At the maiden edition of Fuji: A Opera, which held at the Alliance Francaise de Lagos/The Mike Adenuga Centre, Ikoyi, Lagos, Fuji legend, Wasiu Ayinde Marshall, also known as KWAM 1, had a no-holds-barred question and answer session with journalists and his fans.
KWAM1, in the two-hour session moderated by Lehle Balde and Yemi Shodimu, took the audience down memory lane speaking about his career, his industry, and rivalry among Fuji musicians
PT: How did your foray into Fuji music begin?
Kwam 1: I started as an “Ajisaari” and “Ajiwere” -a common practice in the southwest part of Nigeria and Lagos precisely when I was a little boy, between six and seven years old. Other parts of the country like Ibadan, Abeokuta, Ilorin, and other places also have theirs. It became well-accepted when a group known as RAMLAS decided they wanted to establish something for the future.
What is now known as Fuji started from that thing we called “Ajiwere” and “Ajisaari”, which had its root and foundation attached to the religion of Islam. Islam popularised it so much and gave room for its expansion on a yearly basis in the 40s and it gained so much ground in the early 50s.
PT: Please go on
KWAM1: As I said, I started as an “Ajiwere”, “Ajisaari” as a little boy from my area, Agarawu in Lagos Island. We had different categories and I started from the smallest category. The organisers had grades like little, intermediate, and senior, so I started from the little grade and I rose to the intermediate before I finally got to the senior category. I won laurels three consecutive times in all the three categories that I was in.
Starting from Dr Sikiru Ayinde Barrister to me and several others, we have had appearances at world rated concerts, like Spins Festival, one of the highly-rated musical festivals of the world. I was invited to the World of Music Exposition, World of Music Attendance, and the Jazz Ville Musical Exposition and so on. We’ve presented Fuji music at places so unexpected, Fuji has gone so wide and if we want to judge what we have been able to achieve with Fuji, I’ll tell you Fuji has been globally accepted. I have presented papers at several musical expositions in France, Netherlands, and England.
PT: There have been several controversies about the true founder of Fuju music in Nigeria. Who, in your opinion, is the founder of Fuji music?
KWAM1: I affirm that the late Sikiru Ayinde Barrister is the founder of Fuji music. I am a direct beneficiary of Barrister because I started out under his tutelage. I see it as God sent me somewhere to be prepared for the future. He graciously accepted me and he gave me the tutelage and all the training that I needed for the future and today, the rest is history. I served him very well and learned the rudiments of the genre of music from him. To most of us that are still alive, I am speaking on behalf of you all, the forefathers that have done graciously well to the formation of “Ajiwere”, “Ajisaari” before late Sikiru Ayinde Barrister now turned the whole thing into a mega success that we are seeing today. He lifted “Ajiwere”, “Ajisaari” up, God used Sikiru Ayinde Barrister to be the turning around by creating Fuji to the standard we are seeing today. We are building the history of Fuji and we continue to build for the coming decades to add many more names.
This is happening to us out of the blues. Nobody ever expected that one day, we will have some good minds to sit down and think of doing something like this, to immortalize the names of the people before us and even the genre of music. This is original, Fuji is original. Fuji is ours. It is homegrown. It is something that was never invented or brought from anywhere. It started here and has its roots here. It has become better than western music, especially among our people.
PT: What are some of the issues in your industry?
Kwam1: Different tribes, different languages, religious bias, organisation and importation, and what have you. But those ones are things that we can focus on less and continue to build whatever we want to build so that we can have something to call original history. We can have a total Fuji package that generation yet unborn will be so proud of.
I want to talk less about the rivalry. I want us to leave things that are inconsequential and dwell on what brings people together. We are trying to kill this rivalry thing so that we can have something to call ours.
In Fuji, you find Praise and Worshipping, Classical Radiation, you find Rock and everything.
PT: How would you describe the level of cooperation among Fuji Musicians?
KWAM1: Why should I keep answering questions about my relationship with other Fuji musicians? These are questions that get me irritated. I am sure the family of the late Sikiru Ayinde Barrister was so happy that ten years after the demise of this man, the world stands still; they came together for him and for the anniversary, such beautiful and laudable project as this is being set up.
This is like you want to describe someone from a family where the father married four wives. Definitely, there will be rivalry already because of the four wives. In the real sense of it, if they all want to agree that their focus is just one particular man, then all the children must come together to knock down the beliefs of their mothers.
They must be able to say that though there are different mothers, we share the same father and the others are my brothers. The day we all realise this, there won’t be problems with the number of wives the man has.
When the competition of “Ajiwere”, “Ajisaari” was so stiff and tough that period, many fell by the side because they couldn’t continue with it. Many left because their families could not tolerate them returning home with broken heads because of competitions and stuff.
I remember was I was graduating from the intermediate grade to the senior, it was a tough fight at Onola playground. I remember that after the competition, my mother asked if I could still continue doing it. I said I was at the topmost grade then and I wasn’t going to back down.
Today, any Fuji musician that still believes in rivalry probably doesn’t understand why they are living. Fuji music has become a big business that, I remember when I was being honoured at the center stage in WOMAD in England, I was referred to as a “world-class performer”. I cried because I never expected it.
Any Fuji musician today that does not see Fuji music as a great success is not fit to be called or addressed as a Fuji musician. It is about business, it is no longer a playful thing. It is a business that has brought honour both at home and abroad. Fuji music has given me the right to train my children, that I have a doctor, a lawyer, an engineer, and other professionals. It has seen me being celebrated at world-class establishments.
I am sure, from today, anybody that wants to do Fuji will see that the door has been opened and the way has been paved for them to make exploits.
PT: Does the unending rivalry among Fuji musicians bother you?
KWAM1: Somehow, yes. I get disturbed myself, especially when people don’t understand or they fail to recognise what I am trying to say. I am in my sixties and I don’t think it is sensible for me to be in a squabble with anybody for anything. I started learning Fuji professionally when I turned fifteen. Between then and now, this is what I do every day of my life, five or six times a week.
Fuji is music that is meant to bind the world together. Any Fuji musician that refuses to acknowledge that had better wake up from their slumber.
PT: What is the difference between Juju and Fuji music?
KWAM1: I want to also tell other musicians that a product maker doesn’t go public to condemn other products all in the name of stupid marketing.
Juju is music of yesteryears that was played by our forefathers that we look up to today. I don’t want to be the one that will be talking about the disparity between Juju and Fuji. All I know is that we are blessed with a rich cultural heritage and it serves the purpose.
If you listen to my present-day music, you will see it cuts across what is mainly seen as Juju. I call it Fuji Classical. Like my late boss used to say when he was alive, Fuji music is a combination of this and that. Every good music cuts across good songs here and there. Juju is one of the great music we can ever find.
PT: Not many know that you are an avid reader and that you didn’t attend the university.
KWAM1: I am not a university graduate, I give credits and honour to those that are university graduates. I never denied myself the opportunity of self-learning, hence the need for me to read all journals. As long as I am still living, not only my biological children, I will have to encourage very many people to go for learning because knowledge is power. If you do not have the knowledge, you do not have anything.
You see that one you mentioned about my library, it is because I believe in reading and I understand the norms and the usage of combining words to make an expression. It has helped me greatly.
PT: Does it bother you that some pronouncements you make in your songs go against some of your audience’s political leanings?
KWAM1: To be honest, this is the way I am going to answer that question – it is very worthwhile to mix whatever you are doing with politics. Politics is big business, anywhere in the world.
About music, what made me lean towards politics is to be able to help people. I can see the problems between the political class and the people they are meant to serve. They don’t have representation, the people that voted them, the only time they see them is when it is time to vote, they will tell them what to do to elect a representative. Immediately they do that, they will be left at the mercy of God and the people they elected to either do something good for them or not. Until another time when politics is coming and they start parading the streets.
I use music to bridge the gap between them and the people. To keep telling the politicians that listen, you used us to talk to these people when you needed them, so you must go back to serve them. That is my number one reason for accepting to tilt into politics. If people like us are not there, who is going to do it? Is it the vulcaniser that is facing hardship at Ebute Metta. We see these problems and I am the bridge between the politicians and the people. They listen to us because we granted them the opportunity to sit with us and talk with them.
I use my music to pass messages to the people and also go back to the people that they told me that this is what they are going to do. I have passed your message to the people, now you have to serve them. If they listen to all my works in every album, maybe sometimes, I have 20 tracks, 15 tracks. In every album, you find me talking directly to the government, the same way I talk directly to the people.
PT: Do you think these politicians actually listen to your music, I mean the message behind your music?
KWAM1: Let me tell you, Mr President does listen but somehow, if they do not act, we find it very annoying that they are not acting. We talk to the government all the time. They listen to us and they consult with us every now and then because they know we have the power. There is power in music.
PT: Do you think you have the prerequisite to run for elective office?
KWAM1: That I won’t do. I will never do that.
The principle behind the #EndSARS like I said, the independence that our fathers couldn’t wait to demand is what our children are demanding through the EndSARS movement. At a point in time, our parents couldn’t wait to demand their rights but now, eyes are wide open, minds are wide open, the brain is open, we can see properly. I know what is applicable in America and other places and if such is not applicable here, I am bound to ask questions that why is it not, so, nobody is a fool anymore.
To the protesters and the governments, too, I am sure that if we all want to agree that the country belongs to us all, it is better when someone makes a request employing whatever means, then the responsible leadership of a country would bring everyone on board and discuss.
PT: You are a very controversial musician. Do you think this a faulty generalisation?
KWAM1: Some people see me as a no-nonsense person, maybe they are impatient to fully understand the kind of person I really am. Some see me as a liberal person.
What I can’t do to people, I can’t take from anybody. It is just that there are always controversies about people like me regarding what we believe in; what we stand firmly upon.
I won’t lie to you and I won’t want you to deceive me, as a matter of fact, I won’t encourage murder but I can forgive a murderer (because murder could be as a result of an accident) than a liar. A liar could kill you because that time he was lying to you, he knew that he was lying. He did that to arrest your mind and he knew he wasn’t telling you the truth.
PT: You can perform for hours standing. Where does this strength come from?
KWAM 1: I don’t smoke because I believe that weakens and I am not an everyday drinker, I am just an occasional one. When you continuously do something, it becomes part of you. When I was a young boy like I said, I started as an “Ajiwere”, “Ajisaari” before the start of the Ramadan festival, we go for rehearsals every night because you can’t miss your lines. When I turned fifteen, I became pro and the practices became more regular. Don’t be surprised, I have a show tonight and I will be here tomorrow.
One thing I don’t do is to deny myself rest no matter what I am doing. Before I mount the stage, I must take some time to rest not necessarily to shut my eyes but to rest my feet because I am going to be standing for up to four to five hours. I rest and I consult my doctor regularly and I make sure I don’t deny myself everything necessary to keep the body together. You don’t tell a sportsman that is aspiring to get to the top what do to get to the top, you don’t win a competition by not doing anything. It is part of me.
PT: How do you make money?
KWAM1: Money comes from good planning, money comes from knowledge, and sometimes, you will be surprised that I even do free shows. I do free shows for our patrons, we also have sponsors, we have people who stand by us, encourage us, and people who support us by financially contributing to our shows.
Money comes in different ways. We have people who pay for publicity for us, we have people who pay for the hall where I perform.
With regards to albums, we have record dealers, producers who tell you don’t worry, you need a car, I could buy you the car now and you will pay back through sales you make from your albums over a period of time. From all these, you feel like you are enjoying but nothing is easy.
I do so many other things in the right way; not through the backdoor, to be able to turn my earnings around. I fix money into investments like agriculture. As long as I am not using the money to buy clothing or cars to gallivant around, the money must surely return.
PT: What role are you playing in shaping the future of Fuji
KWAM1: The future is what we are discussing seated here today and what the organisers of ‘Fuji: A Opera’ are already doing.