FUJI NOTE: Album Review || Inside KWAM 1’s ‘Let the Music Flow’

Fuji musician, Wasiu Ayinde Marshal, also known as Kwam 1. [Photo credit: Encomium Magazine]
Fuji musician, Wasiu Ayinde Marshal, also known as Kwam 1. [Photo credit: Encomium Magazine]

Every Fuji artiste is a king in his respective kingdom. Alabi Pasuma dictates the narrative in the accentuation of the zeitgeist. Saidi Osupa owns the space in the creative exploitation of Yoruba folklore and idiomatic expressions. Adewale Ayuba owns the magic on the dancefloor. Wasiu Ayinde (Kwam 1 or K1) calls the shot in the realm of experimentation with sound.

Considering Fuji artistes’ facility for proclamation of royalty and kingdoms, coupled with their resentment for rivalry, very few among them would agree with this assertion and concede spaces to others. But the assertion remains valid, still.

In terms of form, structure and harmony in album recording and engineering, very few artistes pay attention to details like K1. So while a critic can listen quickly to a regular Fuji album and scribble a few words, quite effortlessly, it takes conscious efforts to listen and perhaps re-listen to a Wasiu Ayinde album before one could get a better grasp of the sound.

The conventional Fuji album is a freewheeling project, an organized and less chaotic extension of the topsy-turvy outdoor (live) performances. Unlike pop albums that are recorded in tracks, each spanning about 4 to 6 minutes, Fuji albums are recorded in an average of an hour, separated into two distinct sessions often dubbed ‘Side 1’ and ‘Side 2’.

Although the careful ones scribble a few items on the CD jacket to name and separate different parts of the album, the actual sound flows endlessly from the beginning to the end, with no real distinctively distinguishing elements. And this is largely because Fuji relies heavily on fast tempo dance tunes, and it contains different elements that must be bound together to create a uniform whole. In the era of cassette players in the 1990’s, even, the music would run violently to the rear end of the magnetic tape of the cassette, before bringing the dancefest to an abrupt end.

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The contemporary Fuji artiste, notably in the 2000’s, adopted a somewhat novel approach to album recording: the hour long dancefest spiced up with two short tracks–––often an abridged rendition of pop, hip-hop, Afrobeat or jazz sounds, or sometimes a mismatch of all––– thrown on both sides of the album. The logic, it appears, is to begin the rendezvous on a slower and less chaotic note, before plunging the listener to the hour-long dancefest.

But beginning from the 1990s and most notably with the release of ‘Fuji Fusion’ (Okofaji Carnival) in 1999, K1 has made conscious efforts to reinvent the norm and make the Fuji album less chaotic, in form and style, with appealing outlook. So he did with segmentation what he had earlier been doing with sound: ‘Fuji Fusion’ had eight distinctively separated tracks, all recorded in an average of eight minutes.

The tradition was sustained in the release of ‘Big Deal’ (2003), the critically acclaimed even if controversial ‘Flavour’ (2005), and the immensely popular ‘Instinct’ (2011) which had the hit track ‘Boju boju’, later re-christened ‘Eyin Mama e Senpe’ by enthusiastic DJs, joyful fans and embittered foes.

In the period between the release of ‘Fuji Fusion’ (1999) and ‘Instinct’ (2011), there were a few albums that deviated from this style–––‘New era’, ‘Faze 3’, ‘Message’, ‘Statement’, ‘New Lagos’ and, maybe, ‘Gourd’––– raising some suspicion among fans. With the release of ‘Let the Music Flow’ last December–––which came after a long hiatus and after the delayed release of his well-publicized EP, ‘Fuji: The Sound’––– K1 has erased all doubts.

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The album begins with ‘Igbayi ti dara’, an extension of what the regular fan would get at a typical K1 live show on the Island or in Ikeja. The track ends with a somewhat patriotic footnote: a generous supply of hope and, by extension, expectation of a better tomorrow to the recession-ravaged Nigerian.

The eponymous track, ‘Let the Music Flow’, sees K1 experiment with a brilliant fusion of jazz and a tinge of pop, for the most part unrestrained, while preaching love. A part of the allure of K1’s enduring presence in the culture space in the last four decades lies in his desire to experiment, to take Fuji out of its traditional jurisdiction. Sometimes it works, sometime it doesn’t; but when it does work, the result marvels. The track may not gain airplay in Mushin and Ajangbadi but it would not attract scorn in the posh areas of Ikoyi and Victoria Island.

The point has been made that you can hardly divorce Fuji from ribaldry and K1 proves this in ‘Mode mode’. The track begins with what appears a gospel-inspired tone and, within seconds, quickly swerves toward sleaze as the artiste pleads with girls in skimpy dresses to ‘cover up’ because the old man’s phallus stands erect. “Alaso penpe e padi yin mo; kini agbalagba n le l’abe aso,” K1 sings. With that subtly risqué line, the track was condemned to the skip button fate in the hands of the religious Nigerian. The next track, ‘Adura l’ebo’, speaks to the import of prayers and, expectedly, will connect with many Nigerians.

In the traditional hierarchy of Obas in Yorubaland, the Oba of Lagos appears not in the top five. Even though the oft-changing dynamics of politics and power and their influences on culture have made the list go through ceaseless manipulation in the last few decades, it’s quite inconceivable that the Eleko would be placed above, say, the Alaafin of Oyo in any traditional hierachical list—however ahistorical the drafter chooses to make it appear.

Yet in ‘Oba’to’, by far the track with the deepest cultural influence in the album, K1 embarks on a tour of Yorubaland, setting out from Iga Iduganran in the heart of Lagos Island. He moves, first, to Ijebu-ode, then to Ibadan and later to Oyo, before finally making a detour at Ile-Ife.

That decision, harmless as it seems, provides some legitimacy to the pedant’s enquiry: on a track with such significant cultural optics, why would the artiste place Idumota above, first, Ibadan, then Ijebu-Ode and Oyo and, curiously, Ile-Ife?

The possible answer isn’t far-fetched: there is the convenience and safety that geography offers which history does not, especially when the discourse revolves round Yoruba Obas’ traditional hierarchy. And from Lagos to Ijebu to Abeokuta to Ibadan to Oyo and, finally, Ile-Ife, one could notice some fidelity to geography rather than history in the artiste’s decision. For years, the subject of hierarchy among Yoruba Obas has been a source of controversies and given K1’s relationship with almost all of the Obas, it may be suicidal to attempt to ply the route of history.

Tracks like ‘Onirisa Ogunwusi’ and ‘Olubadan Adetunji’ follow K1’s tradition of eulogizing royal fathers, as he did in ‘Flavour’ (2005) for Osolo of Isolo and in ‘Instinct’ (2011) for Elegushi. Away from the royals, Rotimi Ajanaku, Ayo Abina, B.K.K and 1960 Bet also earned worthy mentions. ‘Toko Tiyawo’ has words for the couple while tracks like ‘Ariya ma n son’, ‘Ma logba arami’, and ‘Alujo mi’ are all evidences of how age has done little to K1’s famed energy during long-hour live performances and his ability to make fans and foes subconsciously hit the dancefloor.

Until last December, K1 had no album out in a space of about five years. Yet, the artiste hardly left people’s consciousness: he headlined big shows and got mentions when and where it mattered in the culture space. With the release of the album, fans can be rest assured that for the artiste who marks his 61st birthday today, the music has just begun to flow.

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