Lagbaja is a musical phenomenon that needs no introduction. In this Christmas special interview he opens up on his growing up and shares his experiences with robbers Ego his former female vocalist and more. Its most revealing as you’s soon find out. Enjoy.
Let’s go back to the good old days. What was is it like?
It’s exciting. Every once in a while, I get to speak with people who have been in the thick of it, from the very beginning, who can write the history of how everything went.
It’s really nice and I always appreciate that opportunity, especially knowing that you guys have been supportive all these years.
From what you know yourself too, for any artiste, may be not every artiste but often, whatever would be big long time might not start up easily. So, it was definitely tough and rough at the beginning.
The Lekki Sunsplash concert is an example of the baptism of fire. But the good thing about it that is that when you have a vision, once you can overcome such obstacles, you are prepared for whatever, because at that time, those were huge audiences and you don’t have such festivals happening much at the beach these days. It was an experience that made you more committed and you just have to keep doing your thing the best way you know how to.
What went wrong on the day of the concert?
Nothing really. If you remember very well, three other artistes had been stoned off the stage. What I remember very well was, it was a very big festival organised by DP Lekki limited and it usually had these huge pieces of equipment from 7-Up that you could hear the sound from the roundabout at Lekki.
That was their first year of using a different PA that wasn’t from 7-Up and there was really no power. Even before we went on stage, I went to complain to them because I care about technical things.
I went right into the mixing stage because I knew the people who were mixing there to ask what the problem was. They explained it was the generator.
A professional would decide not to perform on that day. My brother, you go remember the story of Anita Baker, when she came to Nigeria. And Nigerians were yapping her because she refused to perform, that she didn’t respect her audience.
That’s not the issue. The issue is that an artiste has something he wants to project and how he wants to project his product. I don’t know the full circumstances of what happened with Anita Baker but I know she must have had a real reason after coming all the way from US to refuse to go on stage.
It wouldn’t be for any crap. It will be for a solid reason.
The same thing on that day, the normal thing will be to say I wouldn’t perform but here you are- you are new.
So, in our very small environment, we all know each other. The next thing is, ‘ha the boy is troublesome, he is making trouble. He said he won’t play again.’
But the terms of the contracts stipulate that you have the right as an artiste, if the PA is not good enough, you could refuse to perform there and you’ve got to be paid.
So, an example of what could happen when you have such circumstances is what happens on that day. At least three artistes before us, the people were already throwing things because they were unhappy. The large crowd and the sound not over powering them, there will be trouble.
So, it was worsened by the fact that you are a new artiste. They don’t even know your songs yet and here comes a man with a mask. We can’t even hear what they are playing or doing. Is this a joke? And then, it was already getting late in the evening and the audience was restrictive.
It took us about 30 minutes to set up the equipment on that day. This itself contributed to the restiveness of the audience.
So, these technical things, plus the fact that you were new, and added to it you had a mask, it was just too much for the crowd. They threw banger, anything on stage.
After the first song, we had to leave the stage. That’s the basic story.
Between the period you were growing up and when you became a masquerade; did you play music?
I was into music. Lagbaja as a concept had always been there at the back of my mind for many years. Even when I came to Lagos, played the bands, worked in studios; it was there.
I wanted a concept that would communicate something but I never started definitely. It took a while. I was skeptical at the beginning to make music a full time career because I had so many oppositions from family, friends. And on my part ,I was nervous.
As a matter of fact, a friend of mine got me a job with a bank in Kano. And my parents couldn’t understand why I had to go into music after school.
But it was a gradual thing until I went into serious meditation about life- why am I here. What do I want to do? Would I just choose a life of comfort and income or would I choose my passion?
So, I decided to choose my passion and I decided to do it full time. Then, I went into Lagbaja. So, it was always there. As a matter of fact; the first Lagbaja costume which is what you’ll find on the cover of our first album, the one we called Lagbaja that contains ‘Ikira, Side By Side and so on. That costume was sown like in 1985, 1986.
The album itself was 1993. That tells you how long the concept stayed and the green and red Adire costume sewn by one tailor at Ilupeju was already under the bed waiting for me to…
And it wasn’t easy when you did start…
Better not to be easy. Here we are in 2009. My first album was in 1993. Tell me how many artistes of my generation and contemporaries are still around today to give you that history.
Better to have started rough which will make you tough and then, anything else that comes your way will be nothing because you’ve overcome tough tasks at the beginning, than for you to have it easy and then be shocked by tough things coming your way and then you are in trouble.
I want Lagbaja to go back to High School days and talk about classmates like Shina Fagbenro of the Tropical music fame, when you were at Ibadan High school.
There was no high school that I’m going to agree with you today. Go back and meet your friends… Who told you about one High school somewhere? (Laughs)
I actually produced the first demo for Tropical Music at African Sings. Two years later, he went and made the full album on EMI.
I still remember some of the guys you schooled with, the likes of Bay…
No, I deny.
Lagbaja denies his friends…
No, never denies my friends but I deny your so-called school.
But you were in Government College, Ibadan?
Who says! (Laughs). Lagbaja just dropped from somewhere. Now, the guy who went to Government College, Ibadan doesn’t wear a mask, that is the catch.
After the first and the second album, you became a hit…
The first album did well too. But that second one was the first big bang. It contained Koolu Temper, Baby ta ni ko fe wa and co.
What changed when Lagbaja blew up?
What changed most was from the people’s perception, just knowing me and appreciating me more. From my own perception, not much changed. Ehe, when you’re accepted, it becomes easier for you to communicate.
Does Lagbaja eat?
Ah! Lagbaja, he takes off his mask, hides in the corner, he must chop 0! (laughs)
Lagbaja does not eat and drink. I say he go commot the mask. After he commot the mask, the guy way commot am go go chop. Masquerade must not die on stage o!
So Lagbaja dey go toilet too?
He must take off everything go, or else if we deceive ourselves, masquerade go die for stage o! (Laughs)
How do you feel inside the mask?
That’s part of the suffer head of this mask. No be say the thing hot, hot is a mild word. The thing tough gan. That’s why I say pirates suppose to spend like 10 years in prison. Because if him know the suffer head wey I take to do my records, he no go pirate the records them.
Does Lagbaja react to women?
He must now. They are the most beautiful creatures. Is it possible not to react? You must react. But when you react, it has to have limitation. You react appreciatively.
How does your family feel today that you are a different person from the man they used to know?
For one thing, they were not really against me. They were just scared for me. So, the tough aspect of it was in thinking I was making the wrong decision. But as a person, they knew me and I tried to convince them that their fears wouldn’t come to pass.
Their biggest fears were drugs, fast life and stuffs like that. All I want to do is be a good musician which is my passion.
Today, they’re happy for me. It was just a tough thing for them to swallow as a person. It’s only now that it’s being accepted that some careers are not for the riffraff. At that time, parents would stop their kids from going into music, soccer.
Now, they’ve found out that there are different talents. The main thing is avoiding the negative sides which your business opens you to. So, they are happy for me today. So, I consider my parents as a major part of my success.
Do you still relate with them?
As Lagbaja, or their son?
Lagbaja is Lagbaja and doesn’t know any other thing aside Lagbaja.
How does a Baptist Minister react to a son who chose to become a masquerade?
Who is this son of a Baptist Minister and who’s this minister? (Laughs)
Does Lagbaja unmask before going to see his parents?
Once the mask is off, then, you can walk on the streets without anybody knowing who you are and who’s beside you. One of the biggest benefits of the mask is being without the mask gives you freedom, opportunity to feel the fabric of society which will be impossible with the mask.
Because then, you’ll only be seeing the celebrity treatment without the opportunity to experience the real society.
Sometime ago, a robbery incidence took place on Adeniyi Jones and Lagbaja was attacked and the story reported was that the reason you moved.
So, people don’t get to know that the fella who’s lived with them for so long was Lagbaja?
So, you were the one that wrote that piece?
No But Vanguard did publish the story. What really happened?
I left that place because I wanted to be near Motherland. You know how Nigeria is now and we thank God that we are still here talking today. That day might have been the end. That’s another of the disadvantages of not having the mask.
Because if they knew it was Lagbaja, they wouldn’t attack me. But a guy without a mask, you are just game. It happened right in front of the house and we were coming from rehearsal, and it was who is speaking without his mask, plus Ego and the guitarist.
And as we were just parking at the gate, the guys were as usual walking around. One came up with a guy but somehow in six seconds, l sensed something was wrong. I took off faster that Ben Johnson and Usain Bolt put together.
They came after me shooting kpa kpa kpa . We picked shells on the floor the next day. I escaped into the gorge near my home but then they took Ego and Akin into my home.
Have you children and how do you relate with them?
I don’t know this guy you’re talking about. You need to go find him so that he could talk about himself (laughs).
But he’s already talked about his father!
In the middle of the interview!
I need a lawyer.
I have a recorder here remember?
I need a lawyer.
You don’t wear mask at home, do you?
Let’s talk about growing up.
Growing up like every Nigerian was a great experience at that time, because Nigeria was more laid back then. My biggest memory was having the freedom to walk to school everyday, no fear of kidnappers. School was like some 40 minutes away.
Where was the school?
In Ibadan, that’s all you’ll get out of me (laughs). The high school was a boarding school. So, there was no need to walk anywhere. But primary school was day school.
So, believe me, you cannot imagine how much I missed that childhood experience of absolute freedom. You are back from school and when you do your home work, you are gone. They know you are probably in your friend’s house somewhere.
It was a great time and I wish Nigeria can go back to those times. I lived in an environment without fences, no fears. My first experience of serious fences was when I came to Lagos.
Were you part of the formation or you joined later, the group called Sound Incorporated…
Sound Incorporated from what I understand was the school my producer went to, and he was a part of the band. Definitely, the band had been in existence since the beginning of the school. It was a school band.
Who are Bisade’s contemporaries?
You have to ask Bisade himself.
But I can give you their names?
My producer, where are you- o?
Okay, I can give Bisade some of the big names that rocked…?
(laughs) He’ll have to come and talk about it himself.
But Bisade also talked about Shina Fagbenro…
Because Lagbaja knows Shina Fagbenro.
So now, I want to talk about Sound Incorporated. The Bisade you knew who was your classmate?
He was your friend! Was that where you were molded into what you’re today?
I don’t know what you want me to answer for Bisade. I don’t know about him.
And I’ll never answer for any other person apart frm me, Lagbaja. But I was molded musically before I was in high school. I was playing music little by little. My first instrument was a harmonica called mouth organ here.
My first experience with a saxophone was in the home of a neighbour called John Redhead. His dad was a professor. He had a sax from school. And the second saxophone in the same neighbourhood on the same street belonged to my dad’s friend but his was like in the garrage, not used anymore.
But John’s was marvellous to behold, all those things gingered the interest. And on the same street, the No 1, they had a piano in the house.
And a street that was off that street, a friend of mine was there called Ene Tamuno, the son of Professor Tamuno. This tells you I grew up in a university environment, (laughs).
Ene had a piano, we used to go there to play. I always had that interest but not as it was, not as if music was going to be a profession. That time was the formative years and this was long before High school.
The kid didn’t just disappear. He grew up to go to high school?
Fortunately, he did.
Go ahead with the molding stage…
That is it! Anything beyond that, I need a lawyer (laughs)
Do you miss Ego sometimes?
You must miss somebody you creatively worked with for many years and who’s very talented. But not miss as in the terms of creativity. I work with a lot of creative people and sometimes, it takes a while before people can understand the metamorphosis of things.
The girl that has been singing in this band for more than two years now. I asked people, they didn’t know her until they saw her on ‘Naija sings’. That was Tamara who came second. She’s been with the band for at least one year before Ego left.
But we are a very visual society. If they never saw her on television, in a video they’ll never appreciate her with me. But that’s a powerful, talented singer also.
So, there’s nothing to miss in terms of artiste’s creativity. Now, Tamara will soon leave because with the success on ‘Naija sings’, she’s got to build on that and move on.
Somebody else will come in because I love to have the lovely voice of female because I compose for them.
I just miss Ego’s personality and working relationship, nothing is lost musically. I featured Benita in my new album. She sang ‘Irowe’, a Benin song.
It’s part of my creative artistic endeavour but she’s not in my band..
Do you still assist those that have left, musically or otherwise?
Not in that line but I’m open to assist any day. That’s why I called Benita to feature in my album. I could feature her album too.
So, if they call you…
Yeah! As a matter of fact, initially, I had promised that I’ll make some stuff with Ego but I think her choice of songs are a bit of more soul and R&B than my traditional cultural…. It’s R&B in terms of vocal delivery and composition, arrangement.