed Fuji to the mainstream of pop culture, remaining unarguably the most sought after Fuji act among Nigerian pop artistes.

And although in terms of sound, especially in his immediate Fuji circle, Pasuma hasn’t really done anything innovative with the genre, he has successfully warmed his ways into the hearts of many with his pseudo-funky sobriquets, street credibility and fashion style.

So, while KWAM 1 excelled in the fusion of sounds, Pasuma takes the lead in acquisition of funky names, both of them united by their desire to sell their craft and maintain relevance amid stiff competition from within and without.

But it must be stated that while KWAM 1 himself loves to acquire sobriquets (he must have harvested more than a dozen nicknames in his Fuji career), he seems to understand that there is politics to the art of naming. From Oluaye through Oluomo to Arabambi, there seems to be a thoughtful pattern, what appears a careful desire to maintain fidelity to his (traditional) root, stand out and, of course, command respect.

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Not for Pasuma.

Between the late 90’s and early 2000s, Pasuma, propelled by this incurable facility for acquisition of pseudo-funky sobriquets, declared that he was ‘African Puff Daddy’. And by adopting such condescending title, what he lacked in critical thinking, he had in artistic foresight: upon adopting the sobriquet, he successfully harvested a herd of faithful disciples, a feat one could be tempted to dismiss as ordinary if not properly dissected. For earlier before then, perhaps deluded by his poorly styled ‘Jheri Curl’, a certain Abass Akande Obesere had proclaimed himself ‘African Michael Jackson’.

But, rather curiously, Obesere attracted no disciple.

So, in a sense, where Obesere failed, Pasuma recorded success. Yet if success is measured by an artist’s ability to peregrinate the world preaching the gospel of his art, as is erroneously done among Fuji buffs, Obesere appeared a tad more successful than Pasuma.

So a puzzle raises its ugly head: since ‘success’ ordinarily attracts more crowd, does this not make tales of Pasuma’s unrivalled street credibility a little bit apocryphal? Not exactly. Here, a tiny caveat explains the puzzle: Obesere, at the height of his glory, plied his art from abroad, and was accepted with measured wariness among Fuji fans back home, especially the good ol’ conservative listeners, largely because he acquired his fame and wealth – and in equal measure, notoriety – by simply posing around as sleaze merchant.

Paso, on his part, was that artiste whose art swung delicately between the lewd and the uncouth, and he was much more known for his ability to invent and in most cases accentuate street slangs, because he was always on ground among the people, notably in Mushin. By choosing to live like a lion in the jungle rather than live like a dog in the city, Paso offered a vehicle into the mind of the ‘street’ through his art.

And, from the streets of Ibadan through Osogbo and Abeokuta and beyond, he indeed was a ‘lion’, feared by not a few and revered by many, perhaps until he fell into the trap of self-demystification, with his needless genuflection before KWAM 1 during the Arabambi title debacle. But that notwithstanding, Paso still enjoys an appreciable degree of street credibility among his peers.

Of course the indices are loud and clear: first, a bus ride through these cities without Paso as fellow passenger is quite unfathomable: whether in form of stickers or mere artistic grafitti, he would be there on the windscreen, or the bonnet, or elsewhere, flashing you a toothy smile, doing what his fans would prefer to tag ‘demo’.

To be frank, the love was quite crazier than imaginable: When, on the cusp of the millennium, he discovered his trademark Kangol cap, the street went wild and kangol found its way to the top of a sea of human heads. Not relenting, he came out with a shirt that had ‘Nautical’ boldly inscribed on it, and everyone on the street adopted the shirt. Sometime in the early 2000s, he baptised his daughter with the name ‘Aliyah’ and, pronto, every semi-thinking human with a female child turned ‘Popsie Aliyah’.

So in essence, both within and without the studio, Paso is more than an artiste: he is both model and zeitgeist.
And so when he became ‘African Puff Daddy’, an unimaginative moniker that sounded as condescending as it was brainless, he won not a few converts: Remi Aluko became ‘African Fuji 2Pac’; Wale Tekoma became ‘African Sisqo’, and the list was endless.

Of course, Remi Aluko, notorious for his obsession with artless imitation, imagined he had the magnetic aura of 2Pac; Tekoma, a not-so-excellent performer, on his part fantasized about Sisqo’s stage magic. What both lacked in talents, they hoped to earn by appropriating names.
But beneath the thinking that produced these names, beneath this nauseating fascination with ‘pop’, lies what clearly manifests itself as deep-seated inferiority complex, a not-so-thoughtful construction of artistic identity, a rather low conception of self-worth.

Today, Fuji faces its most devastating challenge not actually in the gradual disappearance of its loyal fans but in the crisis of identity being faced by many Fuji acts, largely because of their brainless approach to combating the competition from pop artistes. Of course, the result is the pop-inspired saccharine that litters the Fuji space today.

First, it’s why an Alao Malaika who recorded his first album in the 90’s would want to stoop before an Olamide Bad’oo on stage, apparently in a bid to remain relevant and possibly seal a collabo deal.

Again, it is why a Remi Aluko would perform non-stop for six hours, moving from one brainless adaptation of Wande Coal’s hit to another, literally singing no original Fuji song of his.

It is why an artiste of Obesere’s standing would run after an obscure pop artiste in Agbado-Ijaiye, apparently in a bid to stage a comeback.

Yet, on the other hand, despite that he didn’t release an album for about half a decade until last December, and has clearly defined his relationship with pop acts in a way that would not bastardise his authentic Fuji sound, KWAM 1 remains the favourite among the nouveau rich and hoi polloi. Ditto Ayuba, at least to some degree.

So from KWAM 1, we have learnt that music is universal because sounds and instruments could be borrowed from anywhere around the globe to accentuate the local, even while ensuring that one’s own original flavour isn’t lost. But again, and more importantly, we also learnt that an artiste’s identity is both personal and political—-and remains essential for sustained relevance.

This template, interestingly, may be all what’s needed to prevent an otherwise beautiful genre from joining Juju and Apala at the morgue.

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