-by Olubunmi Familoni
Have you ever been to an underground fuji show? No? Good, don’t go. Especially if you were raised on the buttered side of town. Go to your cute little Asa concert at Eko Hotel where the worst thing that could happen to you is someone stepping on your Balenciaga-ed toes. Underground fuji shows are deep, literally ‘the pits’ — hence the venues always in the depths of the belly of town; bottom-of-the-city deep venues a la Isale Eko.
You’d wonder, since you never hear about these shows, how we hear about them. Well, there are no sweet flyers bursting with colours to announce them, nor silky voiced-over radio ads purring you high-priced tickets; you’d have to hang around such places as motor parks and neighbourhoods where you’d find hardcore fans of fuji music to hear about the shows; and their venues are usually just word-of-mouthed, from beer parlours to weed spots.
People arrive on foot and motorcycles — the neighbourhood is a fist and can’t hold cars. There is no fancy stage the size of a battleship with liquid lights splashing colours all over the place. The crowd is huddled around the artiste and his band who are under the yellow glow of a lone light bulb hanging from the black night sky, casting a hot halo on the artiste’s crown, his spotlight. The only other lights in the place are the orange dots between black lips everywhere you turn, from which rise the smoke clouds gliding through the crowd and curling around heads. During a drum break, the singer might turn around and take a ‘claro’, an almost-finished joint, off a band member, and lick it to its end, before remounting the mic; or somebody in the crowd might pass the singer a half-smoked ‘jumbo’, a fat joint, which after a few pulls the singer would praise this person and the neighbourhood dealer for the quality of the product.
The solemn notes of a piano which greet you upon arrival (as the band sets up) soon erupt into a violent, almost cacophonous, explosion of percussion upon which the entire set of the band is carried along for the rest of the show; and it is thereupon wild rapture, as spirits get carried away on the wings of the sound. The voice of the singer, which sounds as if rubbed raw against a grater, herds the instruments along in a harmony only a listener with an ear for fuji can fully appreciate.
Limp, half-hearted scuffles break out here and there like greetings, with such regularity that they seem scripted; they dissolve just as abruptly as they are started, unacknowledged. Only a few of these rashes blossom into full, round fights which might involve anything from blows to bottles. It is common for the singer, in the middle of his song (sometimes as part of the song even), to bark out in his fiercest tone a stern, guttural warning at the fighters, threatening them with setting his ‘boys’ on them (the singer always comes to these shows with a retinue of bloody-eyed, rock-jawed boys). In a particular instance, a singer flung the microphone aside in fury and entered into the crowd, shirt off and fists clenched, sinking into the thick of the brawl. That is how ugly things get down here — the music and the madness exist side by side, Beauty and the beast. It is also interesting to observe how, without the involvement of the law, order is quickly restored and the beat goes on.
These small underground spaces are where the seeds that eventually become big names in fuji are sown; where they find their feet before the wings grow and carry them out of the pits. In most cases they hardly ever come back to these old stamping grounds to grace the small backstreet stages, for the obvious reason of the prevalent violence which because of the change in their socio-economic status can no longer be tolerated.
Being an ardent enthusiast of fuji music and culture, with special interest in the underground circuit, it has been a pleasure to be introduced to the diversity in sounds from different depths across the South-Western part of Nigeria, and I have been privileged to witness the growth of young musicians making great music and putting on impressive performances. I have met the future of fuji in these ‘pits’ — Wally G Konkolo, Afeez Eva Water, Wasiu Container, Rilwan Rando, Danku Ahmed, Lamide Pure Water, Musibau Chopin, Rasheed Shanko, and many more — and it has been a delightful and enlightening experience immersing oneself in this combination of good music and mad men.