by Hortense Fuller
Nigeria's Ambassador of Fuji MusicFuji music, named after the famous Japanese mountain symbolizing love, unity
and brotherhood, has dominated the popular Nigerian music scene for the past decade. Fuji
is an enticing blend of pure, raw Yoruba traditional percussion and choral vocals that
reflect the Arabic tonality of Nigerias large Muslim population. The result is some
of the most riveting and persuading dance music in all of West Africa. Since 1993, the
hard work of the youthful "Fuji Ambassador," Adewale Ayuba (a/k/a Mr. Johnson)
and his band, the Bonsue Fuji Organization, has brought these potent street sounds of
Lagos strait to the attention of the American public. Fuji has its roots in the decades
old Were music of Nigerias Muslim Yoruba population. Traditionally, Were music is an
expression of Islamic faith during the holy month of Ramadan, acting as a rousing call for
Yoruban Muslims for their early morning prayer. As a part of the Were tradition, local
youths form Ajiwere groups which act as traveling percussive messengers, entertaining
friends and family and encouraging them to dance and arise from their sleep and slumber.
Using hand palm drums (Omele), metal percussion instruments (Agogo),
tambourines (Saworo) and gourd shakers (Sekere), the groups provide dance, singing and
celebration with their rich vocals and percussion orchestras. The ingenious transition of
Were into Fuji music was the result of the experimenting of Alhaji Dr. Sikiru Ayinde
Barrister, who decided to take Were music out of its early-morning, Ramadan context, and
add a variety of external influences (Apala and Sakara music) to the sound. The result was
a new and universally appealing music which could attract Muslims and non-Muslims alike,
and even rival the countrys popular Juju music. Fuji, with its huge percussion
ensembles and Arabic vocal inflections, immediately sounded different and yet maintained
an essence of its Yoruba tradition. The resulting Fuji music had all the ingredients for
success, attracting a huge following and a growing repertoire of talented artists.
Barrister struck it big with his ironic hit "Fuji Garbage,"
while rival musicians such as Kollington counter attacked with songs full of critical
social commentary. Adewale Ayuba represents the best of a second generation of Fuji
musicians, who are not only internationalizing the music but also adding a youthful and
energetic vigor to the already established Fuji music style. Ever the articulate
spokesmen, Adewale and his personal manager, Demi Omisore, have made it their mission to
"educate and entertain" Americans and Nigerians living in the United States.
Situated in New York, the team has concentrated their efforts of the past several years on
touring, recording and acting as cultural ambassadors of Fuji music. The fruit of such
labors is immediately evident in the excellent 1996 album, "Fuji Time," on the
acclaimed Agogo/Qbadisc label, which has also produced the classic "Cuban Gold"
series. "Fuji Time," is a crashcourse into the depth and excitement of Fuji
music, and the album showcases the 9 percussionists and three singers who comprise
Adewales Bonsue Fuji Organization. T
he album contains seven songs, the highlight being "Bubble Fans
USA," which is over thirty minutes of Fuji excitement, perhaps the closest one can
get to experiencing the band live as they perform their intricate dance moves to the
bubbling talking drums. "Fuji Shuffle," the album opener, contains a sequence of
percussive layering and tonal bendings that are awe-inspiring, exhibiting the versatility
and sound variation of this fine band. Finally, "Fuji Music Any Time," is a
successful blend of Reggae and Fuji that will definitely appeal to readers of this
publication. As Adewale explained, the decision to featuring Dancehall DJ Red Fox on this
song was because "we believe that before one can get across to a different audience,
one needs to involve a new element or singer into the mix, for example Reggae."
Indeed, the blend of Fuji and Reggae works, as the Fuji band provides a rootsy African
backing to the lyrical toasting. The combination also reflects the growing popularity of
Reggae in Nigeria, whose first ambassadors Jimmy Cliff and Bob Marley were followed by
local talents Majek Fashek and later Ras Kimono. Adewale cites Bob Marley as one of his
musical mentors along with Fela Kuti and King Sunny Ade.
Despite Adewales experimentation with Reggae and "the
possibilities of a future collaboration with selected Rap artists," his Fuji music
retains its tradition. This is evident in the traditional set-up of his 11 person
orchestra, in the energetic choreographed dance moves, and in the strong presence of
Yoruba lyrics throughout his songs. Witnesses to Adewales live performance are in
for quite a surprise, as it is a dance spectacle not to miss. A steady touring schedule
has included performances in New York at the UN 50th Anniversary Festival, Central Park
Summerstage, Brooklyns Africa Mondo Festival, the annual Kwanza Festival at
SOBs, and concerts at Tramps and Wetlands nightclubs. Nationally, touring has taken
the band to the New Orleans Jazz Festival, Washington DC, St. Pauls Minnesota, Rhode
Island and at venues on the West Coast.
When asked about his reception in America, Adewale exclaimed eagerly,
"I could not believe the terrific response of Americans to my traditional music
especially the white audiences, whose acceptance I would not have expected in Nigeria
before coming here!" The dance fervor of his performances, the high spirited
performances and the traditional Yoruban drum elements are captivating the American
audiences while providing Nigerians living in America with an authentic taste of home.
Adewale is truly taking his duty as a cultural ambassador in a serious and positive
fashion. Adewale is also striving to change the current perceptions of Fuji music, both at
home in Nigeria and abroad. Adewale is on "a mission to educate, because in Nigeria
they believe Fuji is a uneducated music of the streets... that it is only for local
people." But Adewale is changing all that, first by bringing Fuji to America and now
by enrolling in courses at Queens University College, "in order to elevate the status
and the publics perceptions of Fuji musicians."
Adewale is also on a mission to "heighten Fuji songs
musically...before there was always a slow beat, but now I am adding a funky beat,
bringing up the tempo and making it higher in order to appeal to a new and younger
crowd." This second generation Fuji, as in evidence on the "Fuji Time"
album, is as catchy as it is danceable, and yet the crux of the traditional element is
intact. When asked about the possibility of the addition of guitars or other non-western
instruments to his sound, Adewale proclaimed "No, we do not believe in that [guitars,
etc.] because as Fuji artists, we want to have our own sound. We will stay with tradition,
that is something we will never lose, we will continue to stick to our roots."
Thus the theme for Adewale and his band seems to be innovation without
infringement on Fujis traditional crux of Were origins. With new songs planned for
inclusion on an upcoming various artists album, and a summer tour in the works, the music
of Adewale Ayuba will continue to educate and entertain the American audiences. And with a
legacy of sixteen albums produced in Nigeria, it is only fitting that this champion of
Fujis second generation should continue to make strong inroads into Americas
growing world music scene.