Lagbaja at 60: The enigma behind the mask

by  Toluwanimi Onakoya

As a Nigerian, you’ve most likely quoted Lagbaja’s lyrics in everyday mundane banter with friends and family. Ranging from “Show me your 32….Feyin E!” “Onigeleyi o Skentele” to “Konko Bilo.” Most of us have recited these lyrics in carefree conversations with their pals.

These phrases are just a few excerpts out of the many hit songs that the icon, Lagbaja, had put into the music stream. As a result of his popular music and the powerful messages that frame them, Lagabaja is often referred to as a music legend. It is no surprise then that Nigerians flocked to social media to wish him a happy 60th birthday Tuesday. However, despite his popularity, very few Nigerians can identify him, if he walked on the streets of Lagos.

In fact, people on Twitter could not agree on the accurate picture of an unmasked Lagbaja, to compliment their birthday greetings. Outside his music, not much is known about the afro legend; Lagabaja.

 

Lagbaja’s legal name is actually Bisade Ologunde. The Yoruba term, Lagbaja, directly translates to “anyone or nobody in particular.” The singer, songwriter had himself commented that he chose this name to make himself seem like “the common man.”  He also dons a traditional masquerade-like regalia, that covers his face with a textile mask which only reveals his eyes and mouth. Despite his relative anonymity, so much about Lagabaja’s personality can be inferred from his music and speeches and some of these things include:

He is a man dedicated to the art of music

It is easily seen that Lagabaja did not venture into the music industry for the sake of popularity and material wealth but for a deep love of the art form of music. He took up learning several forms of musical instruments, exploring different avenues of expressing his art. He obstinately taught himself to play the saxophone before perfecting and moving on to other instruments. Some of the instruments he’s so skilled at include congas, saxophones, talking drums, etc.

He does things his own way; The Lagbaja way.

Looking through several biographies on Lagbaja, his music is consistently identified as of the afrobeats genre.

In a 2015 interview with City Pages, Lagbaja rejects this premise. He states that he doesn’t call his music afrobeat, and he considers it an empty label for description. He states firmly that all he cares about are beats and drums- the music. Avid listeners of his discography can testify to this, as his music showcases inspiration from several genres.

The presence of modern sounds blending effortlessly with more traditional African sounds provides sufficient testament to this stance. Lagbaja uses his music to creatively express himself in a way that’s unique to him.

He is not afraid to get political 

While Lagbaja is known for a lot of upbeat, highlife music, he also showcases a strong political voice in his songs. He has said that he’s grown up listening to Fela and is inspired by him, many have likened his political stances to the activism of Fela.

In June 2012, Lagbaja released a satirical music video for his song ‎200 Million Mumu (The Bitter Truth) that pokes at ex-president, Olusegun Obasanjo. It mocked Obasanjo’s ambition for a third term in governance. Also in his song, “Surulere,” Lagbaja touches on politics again and talks on the state of the nation. He points out that everyone has to contribute in governing and that we are all guilty of the decrepit state of the nation.

Lagbaja presents himself as a formidable character, deserving of the status of legend. As we celebrate Lagbaja’s new year and age as well as the impressive feats he’s achieved, we would always continue to wonder about the enigma behind the mask.

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